“The electricity of our ideas found its way out of our brains to connect in that kitchen and, purely platonically, we’d fallen in love.” The following essay on kindred friendship is a guest post written by Susie Petersiel Berg.
I met Karen when she was designing the interior of my friend’s house in Washington, DC. I was staying there, a freebie writing retreat if you will, offered to me because he works long hours and travels a lot. He loves guests, but he also likes a human presence in his home when he’s not there. I like free digs, especially in high-end restored century homes.
Three days into my visit, my friend is away and Karen is to take the train from New York to supervise various contractors for a few days. I wake up to a text from her. All trains out of New York are cancelled due to electrical problems. Can I let people in so they can get to work? Of course I can. It’s the least I can do for the free stay. On and off all day she texts me to see how things are progressing, and we’re finding each other hilarious by nightfall. She’ll be on a train the next morning.
When she arrives, we take one look at each other and we are old friends. She gets to her work and I get to mine. Just before lunch, she checks in with me. She’s ordering food, lunch is on her. We meet in the kitchen and we move easily from breezy chats to big ideas. How death affects those left behind, how we absorb the sadness of the people we love, why bad things happen to good people. We both cry while sharing our stories. We get back to work, then break for wine and cheese on the balcony around 6. We talk and talk.
Jane Silcott writes of taking part in group therapy where one assignment was to stare, silent, into the eyes of an assigned partner for a prolonged period of time. This act, it turns out, creates desire between the two parties, regardless of gender, sexuality, or existing relationship. We are producing chemicals that are electrically attracted to one another, and we’re creating them at an alarming rate.
While Karen and I weren’t silent or staring into each other’s eyes, we were fully attuned to one another. The electricity of our ideas found its way out of our brains to connect in that kitchen and, purely platonically, we’d fallen in love.
When I returned home later that week, I chatted on about Karen all the time. We emailed and talked on the phone a bit. We visited for an hour on my trip to New York. We were, in that way that busy people are, not in touch but certainly mindful of one another.
After 18 months, the friend who connected us gets engaged, and both Karen and I are invited to the wedding in Miami, the bride’s home city. We eagerly plan for a weekend of celebrating and hanging out. She’s looking forward to meeting my husband. Ten days before the wedding, I suffer a detached retina in my right eye. I am not going to the wedding. Or anywhere but the sofa or bed, restricted to my right side with my head tilted right to ensure the gas bubble in my eye floats to the top of the eye and helps reattach the retina. Let’s leave aside all my wallowing and self-indulgent crying, because the surgery saves the sight in my eye, and technology has yet another miracle for me: FaceTime.
I set up my computer and Karen, her iPhone, and we try it on Thursday afternoon. We connect, and there she is, poolside, framed by the bluest sky and mile-high palm trees. We look into each other’s eyes and we just start talking, as though we’ve been in that DC kitchen five minutes, and not two years, ago.
When we finally have to sign off, she says, “I am so sorry you won’t be here. I remember now why I fell in love with you the first time we met.”
These words are how I know this is a true connection. Not only do we feel the same way about each other, but she has no fear about stating it, plain and bald, just as it is.
Tonight she will call me via FaceTime from the night-before dinner cruise, and she will carry me around to visit with the bride and groom and all those I was so looking forward to seeing and meeting. I will look into the eyes of the couple and tell them I love them and wish them all the happiness in the world, which I do. I’ll probably cry, because I do that, too. I will look at Karen, and at each of my friends, and be grateful for the many ways technology has made sure that I can still see, and desire that connection with, them all.
Susie Berg is a writer and editor, and the co-curator of the Plasticine Poetry Series. She is the author of the full-length poetry collection, How to Get Over Yourself (Piquant Press, 2013), the chapbook Paper Cuts (CreativeJames Press, 2007), and the blog The Starbucks Poetry Project. Her work has appeared in journals including Switchback, The Mom Egg Review, and Carte Blanche, and in the anthologies Desperately Seeking Susans, Seek It: Writers and Artists Do Sleep, and Body and Soul. Her next collection, a collaboration with Elana Wolff, is due from Lyrical Myrical Press in 2015. Follow her on Twitter or visit her at www.sber40.wix.com/susieberg.