- The Best of Friendsby Elizabeth Emerald
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A lesson in reduced expectations
The Best of Friends by Elizabeth Emerald

I've known many happy pairs--platonic and romantic--who claim to have "clicked instantly."
Some of the couples remain so, others have become "un-clicked."(Internet parlance for revoking a previously-chosen option--a change of mind via mechanical mouse.)

I've had relationships that terminated with angry un-clicks. That is, by active de-selection on both ends. I've had relationships that passively petered out, for no particular reason, no mouse action involved.

Charlene and I clicked, not at first--brief--sight, but within the first weeks of our acquaintance. We met pool-side, at the Malden Y, sometime last summer. End-of-June, as I recall. Come to think of it, probably mid-July. Maybe early August.

As I said, our first contact was inconsequential. A brief smile and nod of thanks for the offer to share a lane--which turned out to be unnecessary.

After a week or so of intermittent waves of recognition, passing to-and-from the pool, we chanced to segue into a synchronized swim session such that we ended chatting thereafter in the locker-room.

At which point, I guess you could say we "clicked".

Charlene has three grown children, as do I, had two divorces as did I.We alternately bemoaned our two-out-of-three-thirty-something-still-at-home-kids and blasted our pair of un-dear-departed Exes.

We are both retired--in Charlene's case willingly 15 months ago, in mine unwillingly 15 years ago. We had both worked in accounting departments, she as an analyst, I as a programmer.
We are both prolific--albeit unpublished--writers, she of 200-page third-person fiction, I of two-page first-person pseudo-nonfiction. I invited Charlene to my weekly "Writers' Block Party," which she has faithfully attended every Monday since.

Within a week of joining, Charlene, on her initiative, read 40-something pieces of mine, going back two years. I was thrilled. Nobody else ever bothers to read more than one-and-a-half of my masterpieces--so conveniently e-mail-able--and not even that many without a persistent push. Returning the favor, I eagerly devoured Charlene's not-so-happily-ever-after romance novel-in-progress.

We had another common interest. Charlene noticed me wearing a pin that I'd made, featuring a pair of foreign stamps. Charlene collected foreign stamps! She promptly bequeathed me a bulging bag of extras for my crafting.

Our shared pet peeve was of an all-but-extinct species: tattoo-disapprover. We abhorred the ubiquitous spread of permanent ink staining skin after skin. We bemoaned the countless torsos, limbs, and lord-knows-what-else marked for life.

We became the best of friends.

Charlene and I would go to lunch each week after class. We soon got in the routine of meeting up twice more during the week, usually Wednesdays and Fridays, at the pool. After our swim, I'd be ravenous. I'd scarf down an over-dressed sub; Charlene nibbled at an undressed salad. I'd have a tuna melt with tomato and cheese; Charlene would have tuna with tomato: hold the mayo, hold the bread, and hold the cheese. When we went for dim sum Charlene would extract the shrimp from their dumpling casings and the steamed mushrooms from their wrappers.

Knowing her restrictive eating habits, when I asked Charlene over for lunch I planned the menu accordingly--minestrone; smoked turkey lo-carb roll-ups (avocado on the side); with a finale of fresh pineapple (optional garnish: gingersnaps). On the first--and last--occasion of which invitation she picked three slices of cucumber and a pair of pepper strips from the salad platter, and passed on the soup, sandwich, and dessert.

After that abortive event, Charlene invited me to her place to see her stamp collection. Hoarder's Hell it was. After an excruciating hour of slow suffocation--during which Charlene failed to locate a single one of her stamp albums--I put myself out of my misery by suddenly "remembering" a medical appointment.

We continued our alternate sub shop/dim sum, post-swim forays. By this time, I'd known Charlene about a month. I figured it was about time to reveal the religious torment-- regarding the monstrous nature of God (whom I "prayed" did not exist)--that has plagued me for the past 45 years. I was hopeful that Charlene would empathize.

To my profound disappointment, she totally didn't "get it." She blithely murmured the typical banal platitudes: God's been good to me; He gave us free will; Everything happens for a reason; etc. etc. ad nauseam.

Two days later, Charlene played--more like underplayed--her Trump card. Apropos of nothing, she matter-of-factly mentioned that she didn't pay much attention to politics, but she voted for Trump because her parents were Republican and that in any event it was time for a change. (Those very words. Seriously.)

We resonated in so many ways that I had-- foolishly--assumed we would agree on religion and politics as well. What a double kicker that week was.

Notwithstanding our differences, Charlene and I remain friends. Good friends. We never miss a Monday. We still swim together twice a week, followed by sandwich/soup, or dim sum. During the consumption of which we don't talk politics. Which is easy to not do, considering neither of us has anything intelligent to say on the subject.

As far as religion goes, by unspoken agreement that too stays firmly off our lunch table.No cause to "unclick" on those grounds either. After all, we're not raising a family together. (Thank God! Or not.)

Regarding Queen Charlene of the Royal Pack-Rats, I don't have to jump in her dumpster, so that's not an issue. In sum, neither of us is seeking-a-soulmate for marriage-and-family-happily-ever-after. Our respective ill-suited ship-mates have long since bailed and sailed, and our clocks lost their tick-tocks twenty-plenty years ago.

As I said: despite my disappointment--irritation--at discovering that Charlene's rigid (non)eating habits preclude her enjoying a meal at my house--indeed, any meal anywhere unless it's safely under her 50-calorie limit; despite my profound discomfort--disgust!--at even the thought of setting a single foot in Pig Charlene's pen; despite her insipid, Charlene-centered God-is-nice-to-me-He-can-screw-the-rest-of-the-world simplistic take on Christianity; despite Charlene's gross disregard for human dignity to the extent that she could even think about voting for Donald Dick--which she didn't bother to think about; despite our utter lack of common ground in major, major ways, Charlene and I remain friends. Good friends. Really.

Just not, perhaps, the best of friends.

Author Notes
Though the character of Charlene and details of our association are entirely fabricated--alas, I have loved and lost several such best friends in my life.


© Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Emerald All rights reserved.
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