I've been reflecting on friendship a lot lately, partly because of literal visitors and partly due to people wandering in and out of my mind from 30 years ago, 20, 10, and dancing up along new people. How do we seek friends, what makes someone special, who gets in. I admit an attraction to misfit toys. I am thrilled to see a cowboy that rides an ostrich, a wind-up mouse at the center of the nesting dolls. I like the people who seem out of place, propping up the wall at parties, the people who laugh a tiny bit louder than they meant and turn purple with embarrassment. The pink fire truck, the bird that swims. I like the people who surprise me with their fearless defiance of convention, even if sometimes it makes them lonely, because they have learned to celebrate what they do rather than fold themselves into someone's expectations. A spotted elephant, a charlie-in-the box. I like people who wear their hearts on their sleeves and people who hold their love so tightly in their mouths that it cuts them on the way out. I find these people, or they find me, and the friendship that results is a mixture of pleasure in the simple things about each other and delight in the oddities that make us misfits. Some of us have not been loved yet. We inhabit the island and find each other and tell each other how we are lovable until we believe it.
To be clear, I get along fine with the toys that come out of the box and look and act like you'd expect, most of the time. But as a dolly for Sue myself, I find it easy to love my fellow misfit toys. And maybe this is the root of one problem you asked me about, and which I am using an American Christmas special to help me answer. I am smart as a whip in many ways but it's hard for me sometimes to tell the difference between the misfit and the broken. A water pistol that squirts jelly is something that doesn't work the way you might expect, but it still works and part of its appeal for me is in the surprise. A boy who is disruptive in school can grow into a man who teaches juggling, helps other children learn to manage their energy. A boat that doesn't float...I say "It's okay, you don't have to float, you can be really good at something else" and I believe that so much that it sometimes takes me a while to realize that while one broken boat might have a hidden compartment for storing treasures, just like a woman could be terrible at giving presents but great at keeping secrets, some broken boats only want to be boats, and they spend their entire time trying to float off the island and sinking and getting rescued and heading back into the water to sink and be rescued again before I finally get it: they are broken. The train with square wheels could have learned to be a story teller, a safe bed for a winged bear, but if all he's going to do is sit around and complain about how he never gets to go anywhere, he's broken. When I eventually figure it out, I'm gone, but sometimes it takes me a while to realize that broken that isn't trying to compensate or repair is ... broken. And then afterwards sometimes it takes me a while to get over my disappointment, for which I must apologize to you, my metaphorical toy friend, as you have never been anything but super fun to play with.
It feels like some kind of torture, some kind of crazy cruelty so perfect it would have to be planned. First, for one marvelous measure of time you glide across the globe of your mind, the depths of the oceans and the peaks of the mountains all equally beautiful and rich. Then it starts, and the pain pulls you so far into yourself you can't imagine a world beyond your skin and you reel inside this wail and claw, wish you believed in prayer so you could pray for it to be over but you have no breath to pray with anyway. It ends when it ends and you gasp out of it and shake your head and count your fingers and toes and blessings and make jokes, as you do. Then it sucks you in again, you blacken every thing on your mind's horizon and take a deep breath because it will surely be your last, this one, and you fall and you fall. With the distance you can manage, you try to be scientific and measure the pain on scales, measure the blood, measure the tears, try to put words on it, try to stay silent, try anything. And then it's over. You're losing your mind probably. In the sweet breaks between, you scour the internet, take online tests, talk to friends, change your diet, put on warm sweaters and take them off again in endless cycles, suck the sweetness and softness out of what you have by questioning why it isn't like that all the time, why the bitter and sharp tear. You assign yourself stoicism, after all you were the one who sliced through and set fire, and why not continue but then when the pain is there you remember that you cried then, too. Count your blessings. Count the people who have it worse. Count the length of the pause. Count how far you have come, how much less far you have to go. Count on your strength.