A Writing Showcase essay submission by Meridian Johnson
I’m starting to think that relationship is God.
The first day of school comes again. This year, my daughters are on the adventure of attending school in a new district. Which means, new teachers, new faces, new structures and rules, a new bus stop, new playground, new friends, and new points of self-knowledge for memories that will last a lifetime.
I pick them up after their second day, crowding outside the school with other parents. It’s Friday. We apparently have no place else to be, clumped together checking the time on our cell phones, exchanging casual politeness. But really, we are breathless. We are waiting for our children. Down to our bones we are waiting. We fidget. We are remote to one another in our expectancy here outside the elementary school.
Finally, a bell rings. The doors swing open, and the agile sea of children spreads over our parental beaches. The delicate spunk of children streams forth from their faces. The tentative nature of new experience tugs parent to child. The organic pairing off occurs, parent-child hugs and hand taking. Some grandparents are there, too, more relaxed than the rest of us.
We mix and spread out like the froth of a gentle wave. We are inextricably human nature in action. The parking lot erupts into movement and noise. Voices. Footsteps. Beep, beep, beep of the car-key remotes. Car doors opening and closing. The sun beating down, the cars starting up. The choreography of this new school year cycles before us, strange and distinct, with a newness that makes its impression on us all.
My girls in the backseat of the car are like freshly cut rhinestones. The cadence in their voices is shaped by the independence of their day, the things that happened that I cannot see nor touch. I reach out for them with my words. “Did you make any new friends?” I ask, as if to imply an equation. Yes, from one daughter. And no, from the other. We drive out of the parking lot, and my oldest says, “There, see that girl with the dark curly hair and the pink shirt? That’s my new friend! She sits behind me, and she’s really nice.”
Somewhere across town is my poet and essayist friend, David, who has not returned my recent phone call. I know he is trying to make an important decision about moving to a more artistically supportive community. He’s searching and sorting through the complexity of his internal world, looking at the full equation of choices. There he is in my mind’s eye, in his white button-down shirt with two pens in his breast pocket, sandy blond hair and horn-rimmed glasses, noticing the afternoon light on a wall at the church where he works. He writes, in his third book of poetry, Enigma and Light:
to the equation
conflating its complexity
with everything under the sun
until it is in fact everything under the sun
and we are walking there,
our pregnant emotions
having given birth to a world.
All summer he has been sharing his new poems with me. And I have been working long hours and had little time to respond in kind. I can hardly bear to speak and name my remorse at not making the space in my schedule to read Rilke in the park with him. I can just barely stand to say that I have missed the opportunities that a friendship allows, the seemingly invisible moments where deep feeling surges, and the connection between people sustains some other territory of living.
How often is the resource of a friendship spoken to? How often do we say to these important people, “You know, I get so much out of our friendship that it makes it easier for me to pay my bills, clean my house, stay neutral with my ex-husband, wake up each morning, survive the world news, and otherwise be more myself.” How often do we demonstrate our appreciation for one another by speaking words of gratitude aloud? What if we did, more clearly, more often?
We are adult friends, but in moments we are children again. Or, rather, we are the long thread of childhood stretched into this phase we call “adulthood.” How have we grown from those days of classrooms and playgrounds? What did we learn in our elementary school friendships that is still operative today?
Playfully break the word “adulthood” into “adult” and “hood” to see the emotional hiding we do as adults, cloaking our depth from one another. And then, we are grown enough to empirically know the value of reaching across our learned scope of life experience in order to express our pregnant emotions—be vulnerable, afraid, impaired by our humanness just enough to truly need one another.
In the cultures of our ancestors, we couldn’t survive in the world without one another. We needed each other to secure our basic needs of food, shelter, tools, and clothing. And now we have extreme wealth, and our friendships become a casual thing, not something we apparently need. It has become possible to shelter ourselves from one another for days, weeks, months, and years at a time.
But we do need one another to survive. We need the real classroom that friendship is. We need to cross over the difficult moments of human conflict to be real with one another, to gather the resource of interdependence that Nature has made. Sometimes, we have to wait at the precipice of friendship’s door, where taking the risk to be vulnerable will sustain us so much more than our isolation ever will.
Today, as an experiment, we could knock on the door of someone close to us and say, “I need to tell you, my friend, that sometimes I don’t return your phone calls because a small part of me is afraid for my life. Afraid of success and failure and afraid for the child in me.” We could say, “I am so grateful for our friendship.” Say, “You help me to thrive in these five distinct ways.” Say, “Thank you for this friendship.” Say, “I know we are connected even when we’re far apart.”
Today there is a playground of resource. Where adults take God by the hand through a dear friend. Let the delicate spunk of the child in us steam forth from our faces. Speak the words, holy from our mouths, “Thank you” and “You are so kind” and “I love you.”
Meridian Johnson lives in northern New Mexico with her two acrobatic daughters. She is the author of Kinesthesia, a full-length poetry collection published in 2010 by New Rivers Press. Her poems and essays have appeared in AGNI, Borderlands, Beloit Poetry Journal, Dislocate, Gettysburg Review, Massachusetts’s Review, NPR’s On Being and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota, and a BA in English from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Her website is WWW.MERIDIANJOHNSON.COM