Y"ou don't have any friends," she said. I thought about her words for a minute and felt that stab of pain like you do in school when you realize that anything you do will involve being chosen to be on some team and your placement in the hierarchy of cliques in school. You come to know how you rate and how quickly you will be chosen or not. I was usually chosen, but would often feel that the whole arrangement was designed to make you feel as nervous as possible. It was nothing like just playing in the neighborhood where you just grouped together and argued about it later. Being in school took that spontaneous grouping out and replaced it with the gossip of cliques and not being able to really question some arbitrary placement that would follow you around like lint on your old sweater.
It was funny because I usually had more friends than I could keep up with. Not really a lot, but considering how busy I usually was there was always someone I hadn't caught up with. The ones I didn't catch up with right away usually ended. I preferred a more free flowing kind. The ones where you didn't have to see someone for months at a time, but pick up where you left off in such a natural way you don't even realize you haven't seen them in awhile. These friendships I treasured and maintained for years until after I married and realized that these weren't the kind of friends that I would eventually wonder about as I sat in a Psych ward trying to explain why I had no friends.
No, your right I said. I have no friends, is that a problem? Knowing I was being a smartass she became increasingly annoyed. I was not admitting to "being crazy," and the reason was because I was one of those "loners" with no friends. You know the kind—you like being alone too much, read poetry or draw—god forbid laugh at the wrong times. Wear funny clothes, smell or are poor. I had come to see that even at my age the dark monster of "having no friends" was threatening to take me to that place where you stand naked in front of your peers and they tell you what a loser you are. I had to laugh—it had been so long.
Listen, lady I have more so-called friends than I care to talk about because it will take up the whole day and then we would not be able to talk about my not being mentally ill, I thought—but of course, I didn't say that. She would not take that too kindly. That would be a definite no-no because usually to respond with any feeling about what they tell you can result in you're being "noncooperative" so I accepted her pronouncement about the "no friends" label and made a mental note of making some new ones. The hot guy I met on the way in who flirted might just be one of those. I laughed quietly to myself knowing I had to be careful about the whole "loner" label. Being an Artist, I was used to that label applied all the time without question. I had gotten that "look" over the years.
I could not really talk to men when I got married and this was kind of a shock. I often had male friends over the years. Guys to help out when I needed a sofa moved, guys I would see at parties and we would talk and laugh, brothers who usually had a group of guys hanging around, but once married this became a rare thing. It was part of being a good wife—you know—not "whoring" around with "friends" all the time. Even worse—hanging out in bars with girlfriends. I was glad to comply because somewhere along the way my freedom, career and lifestyle before had somehow turned into some slutty, drunken escapade of debauchery in another city that I came home to hide out from. Well, there was some of that, but after being exposed to feminism in college and building a career I thought it all kind of silly. Little did I know these new "friends" I had really believed in some 1950's idea of a woman not having too many friends. Where is your husband was usually the question if I ventured out alone. I got use to talking about him rather than me—talking about me often got that look that I was in fact, creating another life of drunken debauchery and slut type behavior.
Being locked up was not going to help me make friends. I looked out of the pale blue window and thought how odd life had become recently. The jail I was in had the sill painted this beautiful sky blue color. I suppose to have some sense of the sky. Some faux idea of freedom as you sit in confinement. Some faux sky to look at as the real one—broken sunlight through the bars—coming only briefly. In the same way, these faux friends I had made. In jail the food was so bad I became used to either vomiting or wanting to. The constant awful smell that permeates everything in a disgusting way you come to loath. I wasn't there too long—"processing," they called it, on my way to the psych ward, but long enough to realize that the friends I had now were no better than the criminals they were locking up. The faux pretending to care and lack of empathy and concern mirrored the blue of the window. It was pretty bad—far cry from the real thing.
I am just cleaning house, I think to myself. Like when you're a kid and your best girlfriend tells you she doesn't want to be your friend anymore. You cry for days and wonder what you did. She sends you one of those notes in class and by lunch, you're sitting by yourself wondering how you could be so close one day and a loser the next. I laughed silently to myself and again say nothing as the Psych nurse drones on about the importance of a support network. The various groups of friends I have had over the years weave in and out of her lecture, as I remember the good ones, the bad ones, and now the really awful ones. Yes, I say time to make some new friends.