Sunday, January 04, 2009

losing the center

There was a time, a few years ago, when there were nine of us, nine friends or siblings or lovers or roommates, living in my neighborhood, some even in my building. Our histories together extended back varying amounts of time, some of us since birth, some of us since meeting as kids in Paris before the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, some of us merely since college, and some of us even more recently than that.

Our circles extended, of course, beyond these nine, and we all had our individual lives outside of the neighborhood, away from each other. But for me, the little triumvirate of my brother, my boyfriend, and myself seemed to exist at the center of things, each of us bringing in our own influences, people, histories.

Of this circle of nine, I am the only one left. We have since left each other for other neighborhoods, boroughs, states, people.

I've been thinking about this quite a bit these last few days, perhaps because of the dawning of a new year and this ritual we all seem to go through every January of taking stock, taking the measure of our lives.

Our extended circles also have largely splintered, many of us going our separate ways, either emotionally or geographically. This is not to say, of course, that all of these friendships and relationships are gone -- some of us are still quite close. But the cohesiveness, the tapestry, the sense of knowing, for example, that one without a doubt has built-in plans for New Year's Eve, is gone.

The best New Year's Eve I ever had, 2003 I think, was in my very own apartment, in the company of ten or so dear friends, with various other friends and acquaintances coming and going throughout the night. It was an evening spent making the traditional McNeil Family New Year's Eve dumplings, an evening of drinking and talking and singing and carrying-on (wrestling matches, involving some sort of port cheese spread, were waged on the living-room floor) and culminating in my brother passed out on the bed, leaving the couch for the boyfriend and myself after all the other revelers took their leave.

I was talking with my mother this afternoon for awhile about various things -- our knitting projects, chores needing to be done, our cats or lack of cats, Bob Herbert's most recent smack-down of the president, what we had done for New Year's Eve. But also about a certain sense of loneliness that seems to come, sometimes, with growing older. My mother, while I was visiting her for Christmas last week, was rhapsodizing a bit about my circle of friends here in New York, and about how difficult it would be for me to leave, to perhaps move west, closer to her and the rest of the family, because of these friends.

She was missing the community that she left behind in Mohegan Lake fifteen years ago when she moved back west, a community of friends and neighbors that had coalesced over the years into one organism, where my brother and I were lucky enough to grow up. She was not quite regretting her decision to leave this community, but was waxing nostalgic for it, and had forgotten that it had started to fall apart even before she moved away.

These things happen sometimes, these splintering of communities, of circles of friends, whether we leave or whether we stay.

I have new friends in the neighborhood now. A coworker who has become much more than that implies, and her boyfriend, and her cat, and their dog, moved up to the neighborhood this past August. We have exchanged apartment keys for pet-watching detail, and get together outside of work now and again for a dinner in each other's homes, a walk up to the farmers' market in Inwood on a Saturday morning, a New Year's Eve.

And it was a fine New Year's Eve. Different from anything I've had in the past, and a little bit lonelier, but embracing all the same, and close to home, and fun and warm and good.

And maybe this is okay. Maybe it's not so tragic to no longer have a large, ever-morphing, ever fracturing and realigning group of friends, with all the drama that that entails. Maybe it's not so bad to have, instead, individual friendships, rich and solid and rewarding friendships, even if it means less excitement and more time alone.

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