As Friends Do
I tore a piece off from my flakey ham and gruyere croissant and popped it in my mouth, letting the buttery goodness melt over my tongue. Eagerly awaiting the arrival of my dear friend, I stared out the window of my favorite French pastry and coffee shop. Strategically, I sat at a table near the entrance. A cool February breeze was ushered in with every swing of the door as people came in and out of the busy café. My swelling belly, overheated and overly-hormonal body, welcomed the cold air that brushed over me every few minutes.
I spotted her crossing the street in the parking lot. She wore a black fleece and her hair was pulled back. Her eyes were sad and sunken, even from several feet away. “She must be tired,” my mind quickly waved away the thought that something might be wrong. My secret bundle of joy had overtaken my usual keen ability to read a situation, even one that clearly showed my friend was hurting. I’ve known her for years and I picked up that something was wrong that morning even before one word was spoken between us. Yet, in my eagerness to share my exciting news, I brushed it off.
She came in with a forced smile and tired eyes, “Hi, friend!” I beamed. We chatted for several minutes about the usual: work, family, etc. I recommended the lavender-lemon scone and she took me up on it.
Finally, I couldn’t keep my news in any longer. “Hadley’s going to be a big sister!” The announcement burst out of me like water out of a popped water balloon. The news washed over her head as her eyes widened and pain swept over her face.
“I am so happy for you…” she began. I knew she really was, and yet sadness gripped her. “I am so happy for you…but I have to tell you… I had a miscarriage.”
She had thrown her water balloon and it burst over me, washing away the bliss that was there mere seconds ago. We settled in a moment of silence. Our eyes met and then drifted, only to meet again. Tears swelled. All at once, like a painting of mixed colors splashed across the canvas, two extreme emotions, joy and pain, were felt simultaneously by two close friends.
My lips parted breaking the silence. “I’m so sorry.” I uttered, knowing the words meant hardly anything.
We had each tossed our balloons and they had exploded on us both. Like the heat escaping from our steaming lattes, the news had evaporated out in the open and could never be contained as it once was. I no longer felt the cool breeze wafting in and out of the cafe like before. I only felt flushed vulnerability as I surveyed the wake of our post-water balloon exchange.
Much like the aftermath of a good water balloon fight, I pictured broken pieces of colored water balloons scattered across the floor as I listened to my friend share the broken pieces of her heart. My mind tunneled in on her words as she described the severity of the situation she was in. Some details of what she shared remain clear, some details were lost in a fog of sadness. One thing I do remember was the heartrending feeling of seeing my friend in pain.
“But I really am so happy for you,” she concluded. Again, I knew she meant it. She was happy for me, but she was also grieving a loss, a loss that I had never experienced and couldn’t begin to even understand. With our half-full, saucer-sized cups of coffee, we lingered in a frothy foam of joy and grief. We could only sit in the moment together, as friends do.
I’ve known my best friend for nearly thirty years, ever since the first day of kindergarten. Our friendship began when one of us decided to sit next to the other on the school bus. Scrolling through our years of friendship with ups and downs, laughter and tears, I’ve never seen my friend as sad as she was that day.
The timing of my happy news couldn’t have been worse. It felt like stepping on that lost sewing pin hidden in my mom’s carpet. I never saw it coming, and yet I knew that the possibility was there. We expected to be moms together. We expected to have our kids play together, grow up with one another hearing stories about their mom’s Mariah Carey lip syncs, and laugh at old pictures of us in overalls and baggy t-shirts.
What is friendship though, if not the shared experiences and profusion of emotions together? Friends are there to share in the abundance of life, the triumph and sorrow. I was there to share in my friend’s grief, as hard as it was, like she had been there to share in my joy.
Tired and swollen, I sat on the couch, baby clutched to my breast. My friend sat across from me. Her face glowed. After my son had his fill of milk, I snapped closed my bra clasp and looked across at her. “Do you want to hold him?” I asked cautiously, unsure of how she might feel.
“Of course!” She stretched out her arms. “I need the practice.” Her eyes twinkled. I smiled and nodded, handing over John. I was unsure if she meant she needed the practice because someday she hoped to be a mom, or maybe because she was pregnant again. I didn’t want to ask, I didn’t want to cause any unnecessary pain. I figured if she had something to tell me, she would.
She remarked on his head, his little nose and delicate fingers, as she adjusted the blanket around him. She brushed her hand over his peach fuzz hair and spoke to him, “Soon you’ll have a playmate.” She glanced up at me and our eyes met. I want to say it was the postpartum haze, but it took me a second to realize that she was not referring to a hopeful distant future, but rather that she in fact was pregnant here and now.
“Are you…” I motioned my head down and up slowly.
“Yes!” She burst. Squeals of delight and laughter filled the space between the sofa as we discussed the due date, gender, and details upon details of the most exciting news my friend could have possibly shared. We sat there amongst the cushions floating in a sea of exuberance, celebrating and planning for the future, as friends do.
Our boys spent the better half of the basketball-themed birthday party wearing firefighter hats and participating in two-year old banter. They smiled and laughed at one another as they took turns flying around a white plane and driving a yellow dump truck across the room.
I watched my friend as she leaned over her son, who stood on his stool, at the kitchen counter. Both sets of eyes gleefully dancing at the sight of the blue number two candle lit on his orange basketball birthday cake. “Will you get a video?” my friend asked me.
“Of course.” I took her phone and held it up. The familiar song of “Happy Birthday,” began to float through the air. Her eyes sparkled a heavenly kind of delight as she kissed his cheek, a wide grin spread across his face. She was his mom. He was hers.
Orange frosting-created mustaches adorned our boys’ faces as they shoveled the chocolate cake into their mouths. My friend and I looked at each other and smiled. The water balloon popped and joy washed over us both. Together, we basked in that moment of abundance, as friends do.
Kayleen Terrell lives in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. She’s an elementary school teacher, writer, lover of coffee, wine, and all things Parisian. Kayleen believes that motherhood requires a little grace and hopes to humor, support, and encourage with her writing. You’ll find her blog at frozenpeasandpinot.com.