My father lives in my memories now. They’re spread out in the peaks and valleys of moments we had together. Some memories stick around longer than others. Like the one where I walk into his room and he immediately goes from frowning at his window to opening up a big childish grin. Exactly like the one I used to give him when I was a child and he came back from work. Our roles were now reversed because when you spend most of your days alone, there is no higher peak than watching your likeness walk through the door. So the day I walked into his room and found him lifeless, what hurt the most was that he died alone. That this time there was no one to keep him company after a long lonely day.
The biggest thing the stroke took away from my father wasn’t his health, it was his friends. Breathing is one thing, being alive is another. Sometimes it’s your friends that make that difference. A big part of coming to terms with his death was accepting the fact that this was a void I just couldn’t fill. You can’t be everything to everyone. His friends just needed to show up.
But I would be a hypocrite if I judged them. Because here I am doing the same thing; letting my friends slip from my grasp. It seems like the older I get, the less friends I have, the less friends I keep and the less friends I make. I should be better at this. I should know how a life without friendship ends. I should know the pain of eating alone and the longing for human touch.
I wonder how many of my friends feel safe enough to be unguarded around me. How many of my relationships survive merely because we are so good at holding back our true selves. What does it show when some of my closest friends know more about me from what I write than from what I share with them? How many of them would much rather talk to me about football even when their lives are consumed by depression? A friend finally told me about his broken home and I couldn’t remember the last time we spoke about anything other than memes and Manchester United. There’s no difference between me and the men who surrounded my father everyday except for the days he needed them most.
Life doesn’t get in the way of friendship until I allow it. I got married and suddenly there was a premium on single friends. Most of my friends are now couples, which means if one of them isn’t talking to me then both of them aren’t talking to me. Even though I love game nights, the intimacy of a one on one connection is slowly fading into a distant past. I used to joke that the last time I saw my father’s workmates was the day he retired. Now the joke is on me because me and one of my closest friends started growing apart the day after we stopped being co-workers.
This year I tried making a new friend and then she developed feelings for me. I wanted so badly to make it work but that road only leads down a painful path. I haven’t heard from her in months and the chances of it being never are very high. Meeting new people is the easy part. The hard part is following up. It’s discovering that most of your relationships have always been held together by convenient logistics and now to make new ones you have to put in real, hard work. That takes so much time and my schedule this week is too tight. When I’ll finally have time to catch up, the excitement will have faded. From that point on, our chat history will be littered with “When are you free?” questions that continue to be dodged.
I got tired of seeing baby photos and workout videos of near strangers on my WhatsApp Status feed. No matter how cute they are, looking at 20 back to back photos of a once upon a time colleague’s daughter’s 1 year old birthday party added little value to my life. When I deleted 96% of my phone contacts, I found myself connecting with the same group of 7 people. It took me cutting down to 35 contacts, from a whopping 900, to finally understand that the only difference between a stranger and an acquaintance is that you can recognise the latter’s face.
There’s also the primary and high school WhatsApp groups that I left because no amount of goat eating reunions is going to reignite friendships that went cold 16 years ago. I also can’t afford to keep contributing Ksh 1500 for mbuzi and drinks. That actually equates to my pocket money for the month.
And then there is the friendships that create a longstanding pattern of stress and resentment. Friends that I have to work up the energy to see twice a year. I don’t like who I become around them and they seem to only be happy about our friendship on the precise moments that I am not. Deep down we both know we’re no good for each other, but the inertia of our relationship keeps us around longer than is healthy for either of us.
My father didn’t die from a stroke, he died from loneliness. For all the similarities I see between me and the men he called his friends, I am trying the best I can to keep friendships but it’s just so damn hard. It takes more intention than a coffee date. More depth than pleasantries. It goes beyond just having the same hobbies. For every friendship that comes to the foreground another one is bound to fade away. It’s a delicate juggling act. It demands an investment in time and a healthy respect for its evolution.
It’s showing up now because some day, someone else will show up for me.
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