By Dian Parker
The last time I saw her she’d been waiting for me at a train station, smiling like a truth being revealed. It had been raining and her raincoat shone in the light of the lamppost, a lavender sheen on the slick yellow. Her naturally red hair was glowing. It had been a year since we’d last seen one another and, as usual, I had missed her terribly. She’d been living in Greece since we first traveled there together, so long ago.
Unfortunately this last time ended badly. After dinner we argued, walking in a cemetery near the restaurant, late into the night, smoking, not seeing the other’s face, only the orange burn between our fingers. The trouble had all started at dinner. Greek politics. I know it’s a mess over there, but she had her mother’s money and nothing to worry about. Still, she liked to complain about the Greek politicians and not just to me. When we were with her husband, the two of them would start right in. He’s Greek, so that’s understandable. But this last night, she and I were alone.
At dinner, we ordered macchiatos, like we usually did in Manhattan where they make them dark and thick, sitting beautifully in a tall glass. When our salads arrived, the avocado was sliced paper thin and lay neatly tucked in with grilled onions and mushrooms, layered over with raw spinach. On top of everything sat a perfectly round poached egg that looked like a golf ball never swung at. She and I often ordered the same thing because we liked the same foods. We were macrobiotic for three years together, eating miso soup with Kombu seaweed and short grain brown rice. Perhaps the food tasted better when Mallory and I ate the same thing.
Mallory Lake. That’s her name. I’ve always loved it. Sometimes when we were out together, I used her name just for the fun of it. We laughed a lot in those days. We even had our own language, which we only spoke when we were alone. But we never laughed that last night.
I lasted as long as I could and then asked her to stop. “You know how I hate talking about politics.”
“Easy for you to say living in America.”
“Please. Let’s not go through this again.”
And then she said, looking me dead in the eye, “No, not again. Never again.”
At least that’s what I think she said. Maybe she didn’t say exactly “Never again” but that’s what I remember now. At the time I probably thought nothing of it. We were dramatic together, with our own special language and the way we dressed. We bought all our clothes in thrift stores, mostly 40’s jackets with padded shoulders and flared linen skirts.
Walking together after dinner, I tried to understand what she was feeling. We argued because she wasn’t being direct with me. I like to be up front about everything. Mallory is anything but. She never gave me a clue.
It’s been four years. There’s not been one word from her even after I’ve written many long letters by post, repeatedly begging for contact. If only I could ride a cloud to her and, in an instant, be by her side. But to get on a plane to fly 6,000 miles and have her reject me—that would be more than I could bear.
Mallory would have been the one to put the words on my tombstone and I hers. She knows the truth about me like no one else. I assumed we’d always be best friends. Maybe I assumed too much and tested her limits with those assumptions, thinking she’d always forgive my wild behavior. It’s not that I didn’t have her back, but she never got into any trouble. I had a lot of lovers in the past and she knew about them all.
When we first met, Mallory had a flat with a doorman and an elevator on the Upper West Side on Riverside Drive in Manhattan. I had a seven-floor walkup on the Lower East Side that was infested with cockroaches. We both worked nights: she as a waitress and me in theatre. And usually, after my shows, I would meet one of my boyfriends for a late dinner.
One boyfriend, a Czech playwright, also lived on the Upper West Side so I’d arrange to meet him up there. We’d have dinner and then I’d say goodnight and leave, making sure he didn’t follow me (none of my boyfriends knew where I lived). After the guy was out of sight, I’d call Mallory. By this time it would be two or three in the morning and I’d wake her up. We’d meet at our favorite pub for Irish coffee: Jameson whiskey, no sugar. I would tell her everything—what he said, how he treated me, what I wanted but didn’t get, and how I wanted out of the relationship. That was my life, in and out with men. Mallory dated an American guy for years with no drama. She always seemed to want to know everything about my life, listening intently, asking questions. Maybe she was living vicariously through me.
I went to stay with Mallory for a while after the playwright followed me home one night without my knowing, despite my best efforts to elude him. When I lived with Mallory, I was pretty well crazed, working all those hours and living on cigarettes and coffee, never having time to eat, let alone cook. Mallory sometimes cooked for me but I wasn’t that interested in food. She tried to take care of me, but I was hell-bent on sucking the life out of every situation.
Mallory was the first to marry. She married the Greek man she met when she and I first went to Crete together, some thirty years ago. I met a guy there too, fell in love with him and the island where he lived. He and I decided to live the rest of our lives together, but after returning to my theatre career in New York City and finding out I was pregnant, I realized living in a tiny fishing village and having lots of kids was not for me. Mallory took care of me during and after the abortion and nursed my guilt-stained remorse for a long time. Mallory’s boyfriend was supposed to be only a summer fling, but she ended up returning to Crete and eventually married the guy. I’ve always liked Odysseus, her husband, and was thrilled for her. When I finally did marry many years later, Mallory must have been relieved that I was finally hooked. She’d witnessed my perpetual man-feast over the years coupled with enough drama to sink any friendship. But she always stuck with me.
Our friendship seemed unshackled by time, distance, or experience. So what if she lived the quiet peasant life and I the frenetic city life? So what if I was the wild one and she the homebody? So what if we lived 6,000 miles apart? We’d always find a way to be together at least once a year. But as I said, she was the steady to starboard one and I was all fire and weeping on the port side, making for one hell of a rocky friendship. I cried so many times in front of Mallory; I was like Niobe after the gods killed her children. I was a virtual Greek drama. And she married the Greek!
After Mallory moved to Crete, we kept in touch constantly. But after thirty years of friendship, her letters and calls eventually grew more and more infrequent. She wouldn’t answer my emails, saying she was no good with email. One time she didn’t even tell me she was coming to the States, which she did once or twice a year to see me and her mother. We’d always spend a week together in the city during that time. The last time I saw her and we had that awful argument in the cemetery, Mallory didn’t call me before she flew back to Greece. We never said goodbye.
Long-term female friendships are deeply important for women. In a marriage with a man, there is a multi-layered bond involving family expectations, financial considerations, and daily domestics leading to codependence. In female friendships there is also codependence, but it is based on a promise of consistent moral and emotional support, evolving and expanding to encompass change. We depend on friendship with other women for clarity, stability, support, and reliable love. These unspoken understandings support and honor intuition. Nurture and inspire through mirroring. Share anxiety about the same issues.
Friendship between women is complicated, even though we don’t want it to be. With Mallory, my dependence on her constant presence in my life had, apparently, been too much for her.
With Mallory so far away and shutting down, my relationship with Sarah, another close friend, was important. Sarah, whom I’d known for twelve years, was a painter. From the beginning I championed her work, writing a number of articles about her paintings for art magazines, interviewing her for online zines, and finding galleries for her work. I now had a wonderful relationship with my husband so the drama of my early years with men was over, and I’d given up theatre because directing plays that involved dealing with actors, technicians, musicians and producers had become too stressful. I was also growing bored with drama, mine and others, and wanted to create solo. I became a writer.
Sarah sometimes read my work but rarely offered anything helpful or encouraging. We often went out for lunch and then to a gallery. I never liked going with her because she was so critical of artists’ work, breezing through an exhibit in five or ten minutes, telling me there was nothing worth looking at. Her elitism bothered me but I chose to ignore this in exchange for her companionship. Sarah was interesting to talk to about literature, and helped me through my cancer and the painful death of my mother. When I was in trouble, Sarah was there. When I was happy and thriving, she tended to be critical. I’d taken up painting on the side and she rarely offered anything constructive to help me. I stopped sharing any of my work with her.
A few years ago, I was given an art gallery to run. It became successful and I asked Sarah to have an exhibit there. A few months before the opening of her show, she canceled. Another gallery in the area—that I had introduced her work to—offered her a show at the same time. Sarah accepted. I asked her why she didn’t refuse and request other dates, but her reasoning was weak. It was clear she was not interested in honoring our agreement. After two hours of serious talk in which I told her how incredulous I was, citing all I had done up to that point for her work, she merely said, “I didn’t know we were keeping track.”
After weeks of sleepless nights, I realized the friendship was no longer healthy for me and I had to stop having contact with her. As Sarah saw nothing to apologize for or change about her actions, I felt I had no choice but to say goodbye. At least I’d explained everything to her. I wish Mallory had done the same for me.
Mallory and I share the sky. The sky gives me hope. So does hearing the downy woodpecker hammer at a sugar maple, holding the peach-soft soles of a baby’s foot in my hand, spraying clothes with rose water, or humming a Greek love song like Mallory and I used to do while making our coffee together in the morning.
There is an old birch tree in my yard. When I lean in against its white trunk, I close my eyes and let myself feel, listening to the wind fluttering the leaves. The smell of milkweed is in the air, nourishment for the monarchs that used to come in droves from thousands of miles away. Through the sky. Just like Mallory used to do.
Dian Parker’s essays, short stories, and articles have been published in numerous literary journals, magazines, and newspapers, and nominated for several Pushcart Prizes. An avid gardener and oil painter, she has also traveled extensively, living in the Middle East, including Syria before its heartbreaking devastation. Dian ran White River Gallery, curating twenty exhibits, before the pandemic forced her to close. She now lives in the hills of Vermont.