I wrote this for a friend who was going through something hard. Maybe you have a friend in that same boat. Maybe you’re in that boat, too. I know I am sometimes. I’m posting it here in response to Molly Templeton’s call for How-To’s by women. I think the project is genius and I’d like to buy Molly a hundred beers.
How To Say The Right Thing When There’s No Right Thing To Say
Your friend is going through something hard and you don’t know what to say. There are words and there are words and there are words. Stop saying them. Stop trying. Instead, pick her up in your jeep. Don’t worry if you don’t have one – this is your imagination so you get to have cool stuff. You get to drive a jeep, and wear Marc Jacobs, and super cool aviator sunglasses even though you don’t usually wear sunglasses ‘cause you sunburn easily and one time in college you got a bitch of a sunburn around your sunglasses which left weird raccoon circles on your face for months so now you just squint. Your friend, Sheila—we’ll call her Sheila—has on a black vinyl catsuit (think Trinity) and one of those Marilyn Monroe scarves around her head so her shiny, perfect hair doesn’t get mussed in the wind ‘cause of course the top is down and you’re driving super-fast, fast like Action Movie Chase Scene fast, so fast you left your infant son at home ‘cause even in your imagination it’s irresponsible to drive that fast with a child in the car which is why in real life you have one of those BABY ON BOARD signs suction-cupped to the back window of your Honda because drivers in Chicago have a lot of road rage, yes, they do, and you don’t want any of them fucking around when your kid’s in the car so you hung the sign ‘cause that’ll make them drive nice, right?
You and Sheila hang your hands out the zipped-down windows, your palms pushing against the wind, and in your other hand you’ve got an extra-large caffeinated frappucino. With bourbon. Which means you don’t have any hands on the wheel then, right? If you’re pushing the air and drinking your frosty beverage? So okay then, it’s a magic jeep, and you can drive it with your mind. Or maybe the jeep can talk! Like Kitt from Knight Rider! Maybe the jeep is Kitt from Knight Rider except a jeep instead of a Trans Am and you can talk to it or think at it, thus keeping your hands free for the wind against your fingers and caffeinated alcololic beverages which in real life you’re not currently drinking because you’re breastfeeding but ZOMFG you would so totally kill for a Maker’s Mark right about now.
So anyhow. You’re driving these precarious winding trails through the mountains, past ginormous valleys and snow-capped peaks, and after a while the road starts running parallel to a train because in your imagination, all trains are on windy tracks through the mountains, like d’uh. You briefly consider hijacking it, getting the jeep right alongside and then jumping aboard with some Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon shit, saving whoever’s being held against their will or stealing back the medicine that someone very corrupt stole from dying villagers, wouldn’t that be, like, awesome?—but then you look at Sheila, your beautiful friend who at this very monent is trying to slay a dragon so huge and deadly it could engulf a small city with a single exhale.
Sheila doesn’t need to hijack a train right now.
What she needs is a friend.
“Go faster,” you say to Kitt the Jeep.
“Go faster than this train.”
The tires are screeching now, burning into the asphalt. Sheila’s scarf comes loose and whips away. Soon you’re ahead of that train, far enough ahead to pull over, grab Shelia by the hand, run to the side of the tracks—and wait.
You’ll feel it coming first, the ground trembling beneath your shoes.
Next, you’ll hear it; the whistle, the wheels churning on the tracks.
Then it’s there: the enormous front engine, car after car behind it for miles curling around the winding tracks. It’s coming closer, faster, getting louder, louder, LOUDER, YOU CAN’T HEAR ANYTHING OVER THE IMMENSITY OF SOUND and you’re so close to the tracks, your toes a few feet from the hammered metal, and when it passes you—
At first, Sheila looks at you like you’re crazy, which frankly isn’t anything new. She’s been looking at you that way since you were both kids in OshGoshBGosh in the mud in Southeast Michigan; then in college, shaking her head in disgust as you poured Everclear into the Koolaid; and now, screaming your head off over the relentless roar of a passing train—so okay, fine, maybe you are crazy, but sometimes crazy is the only way to get through.
Sheila shuts her eyes. She opens her mouth, and now she’s screaming, too; both of you screaming holy hell as the train pounds past, car after car and you scream and scream ‘cause there’s so much inside that needs to get out: anger and longing and no sleep and time moving too fast and sorrow and fear. You scream so long, so loud, it’s like your throats are bleeding, rubbed raw on the inside, and by the time the last car passes it’s all been drained, like you’re sponges squeezed dry. You sit on the ground, exhausted with the energy it takes to let go, and lay backwards in the grass. The sun shines on your faces, the backs of your closed eyelids glow red. There’s a breeze, and the grass is soft, and you move your arms and legs to make snow angels even though there’s no snow. It feels nice to be so deliciously empty, so open for new things, like spring and laughing and the future and new memories and newly remembered experiences and all the things you’ve been lucky enough to do and the knowledge that you still have, at the very least, this single, perfect day to live.
After a long time, you get up. You hold out your hand to help Sheila to her feet—she is, after all, wearing a catsuit, and it’s hard to navigate in that shit. Her face is dripping mascara from crying, but underneath that, she’s smiling. It’s wonderful to see her smile. It’s the most wonderful thing in the Universe.
You go back to the jeep, except it’s not a jeep anymore. It’s something more practical, but still edgy. Like maybe an Element? Or a Rav 4? In the backseat, your infant son is strapped into his carseat, laughing in his sleep. You and Sheila change into comfy clothes ‘cause couture and catsuits are, sadly, not for R&R, and drive back down the mountain, still with your arms out the windows but now the wind pushes the backs of your hands instead of the palms. After a while, you pass a little café with outdoor seating. You order wine. You watch the sun set over those snowcapped peaks, color exploding across the sky: yellow to red to midnight blue. That’s when you tell Sheila how sorry you are for what she’s going through, that your thoughts are with her and her family. You tell her it sucks sucks sucks and nothing is fair and that sucks. You say words like strength and time even though you know that lots of people have told her those very same words, have told her anything and everything in the hopes that it’s the right thing to say.
It’s not, though.
There isn’t any right thing to say.
So you just stop talking. You hand her your son. He wraps his little fists around her thumbs, and the three of you watch the stars. Stars for real, not like in the city where you can only see one or two, but thousands, millions, millions of millions, and it’s all so goddamn beautiful.