My friend J is in Zurich and on the road to recovery from a very serious, life-threatening illness. The toll of this illness on him has impacted more than just his physical health. In the couple of months that have passed since this all happened I have watched his easy-going confidence and trademark happy-go-lucky personality become more guarded, watchful, and careful than the entirety of our long, long friendship. His level of patience along with his no-bullshit type honesty is nearly legendary in my world. The no-bullshit honesty continues, but his patience – especially with himself and his present level of ability – has been severely tested and is nearly exhausted.
It is an ongoing concern for me, one I have forced myself to rein in and keep firmly rooted in reality.
With the geographical distance between us and his insistence there is really nothing for us to do for him, I have devised other ways to try and help. Since learning how seriously ill he was and how long recovery could take, I have been on a relentless campaign to try and keep his spirits up. My daily emails are full of the details of my day-to-day
existence life and times and frequently bore even me while writing them. However, when confined to home for weeks at a stretch, anything resembling personal news seems better than the silence or trolling the internet for interesting content. Or so he kindly tells me.
This morning I wrote and sent my daily exercise recap (which I spare my blog readers most of the time … you’re welcome) as well as more details from the rest of my Thursday, and he very kindly sent me a bracing text in reply. I was not exactly complaining about anything, but I suppose I did sound fretful about recent events in the gym and a mishap on Monday that involved me stepping off a curb )without realizing I was stepping off a curb) and losing balance and landing on my right knee. The bruise was not as horrible as I expected, but since then the knee has been giving grief on a particular kick-back exercise on my List Wednesday and again today. While not a big enough deal to ask trainer J about, it was enough daily fodder to mention to friend J in emails.
Exasperated much, J? Still, that’s the friend J I know and love. The kinder, gentler, enabling voice I have heard off and on through the last couple of months has frankly scared the shit out of me that he’s actually sicker than he lets on or than I realize. M talks to him almost daily – they are like gossiping old ladies – and reassures me that everything is fine, but that it is hard to go from completely self-sufficient, self-contained masculine guy to having to have a home health aid come in and cook and clean and ensure you have the strength to care for yourself as well as friends staying overnight just in case they are needed. While a far better solution than staying hospitalized, accepting that he required this level of assistance was a very bitter pill for him to swallow.
I get that. I do. But I vastly prefer that he bust my chops about being a whiner than hold my hand and want to talk about my feelings. We are brother/sister in practical pragmatism, and I had not really realized until this crisis how much I depend upon him to be my bitch-slapping voice of reason. M certainly cannot do that for me. If he did, we would be spending a lot of our together time in marriage counseling.
My anxiety and concern for friend J’s well being continues, although like his moods and impatience to be well my anxiety and concern for him ebbs and flows.
That he is a life-long athlete and has been a runner, a cycler, a body builder, and a power lifter helps me with my own exercise and better health journey. Despite also being a bachelor, he eats a pretty balanced and clean diet with his vices of booze and the occasional cigar. More than that, he’s over-the-top interested in what I am doing in the gym, about my eating challenges, my progress and my setback. He’s someone I trust not to be judgey about any of this stuff, yet kick me in the ass and reach out with a helping hand when I want to fall down and stay down and have had thoughts of giving up.
It also forces me to recognize that he is a very healthy specimen and more likely to survive and continue to thrive. His obsession with black dogs (death) is partly just the way he is and partly him yanking my chain about my ongoing concern for him. I understand that as well.
The whole experience has me thinking about our history, and I realize there are moments when I feel like he has been a far better friend to me through the years than I to him. This is not negative girl speaking, but just an accounting of the good deeds done back and forth through the years.
But at the end of the equations in my head, I recognize that friendship is not a financial or a numbers-type relationship that keeps a running tally. There is no quid pro quo for me in my family or tribe of close friends, and I absolutely believe the same is true of him. We have our little wagers on the most ridiculous things. We trade gifts back and forth for no particularly occasion and forbid each other from gift exchanges at Christmas and birthdays, a rule we have both violated on special occasions through the years. When we eat out we have a system for picking up the check that is mostly civilized and does not dissolve into endless bickering once in the restaurant.
My sense of helplessness right now when it seems he needs support or companionship or something more than hand-wringing concern brings forth a lot of insecurity and inadequacy issues. I recognize that it’s not so much that I do not want to do something so much as there is nothing for me to do beyond boring him to death with the details of my daily life every day via email. With the time difference and my crazy work schedule, even text or IM conversations are hit-and-miss. Email has always been our primary go-to communication and we’re accustomed to and embracing it now.
The thing that inspired this post today – even when feeling the crappiest and crankiest he has in the 20+ years we have known each other, he has always been right there for me. WIth the hand to help me up, the boot to kick me in the ass, the box of kleenex when there are tears (because he’s one of those guys who does not cope well with crying women). While we are in the same profession (accounting), his career path and work experiences are different. However, managing people involves the same skill set no matter what the parent organization, and through the years he has been walking encyclopedia of ideas to help me cope with training new staff and associates.
Days like today, when I get this snarky-sounding text back, I cannot really explain how reassured I am that he is going to be okay. While I will feel much better when he is able to return home and restart life in vicinity of my town, right now it’s nice to know his challenges are not so insurmountable and that he is still capable of rising to the “snap out of it!” occasion with me.
All is right and well in my little corner of the world.