10 Jul 98

Holiday in the Arctic (finished)

Once a week or more I fantasize that I am camping in the Arctic Circle, with a tin of meat and a gas lantern, the wind scolding my tent. Inside, I wrap up in thermal blankets. From the sky, my camp looks like a fly in a flat, white saucer of milk.

In the morning, I dig myself out and begin my trek again. I could go mad in the monochrome of snowscape, so I contrive rousing camp songs and sing them as I trudge northward:

Snow! Snow! Snow! Snow!
Blow, snow, whoa, snow,
If there's one thing I really know,
It's snow! Snow! Snow! Snow!
Repeat until tragedy occurs

Right now, I am dreaming in the Arctic Circle because a person I care for a great deal has ceased speaking to me. I call her Alice through the diary; she works in my office.

I could explain the situation but you would side with me, which is unfair. Nothing is clear. There was no fight, or expressed anger. There was just a sudden freezing, and now we're distrustful foreigners, Germans and Britons in 1948.

Her glance is unforgiving. I see a grudge in its first, unsteady steps. Worse, I saw it coming, months ago. As the friendship became a honeymoon, as she and I fell into a platonic fondness, I thought "this will not end well." It was so clearly good to have someone to talk to that I ignored my fears and plunged ahead, trying to push her in interesting directions at work, expressing my life and history, overstepping my boundaries to help my friend, or perhaps to make her need me, to cement the link. She responded by...responding, and offering emotional pressure of her own. Until, invariably, this link melts away and both people step back from the hollowed-out friendship to avoid the risk of hurt.

I hope this is my last time in the intimacy-revulsion model of friendship, where both vulnerable parties open up, then shrink away at the first sign of betrayal, both in response to the situation on hand, and also to hush the echoes from the various abandonments, much earlier, of our parents. I am culpable; I perform both the opening and the later shrinking.

What have I learned? The lesson is not more valuable than the friendship, but you take what's there. Dig the basement before you build the house. Don't trust or ask to be trusted until you know the person clearly. Don't hurry intimacy, don't confess, until you have real time under your feet. I learned that I can't force forgiveness or offer any great apology; I can't even describe my crime, although I feel guilty enough. It is disappointing she doesn't show any interest in salvaging the friendship, but I can't invest in someone's distrust and anger, so I stand back and hope that some kind of peace arrives. But over time, I'll make my peace with silence, too.

It's still too complicated to fathom. I wish for guidance, a list of methods for this very abstract situation. Or for my tent pack and snowshoes, and a boat ticket going north.




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


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