This weekend I had a Skype call with a dear friend. The way we met continues to be one of the best stories I have about making a new friend.
We had been in Sydney about two weeks, and one morning I was desperate to get out of the house with the kids. I stepped over the clutter in nearly every room (who knew the contents of suitcases could explode on such a massive scale when you didn't have furniture yet to contain it!), put Sprout in the stroller, and managed to cross the busy road between our house and the adjacent waterfront park. Small Sun was 2 (almost 3) and Sprout was 18 months.
To reach the play equipment, you had to run down a steep embankment of long, green grass. The cove sparkled and undulated in a different way moment by moment. It was living there, on that cove, that I learned how responsive water is to wind, and how they play together in a never tiring interaction.
Sprout couldn't yet climb the ladder on her own, and once up, I had to hover beneath to make sure she didn't step out of the play structure into thin air.
In those early days, before we knew anyone, we haunted the playgrounds along the cove walk. Happening upon playmates, and snatching a few moments of conversation with another mum made our day.
That day, while we were playing, another mum rolled up with a Graco pram (stroller). Her daughter had on shoes from American Target, I knew because Sprout had those same shoes scattered on the floor of our semi (duplex). The blond mother's American southern accent rang out across the playground as she spoke to her companion. Her brilliant diamond ring threw flashes of light as dazzling as the light off the wavelets in the cove. I didn't want an American friend, I wanted Aussie friends, but I went over to say hi anyway.
"S" had been in Sydney just about as long as we had. She was also haunting the playgrounds along the cove walk, from her neighborhood a brisk ten minutes walk down the cove. She knew no one, and her house was also an empty shell, waiting for belongings to fill it.
She came back by my house with me, to borrow a power adapter, because she didn't have one, and didn't know where to buy one, and I had extra. I invited her in, past our monstrous mess, convinced that helping her with her need was more important than shame over my clutter. I wrote my number on a piece of paper and told her to call me if she wanted to get together sometime. I was completely shocked when she did.
That was over six years ago. S and I became fast friends. Our daughters were nearly the same age, and looked very similar as babies. So much so that at her daughter's birthday party, when both the girls were in diapers, splashing in the kiddie pool, her husband picked up Sprout to go sing happy birthday, only to realize he had the wrong girl. We did book club together, we fell pregnant at the same time and delivered our boys within weeks of each other. My Finch and her little M were the best of friends, inseparable in preschool, and always carrying on a conversation about dinosaurs (a passion only matched in each other's enthusiasm).
I talked them into joining our school, and our daughters went to school together, attending the same playdates and parties in a tightly knit happy circle.
We went on holidays together. We watched each other's children. When S had to fly to the States for a family emergency, I helped to step in to make sure her house and her children had what they needed. We cooked for each other when one was sick. We helped each other move. We co-hosted Thanksgiving for a diverse crowd each year. We shared Christmas.
Then we moved back to America. We even stayed in our friend's house for a week while they were overseas, between selling our house and flying to Fiji.
Being here, in America, I am so far from my friends and the country that I love. The two places are so different from each other, it is hard to hold both in my mind, in the same space.
Last week I had a Skype call with S. They are in North Carolina. They have moved back "home." She looked bewildered. Her voice faltered. She is hung over that chasm that is having left a life you love, and not yet having built a new life. She doesn't know where they'll live, or if they will ever find a new church where they feel they can uplift their hearts to God, or if they will ever find a school as lovely as our dear Sydney school. She is in the between place. I know it well.
Seeing S brought everything Australia rushing back. The light. The sky. The wind. The gum trees. Both of our families moved to Australia for a bit of adventure, only to fall deeply and madly in love with the place. They have citizenship there, as do we. Her children still carry their strong Aussie accents. Accents my children lost months ago.
I wish I could cross the road, and stumble down the hill to meet her at the playground. I want to tell her "you're going to be okay. You will find joy here too." I want to brew her a good cup of tea, give her a piece of cake, and sit in the sunlit afternoon together. That is how we set everything right again.
*Our Thanksgiving table, outside in springtime, Aussie style.