Discover more from Adventures of Bad Hijabi
the tale of a friendship
Capybara chill. That’s how I’d describe my best friend, Teresa. Intensely social, complex, emotionally sophisticated. Good vibes. You know how you always see a capybara surrounded by other animals, in those Twit-o-sphere photographs? That’s Teresa. After four decades of friendship this video of a capybara with the playful duck grooming its back and several ducks clamouring around still best describes the contrast and connection between my capybara bestie and me—imagine she is the capybara, total chill and quietly present and I am all of these ducks, insufferably annoying and high strung and playful. She sits calm and focussed, I flutter about like the female version of Sheldon Cooper. Teresa laughs and says about herself, I scare people. Her grown children tell her she scares people, I guess in that Maude Findlay/Dorothy Zbornak way that strong women scare people. I think a woman like this must feel like the recoil from a gun to many—we are one in this way, she and me.
I see the force others see, I feel it—and differently too, what I see and feel doesn’t scare me, never has—it has only ever been a grounding force. A grounding wire balances excess charge, and so protects the appliance from electricity surges. Teresa listens and watches and feels you. You won’t know, she’s capybara chill. She has a way of filtering out bullsh1t and handing your ego back to you, and she’s probably making lasagna or cookies whilst she’s doing it, and you wish she would write a stand-up comedy routine because she’s hilarious. She is the Thelma to my Louise and I am likewise—there are elements of both Thelma and Louise in each of us, we are strangely distinct and also the same individual. I admire her in a big sister way, even though we are effectively the same age--less than 3 months apart in age.
On the very first day of 8th grade I was the new girl, filled with trepidation as we queued up to enter the school when the bell rang. The tall, dark haired girl standing in front of me turned around and said, you’re the new girl, aren’t you? My name’s Teresa and I’m Italian. What’s your name? Stunned at her forwardness and also at how natural it seemed for her—not at all contrived—I replied with my particulars and thus began a friendship that continues to this day. Being 12 years old fairly sucked, and eventually I shared a very dark and heavy secret with her. Children are young, small humans whom we require to carry the heaviest of burdens—childhood has always felt like this and I don’t imagine it will ever change. Sitting on the grounds of St. Emile School under the single row of trees near the church and the priest’s residence, on the lunch break I can picture us in our navy blue school uniforms, her beside me capybara chill, listening to me describe awful things happening to me in secret, things I couldn’t carry around alone and also couldn’t tell my parents. She never judged me, she listened. Teresa often says a great deal by saying nothing, even at 12 years old she had that gift. What do you say when your best friend tells you about the worst thing that’s happened to her? You say plenty and you use no words to say it. Do all friends speak to each other in these ways? I believe they must do.
Thinking about these years reminds me that much of what children struggle with remains hidden from adult view. Do adults need to know everything? Would our parents have benefited from knowing how deep and sometimes desperate our struggles felt? More importantly—would we have benefited from our parents knowing the depth of our adolescence struggles? Or was this our eclosion—our emergence from the chrysalis? We’ve all heard the story of the man who cut away the cocoon of an eclosing butterfly to help it, and in doing so prevented the butterfly from developing the muscles required to pump the fluid from its wings and power flight. The struggle of eclosion provides the means to survival. Maybe that’s the human condition. It enabled us to build resilience. When I see how culture has evolved to promote fragility and subvert resilience building—effectively I feel as though I’m watching a group of zealous individuals slice open the cocoons of eclosing butterflies and sending these butterflies to their early demise—I feel grateful to have experienced adolescence in a time and culture which valued and promoted resilience. What did we do that was so special, Teresa and me? We just kept moving. I can hear my dad's voice so clearly in my head urging me on, when I would falter toward despair: you have no choice, meaning I have no choice but to keep going.Knowing what I know now about my foremothers, I feel the depth of this simple retort. Keep moving, just keep moving.
Capybaras move between grassland and water spaces—they require lots of space. They intrigue and delight me because they easily form friendships with the most unlikely animals. Capybaras remind me I have the capacity to do the same, to approach others with curiosity rather than judgement, to pause and allow others to be who they are and remain fully myself. Capybara chill is a quality I will never have as an aspergian female. I don’t envy my bestie, envy seems to imply that I don’t want her to have that chill quality and that’s untrue. I admire this quality about her, it is a thing which endears her to me—my Teresa, capybara chill and the recoil of a gun all wrapped in lovely golden skin. Physical presence seems like the least of all factors that cause a friendship to grow because it’s been more than a decade since I hugged my capybara chill best friend and my heart still bursts with love for her as I write these words. The last time we were physically in the same room, I told her daughter you’re mum and I were your age when we met, and her jaw dropped. That little girl is now 27 years old. I understand now the love which Mawlana Rumi had for Shams-y-Tabriz, and I feel grateful that, even though Teresa is on the other side of the Rockies, she’s also the tiny click of a button on my phone away from me. Some friends never achieve the connection we have even though they are never separated by geography.
Perhaps physical absence cultivates a different kind of presence. This long period of separation means we faced the most difficult periods of our adult lives sequestered from the other. We each faced teachers and other assorted professionals as we advocated for our sons on very different yet very similar parental paths. We each felt like life was a Flintstone vehicle and we were each solely powering the entire unit for our nuclear families. We each become a Phoenix, rebuilding from the ash of a past broken life. I like to think movement connected us—however we lived, whatever choices we each made all had one purpose: survival for ourselves and those relying on us. We always kept moving, especially when the men in our lives gave up in their respective ways—we kept powering the Flintstone car. Life is good now for each of us and I hope when Covid-19 has released its grip on humanity I will get to hug my capybara chill best friend. For now though we have technology to link us. When we connect we are wise old crones and we are also those silly playful pixies who skipped and danced through the streets of the Norwood Flats of Winnipeg with our shoes tied together, armed with slurpees and ice cream sandwiches gushing over our school girl crushes and other things adolescent girls do. Teresa reminds me that I was a child once, and that I can still access that part of me—embracing the vulnerability, the curious gaze and, most of all, living, each moment fully.