Friday, November 26, 2010

By Accident

A few nights ago, my friend A. was in a car accident, and I sat in the hospital with her for many hours while she was being checked out.

She's a good friend, an old friend, from 12th grade on. One of those friends about whom I could tell many stories from youth that all seem wild, and from more recently, that all seem brave.

We hadn't seen each other for a while so took the complete helplessness of being on the schedule of the emergency room as a chance to catch up. Kids first--we know each other's kids well, so this isn't as boring as it can be at times. Then we drifted off into the conversational equivalent of speculative fiction. We imagined how the accident could have been worse, then whether or not we should blow off Christmas and go away, and where we would go if we did.

I got to cover her with blankets, to help her drink water, to go with her to be X-rayed, and to help her up when no one would give us a straight answer about whether or not she was allowed to move. As it turned out, she wasn't.  By then we were already across the hall, by the bathroom. You snooze you lose, hospital people.

When the attending finally came in with the test results, he clearly thought I was her lover/partner.  He addressed me with that level of seriousness, and told me all future variables on her care and what we needed to do about insurance.  I didn't correct him. It felt good to be taken into account, as if I were essential--more than just the friend.

My mind leaped to Chagall. Chagall the magical, Chagall who painted dreams in the sky. An odd association, yet I understood.
At the school A. and I attended, there were many women teachers who lived in twos and taught together for their whole lives. One such set of housemates had a collection of Chagall paintings that began as a street purchase in the twenties and grew by gifts over time into a significant owning. I always associate Chagall with these bluestockings who educated me. When I was older I realized that such pairs were actually couples, "more than friends", which seemed a happy ending for them, but also a bittersweet realization for me--in that I had a belief in friendship as being as important as romantic love. I had always thought those women had idyllic lives, to go on living with a friend, after most girls peeled apart and married. I hoped that might be possible--that my friends and I would stay important to each other, would maintain our code of solidarity.

Altar Window All Saints Tudel
Last summer I went with another great friend to a little church in England where the glass was all Chagall. The windows told a beautiful and sad story of a young woman drowning, and the love and acceptance of Jesus and the angels when she ascended to them. She died before all her life got going--who knew what may have become of her? S. and I sat together in peace for a long time, looking at the great works of art made in memory of that girl. No one was there but the two of us. The sun came through the windows so fiercely we couldn't speak for all the color. We were on our own that day, far from everyone and everything that belonged to us but each other and this tiny church holding this enormous genius. We sat in the graveyard after and wrote then read our pages to each other. Not very good, really; but that wasn't important. The sun went down; the windows grew opaque; we headed back. Chagall stayed, floating, as always, his world a beautiful ideal, his Jesus smiling and happy, even on the cross.

When A. was let go after her accident, I drove her home to her husband and daughter and said goodbye. They asked me to stay; I didn't want to stay. I gave her husband the instructions that had been told to me, when I was her partner for a little while--her significant other, rather than just her friend.


  1. My heart aches reading this. What a beautiful story. And somehow connected to the photographs of the women in the newest post, above.

  2. Christina, I'm sure you completely understand what I have written about here. I'm very glad you let me know.