Too Important to be Anything Else
It was only yesterday that you sat next to me, leaning against my shoulder for support as you laughed at something that I have already forgotten. I wish now that I could go back to that moment. Back to a time when that little black spot that I know sits in your mind, was so small, so unassuming.
Everyone has one of those little spots. A tiny piece of their mind that comes from bad memories and painful experiences. For some it is bigger and some it is smaller, but it is always there.
And today, as I sit next to you in the car, I can tell that your own little black spot has expanded its territory. It has crept out into parts unknown.
Oh, you hide it well. You keep it tucked away behind broad smiles and cheerful words. Most people wouldn't even give it a second glance. They wouldn't see any difference. But they don't know you like I do. To me that spot is clear and distinct.
I only wish that the reason was just as obvious.
The day is bright and made for being outside as we walk along, side by side. The sidewalk ahead of us is straight and long, inviting us to just keep walking and forget about going back home. It is tempting, to remain here at your side with nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other, but the thought of food to be had when we return is beginning to vie for attention.
Your shoulder bumps against mine as you saunter along. I can feel the disquiet that is fluttering around in your mind, but you have taken to wearing this odd little grin in an attempt to keep me from seeing your struggles and so I know that you do not want to talk about whatever it is. I remain silent about it because it seems as though you are working your way through it and you will talk when you are ready.
We chatter about other things. The weather, the problems at our respective jobs, how hard it is now to find time to hang out together.
The little black spot behind your eyes remains unspoken of.
For the next two weeks you seem to be much better. Your smiles are easier and your sense of unease is less intense. I do my best to help keep this newly minted good mood intact and you gratefully fall into the routine. We do dumb things that only best friends do and then laugh about how stupid they were once we actually step back and look at them with even the barest hint of actual thought. It's nice. It's quiet. It's just a calm before the real storm hits.
By the end of the third week you are a shell of what you once were. You still come to hang out. You still try to make jokes. But your smile is now just a slight curve at one side of your lips and your laugh is just a soft huff instead of the regular loud and undeniably joyous sound that I am used to.
I want to press you into telling me what is wrong, but it feels too much like intruding. No matter how I try to come up with ways to approach it, I feel a sense of wrongness creeping over me. And so I wait. I let you come to me and emotionally lean against my mind. It feels like I am failing you by not asking, but the fact that you come to me to just breathe and exist for a while certainly makes it easier to bear. If I cannot help you deal with this by getting you to talk, then I am definitely just going to be there to hold you up whenever you feel like you are falling.
Week number four is the toughest yet. You are no longer anything like the person that I once knew. You hurt inside and I can feel it like a physical weight on my shoulders. You barely talk now and when you do it doesn't sound like you.
That little black spot has become a pitch dark hole that sucks at your energy and happiness and I hate it. My anger at what it has done to you bubbling up like a hot surge of magma in my chest.
But still you fight against it. I can still see a bit of spark in your eyes. And so I continue my fierce attempts to help keep you going. I can only hope that you can see how hard I am fighting for you.
Week number five brings about no change. You are still weary and emotionally drained. You still come to visit and we still go for walks. We have changed from meandering down sidewalks and have switched over to the local wildlife preserve. I have recently learned that you are talking through your troubles, not to me, but to someone you trust. I do not feel the need to argue the point. You know what you need and, apparently, you believe that I am not the one to talk to in this instance. I know that I am not the only person in your life and I have a great deal of respect for your right to privacy. If you want me read in on your situation, you will tell me. You always have before.
We are standing on top of a hill and looking down on trees and flowers and grass when you lean your head on my shoulder and sigh. It is heavy and deep and almost wistful.
I say nothing because I don't know what exactly has brought the sigh to the surface and I am unsure what kind of mood you are in. You remain there for a moment and then finally you speak.
"I'm tired," you say simply and then go silent again.
I take a deep breath and try to fight down the tears that are suddenly welling up. "I know."
"I just want to feel normal again," you say and I can hear the strain in your voice. You are fighting the tears just as hard as I am.
"And there is nothing at all selfish in that," I say. "To want to be happy. I wish it for you every day. Just keep fighting, my friend. I am here for you the whole way. Just tell me what you need."
Your breath hitches in a poorly disguised sob and then you turn and begin walking back towards the park entrance. I trail along behind you, feeling heartbroken and helpless.
Week number six is a change. You show up on my doorstep looking like life has kicked you six ways from Sunday and I usher you inside. We end up sitting on my couch, completely silent, but it doesn't feel uncomfortable. The silence continues on for two hours until I get fidgety and feel like I have to do something.
I get up to tuck a blanket around your shoulders and press a cup of hot chocolate into your hands and then just settle in to continue to wait you out. You seem like you just want someone nearby, someone to help keep you grounded as you search through the shattered black shards that are clattering around in your mind.
You sip absentmindedly at your hot chocolate while I pull up song after song on my phone, the volume low and my feet propped up on your lap.
When your cup is empty you set it on the coffee table and then simply list sideways until you are laying between my right leg and the back of the couch, your head by my hip.
I drop my hand down and let my fingers play with the ends of your hair.
"Thank you," you say in a near whisper. "For being a support through all of this."
I set my phone aside and you shift slightly to allow me to pull the edge of your blanket free so that I can flick it over my legs. "You are too important for me to be anything else," I say.
Your left arm flops out to rest across my legs under the blanket and you turn your face down towards the couch cushion as if you are trying to hide yourself from the world. I am all too happy to be your shield if that is what you need.
"I just hope I have the energy to keep going," you say, your voice muffled due to the fact that your face is currently crushed against my hip. "It always feels like I haven't made enough progress for the amount of time that has passed."
I am barely able to hold back the flinch that I feel at your confession. You are wearing out and you feel like you have a quota to meet for each day that passes. That is not right.
"It isn't a race," I say. "Just keep moving. That is all anyone can ever ask of you. Even you."
"I'm trying," you reply. "I'm trying."
Week number seven is so drastically different that I find myself reeling from the shock of it. You are still emotionally wrecked, unstable and hurting, but that blackness that has been growing and festering is now slowly shrinking away. For the first time in too long I can finally see that brightness in your eyes. Your creative talent is returning as well and your smile is regaining its usual brilliance.
I tuck you into a hug and wish I could just hang on forever. You let me cling to you without complaint, your grip just as tight as mine.
Week number eight is even better. You are climbing out of your emotional hole and your energy is coming back in spades. The rubble of your life is shifting and falling away and a scarred, but still stunningly beautiful, you is emerging. I am warm and tingly inside as we go back to our ridiculous stunts that make others shake their heads and laugh. We giggle together because we can and we enjoy the days that we are able to spend together. And on a day where we find ourselves sitting at a picnic table and slurping at cups of Italian ice, I can finally see the end to your exhausting journey.
"I hope you aren't offended that I talked to someone else through this," you say without looking up from your cup of ice.
"Not at all," I reply with a shake of my head, because I know that there are some things in life that just have to be worked out inside one's own head. There are some things that are not made better by airing them out in front of others. And there are some things that just aren't able to be fixed by a friend, no matter how strong the relationship or how good the intentions are. "I'm just glad you still allowed me to help you out. Even though I couldn't do anything more for you than just be a safe place to breathe."
"You have always been my safe place," you say. "It must have been hard, not knowing anything. I don't know how you kept it together and held me up at the same time."
"Knowing what it is you are fighting for is an incredible boost to one's endurance," I reply. "All I had to do was remember what you mean to me and then I would be able to face one more day. Lather, rinse, repeat. Totally worth it in the end."
"I guess that's how we came to be such good friends," you say with a grin that I am glad to see returning. "Because life is hard and we found we are stronger together."
"Yeah," I say with a nod. "Yeah."
"So," you say and set your empty cup on the table while sitting back in your chair, "I guess you could say that being friends means being strong when the other can't."
I cant my head to one side and consider your statement. "Partly," I say. "But I think it also means being as big a goofball as the other person so that the both of you can laugh about the whole thing later."
"See how well we work together," you say with a laugh. "We have just condensed the meaning of friendship down to two simple rules."
I laugh and nod because there just isn't any reply I can think of to match with that declaration. You laugh too, loud and undeniably joyous, and my world's axis rights itself once more.