i’ve been thinking a lot about friends lately, mostly because i’ve lost so many since little sun died. i’ve experienced an immeasurable amount of disappointment and hurt because of people whom i once considered my chosen family, and maybe one day i’ll write about that. today, though, i want to tell you about two people who have truly been there for me…two people who epitomize that beautiful word “friend”.
my trip to the Bright Town three months ago was only partly about getting away from gray Paris. the main reason i chose to go there was that two of my dearest friends live there, and i was in desperate need of the company of loved ones. Froggy is an incredible support, but she’s also grieving, and, obviously, she can’t be my only support.
after little sun died, my friend Elpenor (aka Pen) sent me an email asking me to come stay with him and his partner, Little Spindle, in Brighton. he even offered to pay for a train or a plane ticket…whatever it took, and he promised that they would take good care of me. when i got that email, my grief was still so fresh, so stingingly raw, that i couldn’t even imagine spending a few hours outside of my home here in Paris. a long journey in a box (whether flying or rolling) with throngs of strangers and then days away from Froggy and our kitties and the comfort of home…it was just impossible. i was touched to tears by the offer, but i declined with the caveat that i would try to come and see them as soon as i felt up to it.
a month or so later, i had that horrible, horrible night where the world went black. i felt like a shipwreck survivor clinging desperately to the last bit of timber, all alone in an endless and hostile ocean. the lashing waves were threatening to overpower me. i was so very lost, and there was no land in sight.
and then, my therapist threw me a much needed life-saver. “Go see your friends in England. It will help you,” she said with such conviction that i had no choice but to take her advice.
and so i made the long and complicated journey to Brighton, and as my final train from Newhaven Habour slowed to a stop in the station, i saw two gorgeously familiar faces rush past my window. my friends, Pen and Spindle were waiting there for me on the platform, their smiles lighting up the the night.
before i tell you about the time i spent with them, i have to introduce you to these members of my chosen family.
first there is Pen (whom Froggy now lovingly refers to as “Legolas”). he is the boy wonder with a ferious heart of gold and an equally ferocious, brilliantly overactive mind. i really shouldn’t call him a boy, though, because he is quite honestly one of the most luminous examples of a man that i’ve encountered. i have known Pen since i moved to Brighton nearly a decade ago. he and i were classmates on a postgraduate course, and what i first noticed about him was his energy. he practically vibrated with enthusiasm and excitement for all the ideas he was encountering in our classes. he was the student who would engage the professor in deep, obviously well-thought-out discussions about some point in Plato or Jung (we read some good but heavy shit in that class), while the rest of us sat back and contented ourselves with the roles of spectators at a demonstration of high-level intellectual discourse.
initially, i was a bit blinded by that big brain, and it wasn’t until Pen approached me after our creative writing workshop, that i actually looked a bit closer at the unpretentious magician behind the cerebral curtain. he told me excitedly how much he’d liked the piece from my novel-in-progress that i’d read for the class that day, and he said that he would love to read some of my other writings if i wanted to share them. he also invited me over to “his” for coffee or tea or whatever i wanted to drink.
it took me a little while and a lot of repetition for me to take him up on his initial offer. i was going through a hard time in my life, and depression was making it difficult for me to be sociable. one day, though, i found myself sitting one of the coziest and funkiest flats i’d ever encountered. the walls were practically papered with postcards of artwork, quotes, drawings and photos, and there were shelves upon shelves of books, video and audio tapes, dvds and cds. there was a comfy couch and chair, and cushions were everywhere. a guitar and ukelele hung out in a corner. there was also a table with a sewing machine, scraps of fabric, homemade paper patterns and various sewing-related bits and bobs. and standing demurely near the table was the dressmaker herself, Little Spindle, Pen’s charming partner. she was the soothing yin that perfectly balanced Pen’s dynamic yang.
i would come to spend hours upon hours in that flat in the company of Spindle and Pen…hours filled with laughter, conversation, music and sometimes tears. their home felt like mine, a place where i could be at ease and be myself, and their company was always like a huge comforting hug.
when i stepped onto the platform at the London Road Station back in March, i was instantly surrounded by their warmth and that instant feeling of “at home”. they live in a new place now, and even though there’s more space, it’s just as filled with the books and the pictures and there is still the ever-present smell of something delicious cooking. their living room is still a small haven where you can sink down into a comfortable chair and drink a hot cup of tea or chicory or French press coffee. after three months of relentless grief and loneliness and tension, i was finally at ease.
for the next four days, we talked and laughed and ate and went for walks. they let me tell them about little sun….his birth, his short life and the weeping wound left in the wake of his death. when we encountered babies in the Spring crowds, and i began to gulp and gasp and tear up, they encircled me with their arms and stayed that way until the unwanted sight had passed. they cared for me like family, and with every day that passed, i felt my mood lightening. i felt alive again and able to experience and appreciate the little bits of beauty all around me.
during my stay, Spindle and Pen took me walking on the edge of the South Downs. the two of them have become avid bird watchers in recent years, and they excitedly pointed out the different birds we heard and then sometimes saw through their binoculars. Pen showed me edible plants, some of which he collected to include in that night’s feast.
Pen and i also went on a couple of walks alone, through the streets of Brighton where we saw many a curious thing:
down to the seafront, where we both ventured into the chilly Channel:
and to a charming cemetery, where we saw beautifully neglected headstones and bright flowers…and more birds:
back at their flat, Pen made magic in their kitchen:
Spindle and i talked books and art, and she showed me her new workshop, another place where magic is made:
i spent four relaxing, inspiring, heartening days with my friends, and then Froggy arrived and the two of us installed ourselves in our lovely little bed and breakfast in the center of town. the next night, we met up with Spindle and Pen at a Thai restaurant, and i finally got to introduce my old friends to my partner. after their initial hellos and so-nice-to-meet-yous, Pen pulled out a thick square envelop and pushed it across the table toward Froggy and me. i opened it, and the first thing that i saw was a wad of pounds. without even thinking, i pushed the card back towards him, saying “noooo, we can’t accept this,” but both of them smiled at us, and Pen said, “just read the card.” inside were words filled with love and encouragement and the explanation that the money was for our first attempt at making a little sibling for little sun. within five minutes of meeting them, Froggy was already touched and wiping away tears. but the money and their words weren’t the only thing in the card. on my last day at their flat, little Spindle had gotten a brand new embroidery machine, and one of the first things she made was for us:
we spent the evening eating and drinking and laughing together, and the following night, Pen cooked for us and we laughed and talked some more and listened to Smith songs. i could tell that Froggy was as enchanted by my dear Spindle and Pen as i am.
since we returned to Paris, Pen has called me nearly every week, and he’s listened to my sorrows and rages and always responded in his calm, caring way. he is my rational sounding board, and his opinions are always worth hearing. he’s commiserated with me when our first two IUIs yielded nothing but pregnancy tests with one lonely line, and he insisted that we come to them if we needed help paying for an IVF. his and Spindle’s continue kindnesses have helped me keep going even during the darkest of days. sometimes they feel like the only people i have left.
i’ve spent three months trying to write about them, trying to find the words that would paint them accurately. there are no words sufficient to convey their gentle magnificence, though, and i fear that i don’t really do them justice here.
in any case, my dear Elpenor and little Spindle will be crossing the Channel in two days and coming to stay with us in gay Paris. they’ve never been before, and i’m so looking forward to those hours of laughter and easy conversation. there will be good food and long walks and even a bird or two. what a wonderful thing it is to have real friends.
a song for them: