selfie preservation #020
Tell me about your favorite TTF
A TT of F is a True Test of Friendship and its birth came as an inside joke among friends when we were in high school. The fact that we not only still remember it as a joke, but employ it as a means by which “we show up for each other” (a phrase I hate, a sentiment I don’t) is honestly remarkable. I almost feel guilty talking about it, as it was not originally our joke, and we no longer treat it as such. There is something very tender about it, I think, don’t you?
An authentic TT of F takes one of two forms, in my opinion — the first being when the friend asks for help in a meaning or significant way; and the second being when a friend can anticipate the needs of a friend in a crisis *without* being asked. Anytime I have been the former, I have always couched those requests in an insouciance that aims to convey that if the TT of F cannot be performed, that I don’t really mean it as one. But the real ones know when I do this, and they see right through it.
I cannot talk about performing a TT of F because I don’t think I know when I’ve done it — that would be for *my* friends to tell me. And for me, there are TT of Fs where I have failed — when your parents have been sick, or when Becca was sick, or after you had your kids? Those events required deep friendship in ways I was not capable of, or ways I could not see, and I don’t think I managed very well. I regret that. But of course I have been on the receiving end of TT of Fs that have covered my ass in meaningful ways, that have saved me when I didn’t quite realize I needed saving, that have changed entire friendships. That shit is so powerful, you know? A genuine TT of F requires grace, humility, generosity, even a subversion of self in some ways (I know you think I am being hyperbolic, but I do believe it!)
True Test of Friendship(s): High School Edition
The TT of F was born in high school, but we often did not perform it in meaningful ways. Most of the time we were actually very cruel to one another (“we” meaning all of us, not specifically you and I), and we were extremely competitive and afraid of one another. Or rather, afraid of things that surrounded one another — popularity, sex appeal, academic excellence, athletic achievement, etc. To call it jealousy feels too easy and actually inaccurate. It was difficult to be jealous of one another because we put so much effort into being exactly like one another. We dressed the same, we talked the same, we wore our hair the same, we ate the same, we laughed the same, we liked the same music, the same TV shows, the same boys. We agonized over our differences (too fat, too skinny, too pimply, too dumb, too smart, too loud, too quiet, too tall, too short, too too too too too too too too…………………………………………………………………anything.)
Honestly, the truest test of friendship for me in high school was just being seen. Being understood for the person I actually was, not the version of everybody else I often put on as an affect (oh, who am I kidding, it was disguise). Becca saw that in me. She was the first friend I remember telling me, “I love you.” She was casual about it, but she meant it. I felt it.
True Test of Friendship: College Edition
When I was 20, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was August, and I was babysitting. There were 9 kids running in and out of a summer cottage, to the lake, to the swings, to the fridge, and I was doing my best to wrangle them; but in the back of my mind I knew my mom was getting biopsy results that day. I called her while I was shucking sweet corn and boiling a massive pot of water.
“Mom, hi, I don’t have time, but did you hear about your biopsy?”
A pause. “Yes. The results are negative.”
“What does that mean? Benign?”
“No. But I want to wait until you get home tomorrow to talk about it.”
“Too late, we are talking about it. So the lump is positive, it has cancer.”
A pause. “Yes. I didn’t want to tell you while you were babysitting.”
“Ok, I have to go finish dinner. I will be home tomorrow.”
I put my phone down and I stood at the sink. I took a deep breath. My eyes welled up. The dad I babysat for, the man I affectionately called the Professor, came to my side. “Was that your mom?”
“Yes. I think she has breast cancer.” I put my head in my hands and tried to breath deep and not sob. He put his arms around me and said, “You’re going to be ok, but you don’t have to be ok.” I think about that all the time, I say it to myself all the time. It always calms me. He said I should tell his wife, who herself had had breast cancer the year before and was in remission. I walked upstairs where she was in her nightgown reading the New York Times. I stood in the doorway for a minute and she looked up at me, impatiently, and said, “What is it?”
“My mom has breast cancer.” She looked at me, stricken, and said, “Oh shit, oh shit. Jeanine. PETE! BRING THE WINE UPSTAIRS.”
That fall, my mom underwent surgery to have her left breast removed. I drove her old Buick back and forth from my college apartment to my childhood home. I sat in a chair in her hospital room the day after her surgery, helpless, while she suffered a terrible migraine. My brother was living in San Francisco, my sister in high school, my dad gone.
I am so lucky my mom has such a wide and knowledgeable network of friends who love her and get shit done. I am so lucky I had so many friends who just…showed up for me. My best friend sent me a Corsican coral necklace with a letter about how it was ok to be scared, but that the women in my family were strong and this was only a chapter in our book, but not the last one. My college friends let me park my car at their house as much as needed (this seems trivial, but it was a godsend). My roommates (girls I moved in with for a semester as a sublet, girls who were not yet technically my friends), wrote me eloquent and kind cards about they admired my strength, and that my mom was eventually going to be ok. They were right, and they hardly knew me, didn’t need to be so nice to me. That is a TT of F of the highest order.
True Test of Friendship: Twentysomething Edition
When my partner and I moved to DC, our friend (the one who set us up!) came with us and helped. My partner drove the moving truck with all of our worldly possessions and boxes of IKEA furniture (if you have slept in my guest room, you have slept on a mattress and a bed frame that came with us from home back in 2009 lol), and she and I drove the 1998 Pontiac Grand Prix that we had gotten from my partner’s parents (the first of MANY used GM cars they gave us over the years). She put more furniture together than I did. She decided how to organize the kitchen. She slept on a pull-out couch in our 500 sq. foot apartment with no AC in August in DC. She did most of the driving!
True Test of Friendship: Adult Edition
I reconnected with a high school friend in the summer of 2017 when I was in Chicago for work and had a few hours to kill. I texted her and said, “this is random, it’s been awhile, do you want to have brunch?” and she said yes. Since then that reconnection, we have become incredibly close and I thank my lucky stars that we have. As we have gotten older, her lifestyle and mine have remained on the same wavelength, which means a lot to me.
Later that fall, I threw a baby shower for a mutual friend from home and invited her, along with all our other friends from home; she was the only one of those girls who came. The night before, I dragged her to a warehouse party until 4am, and then six hours later she was putting together balloon garlands; I would argue she was ahead of the balloonnaissance we’re seeing these days. She and I have joked this has been one of our proudest and greatest feats as adults; the one instance where we truly did have it all.
Obviously, the truest test(s) of friendship(s) are the ones that are about the hard things. When my brother died, in my heart, there became this dividing line between folks I heard from and folks I did not. To those who did not reach out to me, I performed petty punishments, unbeknownst to them, for what felt like their lack of compassion. If you once received a Christmas card from me but haven’t in the last two years, this could be why.
I don’t think I can speak about performing a TT of F—that is for my friends to decide. I can think of one that is probably at the top of the list, but that’s somebody else’s life, you know? I can say that sometimes a true test of friendship means opening your own wounds to show your friends that you have suffered in this particular way already, and want to help them navigate or mitigate it. As a childfree adult, I feel it’s my responsibility to my friends to perform a lifetime of TT of Fs not only because I can, but because I want to, because there are too many holes in this society that only mutual aid and friendship can fill, I think.
“To tell me, But they’re fine, you’re fine — yes, I know that is true. But it also sounds like a way of saying: It’s no problem that you had to have a child when you didn’t want to. You’re the only one who’s making it a problem. It’s all fine.”
“To consider even the most cynical caricature of white middle-class womanhood, the Karens who are used to calling the manager when they have a complaint, the reality is going to be that, in many places, there will no longer be a manager to call. And if there is, he might report you to authorities.”
“I held myself to a standard I could not sustain, and honestly, I no longer wanted to try. I saw, more and more, how we were willing — happy, even — to take actions on a personal level and receive nothing in return, while the same was not true for the ones that were causing the most harm.”
“And the other one I say to myself is: ‘Please forgive me. I’m sorry. Thank you, I love you,’” she said, closing her eyes for a long moment. “Because, you know, I hurt myself doing some things. So I say it to my own body before I do anything.”
SHOT: “Anything that’s vaguely popular online must be defined or decoded — and ultimately, reduced to a bundle of marketable vibes with a kitschy label.”
CHASER: “Once your eyes adjust to the Nap, you start seeing it everywhere.”