Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bookends

I recently had the chance to visit with my friend Joe. Joe and his wife are pregnant -- which is a fashionable way of saying that Joe's wife is pregnant, and not a way that Joe himself would ever choose to express the concept. I was there when Joe first met his wife. In fact, I think I might remember the event better than he does, as he was quite drunk at the time. I remember that he picked her up and lifted her across the table to sit next to him on the tatami during a party, that he was wearing a white shirt and she a gray skirt, and that while her feet cleared the tabletop, Joe managed to knock over several of the dishes and bottles on the table in her stead. It is hard to connect that image with the one of her 6 month swollen belly, and I wonder, if Joe could have seen the future outcome of that past dinner party meeting, would he still have picked her up to lift her to him? I ask him how impending fatherhood feels. "I can't think of it," he tells me. "When I try to get my head around it, it's just too big." He is rocking back in his chair in my japanese parents' sushi bar -- in our japanese parents' sushi bar, since he was here just as often as I was.

I was present when Joe had his 21st birthday, much of it spent splayed out on the wooden floor of my house in Tsuyama, also drunk, with someone mistakenly pouring whiskey in his eyes in a misbegotten attempt to increase the already dangerous amount in his stomach. The fact that I will soon be present for Joe's 28th birthday is not so remarkable, until you consider that I have no other friend I can claim to have known for so long. We have been friends now for seven years, across three different continents, and bridging two nationalities. When he told me he was leaving JET, I knew that I would leave, too. When he suggested I come to London for my masters, I came. He considers it a great failing that he never taught me to drink; I consider it a failing that I never really felt the need to insist that he stop. I tell people he is a professor in Nagoya; he tells people he knows the american ambassador.

The fact that Joe is pregnant, if we continue using the fashionable term, is not something I can easily get my head around either. He is frightened of the loss of youth and freedom it represents, still wants to be 21 and rocking back in his chair and not having to suddenly make decisions about work and home that have such far ranging repercussions. I think he still wants to be important and special, which truth be told is a huge draw of being a foreigner in Japan, particularly a white male foreigner. But no one is more important and special than a newborn. I promise that I will come and babysit, that I'll make crocheted blankets and clothing, that I will send the child books and toys from all over the world... I want to be upbeat, but the truth is I feel the loss inherent in this change of status every bit as much as he does. He asks several times if I will come to visit before mid-June, the due date. We don't talk about meeting in late June. We don't pretend that he will be able to visit me in DC or in Jordan. I ask if he plans to move back to Britain. He looks at his wife, who is smiling contentedly, hand over her bump. "Yes, probably..." he muses. "Not this year, though. Maybe next... you know, I have to think about the baby."

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I guess Joe won't be making it to Hawaii before we leave, huh?

A new baby is hard for _anyone_ to get their head around, but I grant you, it is harder to imagine with some than others! 8^) Hopefully, Joe will be sober for the birth!!

Have you given them their quilt??

Love,
mom
mom

Katie said...

Yes. He said it was the most thoughtful present they've ever received. Thanks for your help with it...

They're having a boy, by the way. And leaning towards the name 'Henry', which I support.

Ah, and Joe has finally come into the internet age:

http://www.stendhalforever.com/index.html

Now that his PhD is behind him, I think he might be a bit bored.

Anonymous said...

Definitely our single most outstanding collaboration!

Henry, huh? All I can think about is that song about Henry...'enry the VIII, I am, I am...

mom

amh2go@yahoo.com said...

I remember when my best friend told me she was pregnant. We had been best friends for 15 years, but had not lived in the same town since we both left home for different colleges, 7 years before.

When I went to NYU for my Master's, she lived close by, and I spent almost every weekend at her and her husband's house. She was a teacher and had summers off, so we were able to hang out frequently and do fun things in Manhattan pretty much anytime we wanted.

About half-way through my time at NYU, she told me she was pregnant. I am still embarrased by my reaction and what I said to her -- "but that will ruin everything!"

In fact, it didn't ruin everything. Our friendship didn't change -- only our activities did. They were perhaps slightly less spontaneous, and often included a stroller. And, I developed a new friendship with her little son (who is now 14!).

Don't mourn what you used to do together; look forward to the new dimension his fatherhood will add to your friendship.

mike said...

I experienced a similar feeling when my friends started getting married... fortunately I haven't really had to deal with any babies yet :)

It's strange the way that some friendships can change over the years, and some remain almost the same. Sometimes the people you think that you will remain close to your entire life gradually fade away, and others who you didn't think would be "lifers" start taking on a certain sense of permanence.

But I have faith that any friendship can be maintained if both parties put their minds to it, though it may morph into something other than what it started as. I recently started talking again to an old high school friend who I hadn't spoken to in over a year (we had a falling out, to put it lightly) and now I feel that we are almost as close as we used to be.

Anyway, enjoying your blog as always. Keep it up!