For the third time in as many months my little boy has said goodbye to his best best friend. With no plans to meet in the future, the finality of the goodbye seems to leave no effect, these expat kids fluidly move from ‘best’ friend to ‘best’ friend. Born to this life, they seem blissfully unaware that friends aren’t supposed to leave, they supposed to always be there.
Friends, everyone has them, you don’t even know how you got them, you just know they’ve always been there. As adults we possibly take them for granted, we have them since schooldays, you failed honours maths with them, you went to college with them, you went to Kusi Dasi with them, they were at your twenty first, engagement party and wedding. They know your foibles and failings, they know your deepest secrets and ambitions. They were at the airport when you emigrated and they were there the first time you returned home.
You invested heavily all those years and it paid off. You knew that Helen would always live at no. 2 and you’d always be around the corner in 17 so you made the effort, developed an interest in and understanding of Helen and all the people and events that constituted her life. Same for Sharon, Paula and Maria, they were in your class from junior infants right up to Leaving cert so you learned to get along and like sisters even when there was a falling out, it would be short. The investment doubled, tripled and quadrupled over the years and now it’s invaluable.
When you emigrate, you assume that the same friendships will come about again, but it’s not always the case. There’s a fact known by expats and that is that the people you meet in your first few weeks, months in a posting are the ones that last the longest. Coincidental? Not really. In your first weeks in a new country you have an obvious vulnerability not to mention a vacancy that needs to be filled, you’re being super courteous and open to meet just about anyone for a coffee, besides your container hasn’t arrived and you’ve nothing better to do. Over time, you become friendly, you’ve been there the same length of time and that becomes the common ground. You invest a little more, learn all about her family in Manchester/Manilla/ Massachusetts and over time you become good friends, but then over a little more time, she leaves. She was a friend for a season. You invested and lost.
Next time round you vow to invest a little less or at least spread your capital investment. You make somewhere between three and eight smaller bets. Foolish to put all ones eggs in just basket you spread it round, the depth won’t be there but surface level friendships is ok. You only need someone to drink wine with on a Thursday or find the new Ikea, a friend for a reason. You can always skype Helen for some real one to one time. After a while you realise that that the only two of the investments are showing signs of return but because you’ve invested so little and are not prepared to invest much more, the return will also be, yes, proportionately little.
You become bewildered and consider spreading the net even further before deciding to pull net, eggs, the lot and make no investment at all, because everyone will eventually leave and if they don’t, you will. Enter cynical expat.
At the ripe old age of 39, you decide that you don’t need a consistent somebody to drink wine with, you just need anybody who will drink wine consistently and don’t need no-one to accompany you to Ikea. You decide to focus on your initial investments back home and turn back to reinforce same. Sharon, Paula and Maria, have all moved on with their lives but because of the strong initial investment it doesn’t take much to get back on track.
Helen stays the same, some might say a blessing, some might say a jinx but Helen is a friend for a lifetime. If you find a Helen abroad, invest big.