Erosion

Jessica Ward

I.

I love Hallmark. Rows and rows of cards for every occasion, and for $3.49 (plus postage), I can be one of those eccentric well-wishers with entirely too much time on their hands. There are wedding congratulations trimmed with lace, and yellow baby announcements touting fuzzy blankets to cushion the blow of parenthood, and those “any occasion” cards which somehow always feature sad-eyed dogs like we’re all animal lovers waiting to happen.

What they don’t have a card for is an ending friendship. I’m not talking about a “what’s done is done” moment when there’s blood on your hands and at least six deaths before curtain call, or even the finality of a shut door. No, I mean something more unobtrusive: dust fingering the edges of a violin, or the tide’s whisper as it licks the curve of the shore. Confucius, in all of his ancient wisdom, appreciated things like change and erosion: “They must change, who would be constant in happiness,” he said. It’s good advice, I’m sure, but sometimes I want to still the sea and revel in the silence of a world unchanging. Take that, Confucius.

Right now, though, I’m really not thinking about ancient Chinese philosophy or even natural history across the millennia. No, my world started eroding just last week when Sarah Stone decided to change her name. I know that’s what people do when they decide to hang out for all eternity, but it’s a bit more complicated when it’s your roommate who made out with a guy in the back of your car, and now they’re getting married this summer. In August, no less. I sometimes think I’ll die of heat—or loneliness—but I keep that to myself along with everything else.

Even as I write this in my hour between classes, she’s beside me drawing loopy Ls and Zs in the margins of a linguistics assignment that was due yesterday. Sarah Linz. Bold experiments are afoot: sometimes the L is a shelf where the other letters can rest their feet, except for zwho is so dressed up she threatens to tip. In other variations, the letters are spaced, like people in some sticky elevator who stand hands to side to avert the awkwardness of physical contact. The latest version features a capital so loopy I imagine sticking thread through it, the eye of some needle I can pull tight to keep the threads of her name (and my life) from unraveling. Not that either of us can sew. Or cook. But I’m taking Foods next semester and Sarah is getting married so I guess that solves that.

“Which one?” she asks, and I mostly hold back the sigh. It’s just ink on a page, yes, but somehow the combination of letters is more significant than the yellow and violet dress she threatens to put me in or even the square wedding rings she browses online. Still there—Sarah Linz. But not quite: in all of her versions—the shelf, the elevator, the eye of the needle—the L somehow looks like an S that got a little confused in its haste to dress. I don’t know whether to be deeply concerned for her penmanship or just comforted by this little sign that I’m not entirely losing my best friend after all.
II.

It’s more than a new combination of letters scribbled in the margins of an exhausted notebook, of course. It’s the feeling of official ditchéd-ness. Girls who do that are lame, we used to agree. We are not like that, we used to agree. We will never be like that, we used to agree. But all agreement disappeared like November sun the first time Sarah put her palm up and Dan put his palm down and they were almost but not quite holding hands during the third hour of Lord of the Rings, which is a cuddling movie only because it’s forever long.

But the palm thing evolved and now there’s a constant barrage of questions. “Aren’t they cute?” people ask. Adorable. “They’re so great.” Fantastic. Try living with them. “So when are they getting married?” Which brings me to my next role—public relations. I wish for cue cards, wish the happy couple would issue public statements, but instead I deal in ellipses. It’s a fine art, being vague but suggestive and helpful without actually helping. My personal favorite: “It’s not official yet, but . . .” The punctuation is audible, three round dots floating in the air and quivering with their own unsaid possibilities. Then the gossiper nods knowingly and goes off to spread the word. It’s nice when someone else does my job.

From best friend to PR rep in one semester. I’ve watched the transition in fascination the same way I once stared at my own swollen ankle and wondered if they had a name for that color purple or if I’d invented a new addition for the ever-expanding Crayola rainbow. I cradled the doughy fatness, wondered where all the bones were hiding, and finally grew brave (curious) enough to step down, the pain a high C an amateur soprano can’t quite reach. Turns out friendship hurts too, but if I abandon the script to complain, I am told to stop being dramatic; it’s not like anyone died. True, there’s been no funeral. But flowers smell the same no matter the occasion, and they’re everywhere in this apartment—dying in the trash can, living in the vase, hanging on the wall. They are romantic, Sarah tells me, but I think it feels more like a mortuary, which might not be such a bad comparison after all.
III.

It’s a typical Thursday night, and I can’t get comfortable in my usual corner of the argyle green couch. Chow mein noodle crumbs are falling into the binding of my British Lit textbook, where they will disintegrate and turn nasty come sellback time. Joy. Take that back—double joy, I have a perfect view of Sarah sprawled on the floor and Dan feeling her shoulder blades and spine like a blind man discovering the raised ridges of a globe. She says that feels good, just right there, and he presses harder, hard enough to bruise an apple. It’s intimate enough that I look away. Sarah sees the flinch and will probably freak at me later, will say it’s fine and that nothing will change, really. We believed this once before we grew up, but silence is my parting gift so I shrug and go back to studying.

I once heard that silence is golden, but mine is a blue box, ribbon-tied and silk lined where my unasked questions nestle. When did you fall in love? What does it feel like? Will you still wear socks to bed? What will you say over breakfast for the next sixty years? What if we hadn’t moved here? Do you miss me? One day when we are both old, I might take my box out and unfold the questions, air them on the line and watch them dance like breeze-stirred cotton while Sarah and I laugh. We will drink strawberry lemonade, the seeds freckling our teeth, and all will be well.

But we’re not to the lemonade drinking stage yet, and the box of questions has yet to see the light of day. People ask me why I don’t find a new best friend. Sure, maybe I’ll go to Wal-Mart and buy myself the latest model. Like you can get them next to the goldfish or something. I have been driven to desperation. Last Christmas, I thought of advertising, drawing up a 3×5 pink note card: BEST FRIEND WANTED—APPLY HERE. Except I’d ask for someone to stay up till four, and tap dance on the washing machine, and drink black cherry Fresca out of a martini glass, pinky up. I don’t think I’d find that person by the goldfish or anywhere else, so the note cards are still sitting on my desk next to the undone tax returns.

The real reason I didn’t advertise, though, is because last week it was very late, and I was up and she was up. “Let’s go to Denny’s,” she said, and we went, sprawling out in the vinyl booth because it was two a.m. and the only people to see us were freshmen too self-interested to notice anyway. We talked. I’d like to say I had one of those James Joyce epiphanies about love and life and now I can write my own Hallmark card, but that would be a lie. Instead, I spilled syrup on the table and Sarah sang U2, the whole world upside down in a spoon’s reflection. She asked me to be her bridesmaid, and I laughed at the wonderful absurdity as I ate $6.99 worth of happiness in the shape of strawberry pancakes, extra whipped cream on the side. Sometimes life is good that way.

“Goodnight,” I told her when we got home, but it was really goodbye. Goodbye to Sarah Stone and the dancing and the two a.m. pancakes. Goodbye to martini glasses and pinkies up. Goodbye to my best friend and the world she knows.

Cleaving is the biblical term for this whole process: a guy and a girl coming together, starting a new life separate from everyone they love. I used to picture some Jewish mother-in-law stopping by the tent too often, offering advice on how to prepare the unleavened bread or doing whatever was the Old Testament equivalent of calling on the phone every day, three times a day; but now I see myself, dressed like a yellow cupcake and applying waterproof mascara like the flood is coming. Two by two they went to the ark, and two by two they will stand, fingers entwined, as I wave amid the iridescent rice raining from the sky.