Since coming back to the U.S. after so much time away, I've managed to finagle overnight invitations from nearly all of my close friends and most of my family, sleeping on their aerobeds or sofas or commandeering their children's rooms for a night or two or five. Since my own house is still in dusty chaos, and I have no permanent home myself, I've borrowed each of theirs in turn. In the months of June and July, I've slept in no fewer than a dozen different beds, none of them my own. Perhaps this is hospitality karma: after trying to learn how to be a more gracious host, during our time away in France, I've suddenly become a nearly full-time guest.
While I was gone, I missed each one of my friendships so very, very much. I had the interweb, of course, and even that magic free phone line from the Bastide, and we slowly got to know our lovely multinational gaggle of new friends. "Make new friends, but keep the old," we all sang back in Girl Scouts. "One is silver and the other's gold." But the further I tipped towards feeling connected there, the harder it felt for me to cross the ocean of absence and feel close to my golden girls. My everyday stories felt too flip, the good stuff was already in the blog, and the bigger, harder topics sometimes felt too hard to broach. It wasn't just the fact that Skype kept freezing that made it hard to connect. It was also that I was changing, and so were they, and the old patterns needed to be revised.
As I discovered on my five-state tour of sleepovers these last few weeks, there is nothing like 24-hour contact to bring you back in sync with somebody you have seriously missed. Spending an hour or so over morning coffee, with my face all smushy and hair unwashed, seems way more intimate than getting together for dinner. I've borrowed my friends' showers, their towels, their shampoo, drunk their beer and luxuriated in their A/C on sweltering nights. I've been invited into their inner sanctums, the places where they are most themselves, and where they have let me do the same. I've seen their housekeeping way up close, checking out their choices in tile and carpet and sheets. I swear, I'm not just being nosy. Renovation is always on my mind these days, and I sort of can't think about anything else.
(That Sleepover Hussy, I'm sure you're thinking, bragging about how many invites she has scored herself. So when is she gonna just show up at my house and use my good shampoo without asking?)
The sleepover level of intense intimacy in friendships among adults can feel the tiniest bit complicated. As much as I love each one of these women -- truly, madly, deeply, differently -- it's a little weird to just insert myself so fully into their domestic spaces. Sometimes I worry (as I am wont to do) that I'm overstepping, oversharing, or being boring by repeating random details from the New York Times or retelling some France story I've already beat to death. I want to talk about what is most important without stepping on any of the sore points that might sting. I don't want to wake up too early or sleep too late or make noise at bad times. I want to read for at least an hour every day (I go nuts if I don't) but not be too anti-social. I want to play with their kids or their pets or their stuff without throwing off the routine. I want to give my friends their space and still greedily gobble up their presence. I don't want to stay too long. I don't want to leave.
Presumably there is a reason that grownups with their own homes don't generally go on quite as many sleepovers as I have these past few weeks. We need our private spaces, even in the context of our closest friendships, and the best and most lasting friendships of our adult lives have at least a few good fences we respect by keeping in good repair.
But mostly all these days and nights with my friends have been reminding me, yet again, that I am seriously, seriously blessed in the friendship department. I've spent all this time away, and they welcome me back. I've spent all those years being overworked and under-attentive, yet these people I love still love me back. Enough to make me strong coffee with milk in the morning before I have brushed my teeth. Enough to give me a set of spare keys and tell me I can come back whenever I want. Enough to let me see how beautiful the simplest things of life can be when you really look closely, far too late in the evening, and in the brightest early morning light.