I vanish, just like that.
There are occasionally warnings, the carefully worded auto-reply, the ever-shortened phone call. But usually I am simply...gone. It is not a good trait in a friend, is it? There are no more lunches, no more long e-mails, and rarely an explanation.
I would irritate the hell out of myself.
But I don't stop.
Because I am writing.
And I am far enough into it that I won't be stopping anytime soon.
And I am not far enough into it to make me comfortable that I will meet my own, self-imposed, utterly ridiculous and unattainable deadline.
I am in that past-33,000-but-not-yet-at-78,000 part that is my most dreaded, the section in which I think it's a book but it could just be an extraordinary waste of time.
And though my friends think they want me to go to lunch or think they want to have a conversation with me, they are wrong. Nobody would really want to be around me at this point. Because I have disappeared. I will not listen to anything that they have to say, despite the fact that I will try, very hard, to concentrate on them, their problems and joys and jokes and secrets.
Instead, they will become frustrated with me because my eyes will begin to grow unfocused, and they will ask a question, to test me, to see if I am listening, and I will fail the test, I won't answer, except to nod and smile and agree with something I've never even heard.
When I beg off on an invitation accepted gladly at any other time, I will say "I'm not good company right now," and they will laugh and they won't believe me, and they will say things like "Oh, don't worry about it, it's just lunch, come on, you need to get out, we can talk if you want, or we don't even have to talk at all," and they believe this will be okay with them, because they are good friends, and good people, and they support me.
But they don't really believe that I will remain in another world while I am with them. That, if I answer at all when they ask, "What do you think?" after they've told me a fairly simple story about their son's run-in with the baseball coach, I will not be able to say, "I think it's time for you and Dan to get involved. Look, he's only fifteen, and this sort of thing is probably a little beyond him at this point. Don't think of it as being over-protective, think of it as teaching him how to handle this sort of situation in the future," because that answer would have required me to be paying attention.
No, I will likely say something like "Oh, uhhhh, I just figured out that she can't say anything yet because she's going to need someone at the beach anyway, and besides, the turtle won't eat" which will, of course, make no sense and will prove, beyond a doubt, that I've not heard a single word they've said.
And they will not think that I am a bad friend because I don't feel like I can leave the house right now, right in the middle of writing this book, which might be irritating, but is not, after all, a personal insult.
No, they will think that I am a bad friend because I am not interested in them and can't be bothered to listen to their problems for even an hour, and they will grow angry with me and eventually our friendship will end because, really, that is rather personal, isn't it?
And so I have to disappear.
Because I am a good friend. And I do care, and when I am on, I am truly on, I am there, their problems are my problems, and I am involved and suffer with them and celebrate with them and love them and the people they love with a ferocity that would likely surprise them were they able to see inside of my soul.
And I care enough about them to know when I can't be that person for them, 100% involved and listening. It is all I can do remember to shower during these times.
I can no longer make long convoluted apologies for my disappearing acts. I am aware that every year I will lose a friend or two over it, and there are times that I want to point out that I have stayed with them when they disappeared, when they attended to boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, children, pets, elective surgery, depressions, vacations, housecleaning, hair drying, manicures, pedicures, massages, errands, and I want to break down the percentage of my attention to them vs. their attention to me and show a pie chart that proves that in the big, Who's The Better Friend competition, we are pretty equal after all.
I put up with a lot from my friends. Because I love them, and I know that I share them with the universe.
And I hope they know that if they need me, really need me, I will appear out of nowhere, and will be by their side, as I always have been, as I always will be.
All I ask in return is to, when I disappear, let me.
And love me when I come back.