‘To Who It May Concern’ by Eva M. Schlesinger

soft cartel may 2018

Gigi Bridge was flipping through the new Poets & Writers, when she saw the ad for the writers’ conference. What caught her eye was not the name brand faculty, multi-genre workshops, or tuition stipend, but the promise, smack dab in the center, of “lifelong friends.” That’s for me, she thought, tearing out the page.

She was friendly with members of her stay-at-home writers collective, but they claimed, when she called to say hello, that they were busy writing. She was on good terms with her neighbors, but the common refrain was: “Oh wow, I’d love to chat, but I’m busy with my girlfriend, boyfriend, parents, kids, dog, cat sitting, book group, painting group, sitting around and moping group, meditation group, and muddled-at-midlife group, and all of the above.”

She bumped into women she knew at the food co-op. They chatted, catching up, and for a thrilling space of time, up to fifty-five seconds (she had once timed it), she felt she had a friend.  But there was always a point when the other woman would place her hands on the metal cart, perhaps to center herself, and say, “Gotta go.” Gigi cringed when that came. It felt like the other woman was laying out neon yellow tape that said, Friend Line. Do Not Cross.

But oh, those seconds that came before, uplifting her, filling her with cheer, making her believe for one moment, this woman could be the friend of a lifetime.

That feeling of hope had inspired her a couple of years earlier to bring her résumé to the Friendship Agency downtown.  She had made sure to highlight past friend-making experiences since college, where, as she noted, she had clearly been the Pied Piper of Friends. She wanted one-on-one friendships with women, she told the director, but he explained there was a recession and such friendships were at an all time low; he set her up with a small group. The women seemed nice enough, but when one glanced at her, then leaned close to the other, smiling, Gigi knew they were sending ESP thoughts: Let’s get rid of her; she’s bad news.

She did have one close friend, SoSo. They had met in college, over twenty years ago. When Gigi called now, SoSo would say, “Hey you,” in that warm way she had. And hearing her, Gigi felt immediately better. At the end of the call, SoSo said, “More soon.” “Soon,” Gigi chimed in. More soon was her favorite time. It meant they were close. SoSo understood her.

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