When M was five months old, a dear friend came to tell me she was leaving Istanbul. It wasn’t entirely a surprise, and I was delighted for her and the leap towards happiness she was taking with her life, yet my heart tugged knowing we couldn’t share the journey with her.
When M was two months old, my best friend since childhood rang to tell me she was pregnant with her first baby. My heart jumped with joy for her and her partner; then sank when I couldn’t give her a hug.
The hardest part of expat life is not being away, it’s not being able to be there.
The first friend is now living in France. The first few months I wasn’t in touch very much, it was too hard to be. I missed her. I missed sharing my son with a friend who delighted in him as much as we did. I missed having that someone who you didn’t care that the house was a mess, who would pull up her sleeves and wash up dishes in the sink, I missed having a person who wouldn’t judge me as I cried with frustration even though my world was perfect as could be – although not a mother herself, she understood it was tough being a new Mum abroad and didn’t once judge me for finding it so. I missed her for laughter, for book reviews for books it would be years before I’d now get to read, I missed her for politics of both here and ‘back home’, I missed her for coffee dates, and breakfast ones and long chilly walks by the sea. But most of all, I missed her for M’s sake. I missed her for the piece of his life which her daily absence leaves bare: it’s because of her that he’s here – because of her I met his father, because of her I took my leap.
In Islam we don’t have “Godparents” so to speak, though for boys it is customary for a close friend of the father to pay for circumcision and thereby take on the “Godfather” role. What you tend to have is good friends and community who together support your child, provide extra shoulders to turn to and extra wisdom for advice. I miss my childhood friend more than anyone else in the world. And though she’s a totally different person, lives a completely different life, doesn’t follow my religion or understand what it means, I wish more than anything she could be in that circle for my son – I long for her to know my son. And just as much, I long to know the daughter she gave birth to three days ago.
Not being there breaks my heart. Growing up we shared it all, as we aged, we shared even more. But the big things, the important things, we’ve only ever been able to do from afar. Wedding days (for me), engagement days (for her), pregnancy months for us both were so hard being apart. Skype is a marvellous tool but seeing her stomach convulse as her daughter moved there is nowhere near the feeling of baby E’s kick under my hand. Later today, tomorrow perhaps, we’ll hook up once again, synchronise baby naps and time differences and turn into our computers. We’ll cry tears of happiness as her daughter and my son first meet, tinged with sadness that we can’t hug.
The friend in France is grieving right now. Grieving for a parent she hasn’t lost yet but whom has been diagnosed with a tumour too far gone to remove. The friend in France has a partner there, the once-lost love of her life whom she took the leap for, she’s ok, he will hug her. Still, she needs all the cuddles she can get and when the grief turns to reality, she’ll need them all the more. My arms can’t stretch that far.
More than I long for lunch dates, for island trips and farmland adventures, more than my soul aches for them some days my heart cries I can’t be there. I miss being their friend.
I miss taking them meals.
I miss brewing their tea.
I miss washing their bathrooms when they’re too tired to wash them themselves.
I miss taking her baby so she can get half an hours sleep.
I miss 2am drop-by’s because I know she’ll still be awake.
I miss stocking up on books and chocolate cake because there’s always reason and time.
I miss knowing that she’ll call me when she needs to take a break.
I miss being there to hold their hands, and just hold them without words.
I miss returning favours, and coffees and forgetting to put sugars into their cups.
I miss getting to know the giggles, the little sounds baby makes in her sleep.
I miss seeing M hold E’s hand now, and then, and after that too.
I miss knowing that M will talk about them as people he really truly knows.
I miss being there for the good times, and the sad times and the mundane important days in-between.
I miss them.
I miss being there through the good and the bad.
I miss being a friend.