I met Jaime somewhere around 1995 or 1996, I suppose, though I don't remember ever sharing classes with her (except Choir - which was the most kick-back class in the schedule). I know we had study-hall together, though, because our last names were near each other in the alphabet. I always thought of Jaime as the most unconventionally cool person in our group of friends, which sounds like an insult, I suppose, but really it was more like I could never predict what she was going to do. My Christian conservative bourgeois childhood did not prepare me for the likes of a girl who who walked into the movie theatre without paying and smoked cigarettes behind the gymnasium and bought her dress for homecoming for $4.00 at the Goodwill. I thought Jai was the coolest.
After high school, when Jai and I became much, much closer than we were in high school, I remember her telling me some time in 1999 or so (we were in a Hollywood Video store) that she wanted me to be gay so that she could have a gay best friend: probably the most ingenious strategy I can think of to get a young sissy to come out of the closet. I've already talked about just how much time Jai and Derek and I spent together during those years after high school, so I won't repeat all of that here. Something was shared between us during those first college years that deepened into something else altogether afterward. Jai and I would spend hours together. I'd visit her after rehearsal at her work (Starbucks) and sit for hours reading while I waited for her to go on break, and then I'd wait for her to close and we'd chat for a while after that.
Jai was then and still is heavily into dream interpretation, and the two of us would pore over the meanings of dreams, over the philosophy of dreams, over the ability to see one another through our dreams. We would talk very seriously about ethical principles and drug addiction and parenting and friendships. We've always seen our own friendship as a kind of paradigm – or, rather, measuring stick – for other friendships that we've shared over the years. We've been sort of unfair that way, judging the way our relationships with others have worked against the ease with which our own relationship has worked for the last ten years. I can think of no person with whom I am at a greater ease. I can think of no person with whom I feel more comfortable. I can think of no person for whom I have to explain less about what I am thinking.
Even better, I have felt comfortable trying on ideas with her: new political philosophies, new positions with which I am struggling, new attitudes toward people or concepts. Jai has an underlying a priori comprehension of my position and spirit that allows me to work through ideas without judgment until I am finished and judgment of kind is (as it always is) necessary. I have said for many years that the difference between family and friends is that family members always seem fixated on how one used to be (or more appropriately, how they have been imagining one used to be) whereas friends grow with one, so that we are always changing and our friends change with us, and fixate so much less on who we were, focusing instead on who we are for the moment and who we wish to be. Jai has been my model for this line of thinking; she has been the ideal friend, with whom I have felt no competition, on whom I have depended the most to understand me when I least understand myself.
When I write about the locals – something I haven't done before this month-long experiment – I can't help but think of them also as a group: the titles of their posts bear this out. We meet as often as possible and have these conversations that flow and merge and split and merge again. I can remember countless instances when Sarah and I split off into our own conversation while Derek, Jaime. and Anna have been in another, but each of us is aware of what the others are saying, even while still paying close attention to the thoughts of our own interlocutor. This, to me, is the ease of friendship that I am trying to describe: a way of being with a group where everyone is aware of the dynamic as a group, but also highly attuned to the feelings and thoughts of each individual in the group. It may be that only the locals group of all my groups of friends has been insular enough or old enough were this has become possible, but nevertheless it represents to me a kind of perfection of friendship - a perfection which is also a becoming, because we are always aware, particularly with the distance that now separates us, of the ways in which we remain changeable and growing.
These moments of growth and expansion have become even clearer as my friends have gotten married, and I want to speak (at least briefly) of Jai's husband, John, a man I know the entire group loves and with whom we all have a deep friendship. John has complemented Jaime in such a lovely way, and I am always so delighted to see him, as a brilliant man and clever thinker in his own right apart from Jai. (My favorite thing about John, though, is easily his laugh, which is hilarious and infectious, and which I find impossible to separate from his truly remarkable stubbornness. There is no story to attach to this sidenote, but I did want to point it out.)
I already feel like this post is too long, and with so many of these writings, they have felt inadequate to me. There really are no words – sometimes Jaime and I actively look for them as we speak on the phone – for the way our affection for one another and trust in one another has deepened over the years into a kind of psychic knowing of one another, rendering explanations, apologies, and stress unnecessary. To speak about gratitude here also misses the point entirely. I wouldn't be who I am (for better or worse) without Jaime, and in a way I think my love for all of my friends is indebted to her love for me, because I have had in her a model for a friendship that has been, to me, irreplaceable, incredible, immeasurable.