The Life and Death of the Best Friend

7-e&h-2014 Liana is twenty. She went to clown school and performed in Rocky Horror Picture Show. She’s got a face like a Victorian doll and is wholeheartedly unafraid of other people.

We’re in a three-day improv acting intensive together, and Liana breezes expertly into every scene. Offstage she somehow gives the impression that she’s all at once eager to please and somewhat bored.

Liana doesn’t trust anyone who doesn’t have a best friend.

For a second, when she says this, she looks just like a girl I used to teach in Germany, six years old and extra sunshine-y, although Liana’s tone is on the dark side of witty and when asked to suggest an emotion for a scene she calls out “turned on!”

She means what she says about best friends, though. She tells me something about a  recent crucial snapchat from her best friend, then asks me to check her eyeliner.

I’m thinking: Aren’t best friends what teenagers do. What Hollywood sells to middleschoolers. Did anyone ever have friends like Stand by Me or Now and Then?

Somehow movies like Heathers and  Welcome to the Dollhouse seemed more believable to the prepare-for-all-devastation, thirteen-year-old me, though by then I’d met Heidi from camp who could read my mind and I’d send her lyrics to go with the songs she made up on guitar.

Heidi was just one in a list of best friend types, stretching back to age four in little domino lines of fateful bathtimes, failed sleepovers, unending phone conversations, self-made secret books, Yosemite hikes, color-coded letters, and lights-out levitation attempts.

I’m thinking of the disparate, long-distance swirling of my adult best friends: A. and K. in Berlin, M. hidden in Brooklyn, G. somewhere in Alaska, T. a public defender in Washington.  N. and I parted ways ungracefully, and over email.

My best friends and I have become rather silent to each other.

Her eyeliner fixed, suddenly Liana looks like me, a younger, blonder me who is both more self-conscious and more brave, and is above all disapproving. Is it possible, thinks this younger, blonder me, that my future self is a best friend-less self?

But all of us– A. and K. and I, and all the other dear-ones– moving around in various, necessary trajectories, all of us unending explorers, all of us wanting every bit of life. We lose track of each other. We find other ways to cope. We send sporadic emails and random postcards. We find less and less people, in general, are looking for friends.

(We all resist Facebook. Is that, in the end, where best-friendship has been thrown?)

I wonder if in adulthood best friends get renamed, appear instead as co-creators. At long last, you find your collaborators, the people who, like in our improv class, will tell you YES and finish the story you started in a way you’d never think of. Who cares if you don’t both love Bagel Bites and Beetlejuice. Now what matters is that you want to put the same thing out into the world. Now what matters is that you join to achieve some vision. The best-friendship itself is sacrificed to the vision.

Liana plays my daughter on stage. I fix her eyebrows and straighten her back. She is the picture of girlhood, about to burst forth.

We’re making things. We’ve been practicing with our best friends our whole lives.

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