Sometimes, as today, comfort means hot soup and cool sheets and the pure animal pleasure of hearing someone else's footsteps in the hall, like the click and clatter of a hoof in the next stall. Sometimes it's a date for the movies, to soak a few handkerchiefs and emerge blinking, covered with popcorn, as if we were 12 again. We've been known to spend a morning trying on hats for nonexistent parties, or an afternoon running away to the next town for dessert. We are rude in hospital hallways, shoulders shaking as we make fun of indecent procedures, serious-faced doctors. Other friends are there, joining to form a raft above the waves, to sit in on appointments, take care of the practical details of life. What has happened has taught us all a kind of emotional imagination we may have lacked. We've learned to ask rather than prescribe, to honor the ordinary pleasures, to take it slow. Sometimes she'll tell us what she needs, other times we must divine it. This week I thought of how frustrating she must find it—house-proud always—to see her house take on a slightly awry look as more pressing things interfere. I'm your hands, I said, tell me what to do—a matter of shades pulled just so, chairs tugged into place, fresh water in the flowers, till the house looked itself again.
Most of all I've learned to listen. We are a pair of smarty-pants talkers, fast and furious, trading stories and what we fondly believe is wit, finishing each other's sentences—most days we still uncork. But now I know to sit quietly as her words tumble out. Fast, packing each moment full, the clock's chime in the background, marking the hours. I told her she could say anything to me and many days she does. We're like children, sprawled on the hill under the moon, roving, roving, as the stars spin. Sometimes it's teasing at an old knot, figuring out why that relationship foundered, this one flourished. Sometimes, the hardest times, we fumble our way to framing an answer to the everlasting why that flows like undertow in the current we're racing. And sometimes we're simply silent, a pause in the conversation that began years ago and will last forever.
She's called to thank me, but of course thanks is wholly beyond the point. As I seek the comfort to give, I know that what I've found in the search is comfort for myself, the consolation that comes from accompanying a friend on her journey as far as I can go, however steep the way.