How to make small talk: Ask the other person about himself. Ask him about his family, about his friends. That’s all well and good but eventually the other person is going to ask you about yourself, about your family, about your friends. Then what?
My one sibling has a job I’m not allowed to talk about. One sibling is in an abusive relationship. Even if I knew you well enough to share such intimate things, it’s unlikely you’d be comfortable hearing about it. My father died long ago. My mother’s health is in the toilet—there’s an interesting conversation. I guess that leaves friends.
I could talk about my friends all day long and do. I’m a storyteller, and much of my material comes from my friends and the things we’ve done. Let me introduce you to Geoff. We met when we were fourteen….well truth is, though he and I are still in touch, he’s married with three kids and is still in Fort Lauderdale and I’m in Birmingham. We don’t hang out anymore, though I still think of him as my best friend. He was best man at my wedding and was godfather to my daughter.
Then there’s Dan. Oh, the adventures we had! There was the time Dan and I went to the Playboy Club in London, and . . . we were sixteen then. I visited Dan and his first wife in New York twenty-six years ago, but I haven’t seen him since. If it wasn’t for Facebook we wouldn’t be in touch, really. I still think of him as my friend, but really, without the internet, would I know his current wife’s name? Would I know he has four children?
When I think of Friends, I immediately think of Julia. Who I haven’t seen since…Okay what about Gary? Or.
Jesus, do I even HAVE any current friends?
I do. I adore Kerry.
But we don’t have the history that Geoff, Jules, Gary, Dan, and Edwin and I do.
Once or twice a week I eat dinner with Betty and Devere. I suppose I’m closer to them than I am to anyone, but I’ve never hugged them. Betty did hold my hand once, briefly, when I was upset. Betty was with me before my heart surgery and (I’m told) was with me when I came out of recovery. She says I looked dead.
She’s not quite old enough to be my mother, but Devere is old enough to be my father. He’s Mom’s age. I’ve known them for about as long as I’ve been in Alabama. I met them through Mom. Maybe that’s why I have a hard time thinking of them as “my” friends. They were Mom’s friends, first. It’s funny that now I use them as a sounding board when I complain about Mom. Devere is retired now, but he was the chief of psychiatry at the VA Hospital. Betty was a pediatric nurse. We have a lot in common politically. Betty is very active in church, almost more active than the rector! I used to be active but now I’m next door to being an atheist. That’s not a problem with us, which is one reason we get along so well. We also are simpatico politically, which, given the current administration is almost a prerequisite for anyone spending as much time together as the three of us do.
I have to admit, they feed my ego, especially Devere. He enjoys hearing my stories and I make him laugh. Betty is a harder audience to please, which means when I make her laugh, too, I know that whatever I’ve said or written is really on the mark.
I know I haven’t provided any kind of physical description of them. I’m not going to. Somehow that feels like an invasion of privacy. I know I’ll never tell any stories about them, the way I do about Geoff, Dan, Ed, Gary, Julia, etc. for the simple reason that there aren’t any to tell. Ours isn’t the kind of friendship that leads to adventures at the Playboy Club, or police chases but that’s okay. It’s the kind of friendship that leads to companionship and support, and rides to the airport and rides to the hospital, and shared laughs and shared tears.