Opinion | I Will Never Bail on My Friends Again

I finished television during the pandemic and started on movies. Now I’m almost finished with those, too! My hips have locked in a supine position and my eyes are dry as a bone, but I persist. What else is there to do?

I’m traveling back through the decades, and I recently watched the 1931 film “Frankenstein.” I enjoyed that famous scene of the monster getting overly excited by social contact and flinging Maria, his little friend, into a lake. The monster has been shunned for so long that he can scarcely believe it when Maria takes his hand and includes him in a game. He is so thrilled to be relieved of his loneliness that he tosses her to her death. I will be just the same way by the end of this pandemic. I will be so happy to see my friends that I’ll mutter and tremble with joy and more than likely, I’ll accidentally drown them. Still, I can’t wait!

Aside from a snatched walk here and there or a chilly drink on a Brooklyn sidewalk, I haven’t had any new experiences with my friends for many months now. Instead, I’ve been turning over memories of old experiences with them like treasures found at the bottom of the ocean.

One recent night, I dove down and came back up with Thanksgiving 2016. As an immigrant I don’t have any family here, or any traditions either. This is liberating because it allows me to create new versions of both. That holiday, my friend Abi and her husband, Noel, threw their apartment open. They rented chairs and made tables out of plywood and almost 20 of us showed up. There was wine and music and huge platters of food, which we breathed over without a care in the world. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I can see, clear as day, my friend Emilie at one side of the table and my friend Sophie on the other. There were some new, interesting people dotted around and all of us were laughing our heads off. As we laughed, we passed the potatoes like some corny scene in a holiday movie. I almost didn’t go to Abi’s that evening because all the pies were sold out at the bakery and I didn’t want to show up without a dessert. As if anyone cared! Can you believe that? As if we needed anything more than one another and a warm place to sit and be together.

I grew up Catholic, the type of Catholic that is encouraged to bargain. At the age of 7 I was fervently being told by a priest in a box that if I simply said half a dozen Hail Marys I’d be forgiven for being mean to my sister. “Deal,” I said, smiling like the devil himself. A pattern was set in my mind. Now, I hear myself bargaining with a different higher power. Science, maybe. Or the government. “Please,” I say out into the void. “Let all my friends get through this and I swear I’ll never cancel on them again.” Not for a date, not for a deadline, not even for my bulletproof millennial excuse: exhaustion.

Like everyone in New York, my friends and I are scattered, physically and mentally. I swear from this day forth I will never let their messages pile up and I’ll always answer their calls. I’ll be there when they’re dull and downhearted and have nothing much to say, because I’m like that now and they still love me.

I would do practically anything to have all of my friends in the same room. Except obviously put them all in the same room, at least not until we’re vaccinated. Oddly enough, I’ve actually been in some of my friends’ rooms lately, just without them. The pandemic threw most of the building blocks of my life up in the air, and they have yet to land. That includes a place to live.

Luckily, my friend Jon said I could stay in his apartment while he was with his family upstate. I called him on FaceTime from his own living room to ask how to get red wine out of cream cushion covers and he said: “Stay for as long as you want; take whatever you need.” How could I hope to thank him for his generosity? By leaving pranks throughout his personal space, of course! Rubber snakes in the dishwasher, buckets of water atop door frames, and a lovely German couple in his bedroom who think they’re in an Airbnb. They’ve paid through February. I can’t imagine Jon’s face when he finds out! Actually, I got a fright there, because I couldn’t imagine his face for a second. I miss my friends’ faces.

It’s December now and sunbeams barely break through clouds as loneliness comes knocking. That liberation that comes with being alone in a new country turns easily to isolation — particularly in isolation. Change is coming soon, though.

By this time next year it will be safe to see one another again. I’m going to hug my friends, pinch their cheeks, lean on them heavily like one of those big dogs that rescue people from the snow. I’m not generally a party person, but next year I will make everybody celebrate my birthday. In fact, I will make everybody celebrate everything. You got a root canal and you managed to pay for it? We are going away for the weekend. You’re on to part three of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson”? That calls for tapas. You got an extra-long receipt from CVS? Meet me at that wooden horse carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park, baby!

I’m sick of us being lone bullfrogs on solitary lily pads. It is so much better when we are a big croaking chorus carousing around the city. I understand a little better now why it’s called “making” friends; it’s an effort and a choice and something that isn’t ever really finished. But really there is no silver lining or hidden meaning in this for me, I just really miss my friends.

Maeve Higgins (@maevehiggins) is the author of “Maeve in America: Essays by a Girl From Somewhere Else” and a contributing opinion writer.

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