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The Bounds of Friendship
By Lori Parks

(Page 1 of 2)

I remember when she told me. I was sitting at my desk on a humid August afternoon, sifting through the avalanche of paperwork that accompanies a real estate closing. I took her call, grateful for the break, chirped “Hi” and waited for the bright, familiar voice. She said, after a round of polite how are yous, “My doctor thinks I may have cancer.”

Beth and I have been best friends for six years. I met her at Wesleyan one autumn; she was the first person I encountered at the admissions office, where I demurely inquired about transferring. After spending two years at an Ivy League school entrenched in pre-professionalism, I had decided that the remaining undergraduate years would be better spent learning about myself, not analyzing supply-and-demand curves. As the receptionist in the admissions office, Beth had a warm, broad smile. She spoke swiftly, melodically, making me miserable and longing to escape a university I felt was swallowing me – feel at ease at once. We talked about Penn, men, English literature; she invited me to stay with her that weekend; I transferred four months later.

We spent the next two years of our lives together: Saturday night dinners alone, poking fun at the college social scene; coffee at Howard Johnson’s at 2 a.m., discussing how we deceive ourselves and others; smoking our first cigarettes in her narrow dorm room (neither one of us had been a rebellious adolescent); discovering feminism.

Through those years, we remained each other’s closest confidante, the person who knew when we lost our virginity and to whom; how we wanted to change the world with our novels (mine) or clinical practice (hers); what frightened and infuriated us. For Beth, who had dozens of friends, I was the first person with whom she could really be herself. For me, more insular, more cautious, she was the first person I believed accepted me unequivocally, without judgment. Even after we graduated, we stayed in constant contact, making frequent phone calls to each other to recount the details of our days.

I remember making the trek to Beth’s home the day she told me that she, indeed, had lymphoma. Her parents’ sprawling, four-story house – musty and cluttered with antiques collected from around the world – felt more oppressive than usual when I entered. Upstairs, lying on her parents’ bed, Beth was surrounded by bouquets of flowers – slim yellow roses, lush white mums – situated haphazardly around the dark room. We sat together for hours, I patiently listening while she took phone call after phone call from friends wishing her well. I had a sense then that she was about to embark on a journey without me, to undertake something I could not help her with, but neither one of us said so that day. I don’t even know if she sensed the same thing; she was more fearful, I think, of the grim future that now was before her.

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