Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Safe Place

Safe places are a pleasant refuge for the mind, remembered locations or people that have a calming influence. On those occasional nights when I have trouble sleeping, sometimes I remember lunch at a dead friend's house. She and I had been friends a long time, but were not intimate friends, although we could discuss many topics, because she was well-educated and a real lady of the world. She was a Republican, and I have noticed that I do tend to get along really well with some Republicans, which leads me to conclude that politics are not very important in regard to friendships, not nearly as important as personality, style and taste. People of compatible personalities get along well whatever their politics.

We could hang out together at lunch time and just be. Sometimes we went for a walk, and other times we would just eat and then read the paper. I never watched television, although she kept it on all the time, I think because it filled her otherwise quiet house with the noise of other humans. Sometimes I discussed things with her, such as how my studies progressed, my job prospects, medicine and science, and occasionally politics. She was anti-war, for gay rights and for legalization of marijuana. I think she was Republican mainly for tribal reasons or possibly through inertia, because she had been Republican for so long and did not feel like going to the trouble of changing. The Republican party has changed a lot since back in the day. She expressed disapproval of the young upstarts, but identified with the old guard of the party.

She let her boundaries be known, and it was easy for me to respect those boundaries. Is it flirting to set one's dinner plate on the adjoining side of a table next to a friend, instead of setting one's dinner plate ten feet away at the opposite end of a table? A rare time she scolded me was when I did so. She said she did not want me to sit so close. I thought it was a good distance for talking, but I am used to smaller dinner tables, where everybody gathers around. I did like her, and the feeling was strong, even related to love, but I don't think it necessarily translates into anything of a physical nature. Maybe she saw things I did not see. At any rate, once I demonstrated strict observance of such boundaries as she chose to impose, the obstacle was removed. There was no tension of a sexual nature, the kind that poisons relationships between people. I admired her style and her way of looking at things, and I think my good manners is what she liked most about me.

I watched and listened carefully, because she would sometimes indicate things in a subtle manner, very indirect, and I had to be on my toes to know her feelings and predict her thoughts, but I became better with practice. I liked the challenge of that, and her refinement and sophistication endeared me to her. I could talk to her about things. Nothing that was a problem to other people was a problem to her. She interpreted the world on her own terms.
She was just always nice, welcoming, friendly, thoughtful, and in a word, safe. I had many lunches at her house, just her and me together, and it was very pleasant. She enjoyed my company as well. I wish I had stayed in contact after school ended, but the idea that she would want to stay in contact seemed presumptuous.  She did not give sufficient encouragement to maintain and nourish the friendship. She probably had similar concerns.

Death has only made her safer, because the memories are impervious to change. So it is to her that my thoughts turn some nights. She was concealing, even then, I believe, the illness that just two years later took her life. I was then studying biology in college. A great irony is that I discussed cancer with her, expressing my amazement at how it uses the cells of the body against the body. I remember she had a poker face, as she often did, devoid of strong expression, but that she searched my eyes. She knew, and she was correct that I would have summoned help, had I known. I would not have let the secret lie untold, but would have contacted her family, because everyone thinks that it is the right thing to do, and I am no exception. Perhaps she had other plans. Perhaps she had an opinion that she knew was unpopular. I do wish I had been intuitive enough to perceive what was then concealed. I would have liked to discuss her decision with her.

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