Thankful for friends lost

I’m not sure why, but while I was thinking about Mariah Carey and how listening to her music reminds me of my brother, I remembered an old friend of mine who had followed this blog I wrote quite intently in the aftermath of Ed’s death. He was long-winded, surly, oftentimes depressed, and extremely cynical. We knew each other from high school, and though we were close then and remained in touch afterwards, I realized around the time of Ed’s passing that he really was the kind of person I should no longer be in touch with. He added no value to my life, I never felt better or happier after seeing him or having contact with him, and he had absolutely nothing to offer me. Instead, he only sucked me dry of energy and any potential optimism that I had. When he moved to New York to start his lucrative career as a lawyer, he even claimed to be so debt that he couldn’t afford to buy bedding. So I actually loaned him MY OWN bedding, down to my comforter and my comforter cover, so that he could have something comfortable to sleep in.

After reading months and months of my reflections of Ed, he randomly messaged me and said, “Don’t you think you are being a little obsessive about your brother?”

I stopped dead in my tracks. This man is truly the biggest piece of shit I’ve ever called a friend, I thought. My brother jumped off the fucking Golden Gate Bridge after decades of suffering from depression and borderline schizophrenia that he had no control over, and this loser who can’t even afford his own bedsheets has the nerve to tell me that I am “obsessive”?

In that moment, I actually felt sorry for him, even though he was completely undeserving of any energy of mine at all. In that moment, I felt pity for him, knowing that he’d never be able to experience the level of pain I felt losing Ed because he’d never love another person the way that I loved my brother. He would never know the depth of feeling, the amount of empathy that was required to understand how I felt for even a split second.

Years later, he reached out on Facebook Messenger, of all places, to ask me how I handled my brother’s “affairs” after he passed. He said he was sorry to ask (he wasn’t; he was just being selfish and only reaching out when he needed something), but his father had died suddenly, and he needed advice. I had none to offer. I wished him well and expressed my condolences. That was the last I heard from him.

Some people find value at keeping friendships for life. I find value at keeping friendships that actually fuel me and contribute something to my inner happiness and peace, people who actually want to give to me and don’t just expect me to constantly give to them. He did none of those things. Thank god we are no longer connected.

When your dreams are in sync with your friends’

I guess that dream I had of my friend giving birth was telling. She actually gave birth yesterday afternoon after nearly 40 hours in labor. And when I shared this dream, she actually responded back with photos post birth. And our mutual friend responded that she had a similar dream where our friend told her to come meet her at the hospital because she was going into labor, and she wanted some support.

Oftentimes, as you get older, you start realizing that the friends you made when you were in school are not necessarily the kinds of people who, if you met as an adult, you’d actively choose to be close friends with. Your life outlooks change, your priorities change, and in general, they’re not going to be in line with your childhood friends’ for many reasons. But regardless of that, your childhood friends still serve a purpose. They are still part of the foundation of who you are, even if it wasn’t the same as two decades ago when you first met. And you realize that more and more when eerie events like this happen: when your dreams predict the future, or even odder, when you and your friends are all having similarly themed dreams about the future as each other.

That, in itself, is definitely a sign of deep friendship.

Togetherness in these times

Tonight, I had a Zoom video chat with some friends in California, Georgia, and Kansas. It was a fun night, bantering about politics, COVID-19, our respective at-home situations, and life in general, and it was so comical because it wasn’t like we were talking about anything particularly significant or meaningful, but it was still enjoyable nonetheless. These are the types of conversations and interactions you get when you hang out with friends in person or stop by a colleague’s desk at the office that we can’t really get anymore since we’re all sheltering in place.

The definition of “togetherness” has changed in these times. Once upon a time, it was normal to hug or kiss a friend in greeting, Now, we’re not supposed to see any of our friends unless we live with them. After the sheltering in place has ended, will we still greet each other with hugs or kisses? Will that be considered acceptable? What will weddings and funerals look like shortly after shelter in place ends? Will the banquet tables need to be spaced out so that there’s six feet of space between each guest, or will the funeral rows require that every two seats, people could sit? Weddings have been cancelled and postponed, but when setting a new date, how do we know all this will be over by then? It’s never really going to be “over,” right, since we have so little tangible data about who has been infected, how possible it is to get reinfected, or how long the virus can stay dormant in our bodies without us even knowing it?

The only togetherness we can have now is via video and phone. Everything else is just distant.

Why we are the way we are

My friend visiting from out of town and I were wandering through the Columbus Circle Holiday Market this evening, discussing our relationships with our significant others and our parents and families. After seeing my apartment, she was talking about how neat and disciplined I was given it was probably how my parents raised me and she wished her parents had given her more chores so that she was as neat, organized, and disciplined.

It was weird to hear this from my friend, who is 33 going on 34 in a couple weeks. As adults, we really should be taking responsibility for our own actions. Yes, parents do help shape who we become, but there comes a time when we really need to take ownership of our lives and how we choose to live them and stop blaming our parents. We need to grow up and move on. I told her she can choose to be neat and tidy if she chose to. She said it was too hard, and she was used to things the way they were. So in other words, she’s allowing lack of action to take over her life. This was when I had to change the subject because there was no use in continuing this conversation.

Luckily for me, in the friendships I’ve made as an adult, I never have to have these types of conversations.

Dinner with your friend and her mom

Chris and I met up with my friend visiting from out of town and her mom tonight. As I expected, it ended up being a lot of her mom and I catching up and asking about what the other has been up to since the last time we spoke. Her mom was someone I talked to a lot one on one growing up. Sometimes, her mom would drive me home, and then we’d sit in her car for about an hour just chatting about all kinds of random topics. Then, I used to wish my mom was as cool as her mom. As I got older, I realized that it probably was best that my mom wasn’t “as cool” and instead actually acted like a mom to me instead of like a friend. It was always a sore point with my friend then.

It was good to see her and to see how she’s doing, but in some way, the dinner made me a little sad. She seemed very happy for me and what I’ve done with my life, but I wonder if she ever thinks back to how she parented my friend and her little brother and has any regrets. They still operate more like friends today than like parent-child; even at the end of the meal, my friend told her that she’d let her know how much money she owed her. That was just weird to me.

Work friendships

I only slept about four hours last night, but this whole day, I have been terribly alert. It’s not like I had multiple cups of coffee or other caffeine fixes. I just feel alert and ready for the day. We had only half a day of sessions today before either leaving for the airport or going back on the shuttle bus to the office, and after we arrived at 3, I ended up staying at the office until nearly 6 just catching up one-on-one with work friends who are based here in San Francisco about everything work and life related. It was pouring rain outside and miserable, and since we’d all cleared our calendar of meetings, we had a lot of leisure time to just chat about anything.

The last few days have made me feel even more privileged and lucky to work where I am. This year’s kickoff was far better and more effective and enjoyable than last year’s. They actually took our feedback seriously and made some good changes. That, and It feels good to feel like I have a work family here in San Francisco and in New York who cares about me and my life and what I want to do with it even outside of work. There’s a genuine sense of kindness and caring that I feel every single time I come to our San Francisco office, and it’s heart-warming to me. Even if it wasn’t about work, I’d still want to see a lot of these people. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have this.

Getting addicted to luxury goods and experiences

Today was my friend’s birthday, so to celebrate her big 33, some friends and I went to the Burke Williams Spa with her at the Westfield Shopping Center. It was pretty nondescript, and the doors leading into it were not labeled, so I wasn’t 100 percent sure I was even walking into the place until I opened the doors. It’s a luxurious, high-end respite in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco and the shopping center it is in. It has a large hot tub, a spacious steaming room, and a nice sauna. The spa has pretty much every amenity you could think of, from spa-grade soap, shampoos, and conditioners to dry shampoo, hair pomade, and even hair curlers and straighteners… and something I’d never seen before: color-treated hair protection spray?! There are herbal teas and cucumber and fruit infused waters, as well as fresh fruit and nibbles and even a large selection of magazines to read.

We had pre-booked spa services with discounted gift certificates we’d purchased around Christmas time during their specials, so my friends were having massages and mani-pedis, while I opted for the spa facial. As the esthetician was looking over my face with a harsh light, she declared that I had very good skin and that it was clear I took care of myself, but I just have some old acne scarring. “The acne scarring could be treated by microdermabrasion,” she said to me. “It would likely only take three to four sessions before you could have these scars fully removed from your face – just something to consider.”

Microdermabrasion. That word has come up during my skincare reading, but I always thought it was more for people who had facial discoloring/hyperpigmentation or really bad acne or wrinkles. I didn’t realize that people actually did it for minor scarring like I have. It sounds like an excessive luxury. Shouldn’t I just be happy with the way I look right now? In some ways, to erase my acne scarring is like a cosmetic procedure I would liken to having freckles or non-malignant moles removed — 100% for superficial reasons and just far too self indulgent, even excessive.

But I guess this is another case in point of people who get exposed to luxury goods and experiences and simply get addicted to them. Once you have a taste, it’s hard not to go back for more. That’s probably why I’m still contemplating having this done to my face… if the price is “right.”

 

Growing up at 32

I was in Boston tonight and met up with an old college friend who still lives here for dinner. At 32, she has finally finished medical school, residency, and her fellowship, and she is now working full time in the Boston area as a GP. She said she wanted to do this as opposed to specialize since it would give her the most work-life balance, but as she has discovered, it certainly has not been easy at all. She’s experienced some very surprising and emotionally draining patients, bringing home a lot more baggage than she ever would have imagined. And as she’s seen, there are not enough GPs to go around for all these patients who need help.

She recounted the two months she spent traveling through Europe before she started her job and how she met people 10+ years younger than her, doing the exact same travel route. She had conversations with them where she felt that they seemed far more worldly and mature than she ever was. “I feel like all this time I spent studying and studying and going through endless school that I let my life pass me by,” she said. “I love what I do, but I could have spent my twenties doing more exploration of the world, and now that time is gone.” She said she feels like at this age, now that she has a job and is figuring out her finances, sorting through her medical school loans and setting up her 401K for the first time that she is now legitimately and finally an adult.

I have no regrets about never going to grad school. I was terrible at science, so medical school was never an option for me. Business school sounded like bullshit to me. Law school – what a joke for me. I changed my mind in my early twenties about “climbing the latter” and not taking as much time off to prove that I was harder working – what delusional American lifeless thinking. You really only have each year of your life once, and if travel or cooking or volunteering is what you are passionate about doing, then you need to make time to do that. I want to lead a life of least regrets. It makes me sad to think that my friend feels that although she loves being a doctor now that she regretted not traveling, not doing enough self exploration in her 20s. Because each year we get older, there comes more responsibility, more things to do and get done. It never really gets easier.

Levels of poverty

Among even the most avid and adventurous travelers, India initially appears to be a daunting place. People oftentimes talk about the high levels of poverty, dirt, sexism, classism, disparities between the rich and the poor, and of course, the rape of women, both locals and tourists. They talk about the language barriers. They are frightened by the animals co-mingling with the pedestrians and the tuk tuks and the cars. They’re not sure if they can “handle” it.

Over an Indian meal I prepared for my visiting friend and former teacher visiting from San Francisco tonight, I spent a good amount of time telling her about my experiences in India, how a lot about why I loved it and appreciated it so much was because I mentally prepared myself for the poverty and the begging and the filth, which in the end, really wasn’t as bad as others hyped it up to be from my own perspective. When you are prepared, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Thus, you’re then able to appreciate the beauty a lot more. Frankly, other than the extremely humid weather of Delhi and Agra, I didn’t really want to leave India. I was constantly astounded by the kindness of strangers, the politeness of people everywhere. I was excited by all the different sights and sounds and smells I normally do not get back in New York or in the U.S. in general. My teacher has only been to one country in Asia, Korea, and although she is well traveled in the U.S., South America, and Europe, for whatever reason, Asia has seemed distant to her. Maybe it’s because she’s a white woman who doesn’t want to feel completely out of place in a place as “exotic” as Asia. Maybe she just hasn’t had enough friends who have wanted to accompany her to Asian countries; who knows. When the idea of going to India comes up, most of her friends, she told me, said that they are most daunted by the level of poverty they have heard about. They are scared to see it. (Why do I feel like these people are most likely white?).

Well, at that point, it’s really about going outside of our comfort zones. We live in a rich country here in the U.S., even though there is clearly a massive disparity between the rich and the poor. The poverty we see here is not even a fraction of what you see in a country like India. So I understand why it would be considered daunting. But to me, travel is about not being comfortable and doing things and eating things and seeing things that are not your “version of normal,” because that’s what is intriguing and what will make you think and feel more deeply. Maybe if you were exposed to the poverty in India, you’d have a bit more empathy and understanding of the East. Maybe you should challenge yourself when you say you are scared of seeing that level of poverty and ask, why are you scared? What do you think it will do to you? Will it change something about you, and then if so, why and how? Or, is it just that you do not want to see what is ugly and scary and foreign in life? Do you want to live in a bubble away from all that ugliness that exists and is so widespread across the world that you do not know? That’s for you to question and ask yourself if you dare to go there, isn’t it?

Friends we wouldn’t trust with our babies, dogs, or even job referrals

My colleague, who owns a dog she adopted recently, is going away for a quick two-day trip, and she said that although she had a number of friends who love her dog, she literally would not trust them with her dog’s life. “My friends cannot be trusted!” she exclaimed. “They’re so irresponsible! I’m scared I’d come back home to my dog either getting poisoned or dead.”

This was comical to me because it reminded me of the time when I was arguing with a former colleague two companies ago about how to differentiate friends versus colleagues. Just because you trust someone as a friend in your personal life does not mean you’d trust them in the workplace to do a good job, and vice versa. Good times do not require responsibility. Likewise, you may get along swimmingly with a colleague when working on projects, but maybe he’s not really someone you’d want to have dinner and drinks with after work, or someone you could conceivably have a good time with anywhere if you did not have work in common. We had this conversation after this colleague referred his friend to our company despite his friend having zero industry experience, and having the audacity to not even research the company nor the role he was even applying for. He genuinely had no idea what he applied for and what he was interviewing with me about. He never got passed round one of interviews, needless to say. My then-colleague argued with me, saying that everyone deserves a chance (at getting a job? Yes. At this job? Absolutely not). He was completely incapable of differentiating friend vs. colleague, or responsible vs. not responsible.

One of my friends repeatedly questions how worthy my other friends are of me when he hears the irresponsible stories that I’ve shared. “These are the people you call closest to you? Really? Don’t you think you need new friends? How can your friends be so irresponsible?”

I don’t know. How can they? Maybe it says more about me than it does about them? Maybe I just subconsciously like having people around who are more irresponsible, selfish, less trustworthy, and not as confident, because it makes me feel better about myself? Who knows.