The art of friendship

On Sunday afternoon, I took Edwina grocery shopping and then completed another interview with her. Every time we sit down to talk, I learn something new.  Just goes to show the complexity of a life and the danger of assuming I know all there is to know about my friend.

Before heading over to Edwina’s, I called to ask if she’d mind my bringing along a former student, Bethany Campbell, who is now completing an internship with me as she earns the MA in American Studies at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa (the campus down the road a ways).  “Sure, bring her along,” Edwina replied, not thinking twice about anyone I might lead into her apartment.

When we got there, Bethany and I took Edwina and Aubrey to Save-a-Lot. Aubrey had her eye on another box of cookies with pink icing–just in time for Valentine’s Day. We headed back to the apartment to stash the food in the fridge and settled in to talk.

I’ve noticed in recent months that Edwina has made a concerted effort to ask me how I’m doing. When she knows I’ve been down with a bug, she wants to make sure I’m on the mend. After telling her about my mom’s broken bone, she’s been curious about how she’s healing, when she’ll be coming home from the hospital, and how my dad is going to “get in his fixin’,” the hip replacement I told Edwina about some time ago. I started wondering how comfortable Edwina felt asking me those kinds of questions, which gave me a starting point for our conversation: some insight into Edwina’s friendships with women over the years.

“Did you have any girlfriends while you were growing up?” I asked her.

“No, mamm, I didn’t like hangin’ with girls. They didn’t do what I said. I rather run around with boys, they teach you stuff.”

Hmmm. “What kind of stuff?”

“You know, stuff like how to not let nobody pull the wool over your eyes. Not let boys talk, what they call it, sweet things in your ear,” she offered.

“Did you have any girlfriends at all?”

She paused to think before continuing. “There was Joan McFarland.”

Turns out Joan was a girl that Edwina “got to fightin’ with in the 8th grade” before they became “great” friends. “She dropped out in 11th grade,” Edwina told me, “right before me.”

“Lisa Brown was another one,” an eventual friend who also entered Edwina’s life fist-first. “I was bullying her, she wasn’t doin’ what I was sayin’,” but “then we got to be real close with the cancer and all.” I’d heard a similar story from Lisa when I interviewed her about her life on the streets and cancer diagnosis, but this was the first time Edwina had admitted to the path their relationship had taken.

I had to ask Edwina why she thought her friendships seemed to start with bullying.

“Miss Rayan, I just came from that kind of family. I was the baby, couldn’t let nobody go jumpin’ on me. I had to fight, started carryin’ a knife real early so nobody try to mess with me.”

It dawned on me that I was one of the lucky few who had forged a bond with Edwina without a fight. Even Rachael had seen the end of Edwina’s switchblade at Church of the Reconciler early on–Edwina needed some money and Rachael wasn’t supplying.

I guess it’s never too late to master the art of friendship.

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