If you have a best friend who is beautiful 100% of the time, that’s how you know you’re in love with her — because really, nobody is ever beautiful 100% of the time. You aren’t, Angelina Jolie isn’t, and your best friend certainly isn’t. But when you really love someone, they become beautiful no matter what sort of nonsense they get themselves into, no matter what they do or say or the various ways in which they infuriate or ignore you.
Maybe you’ve seen this best friend in full Wet Rat Mode, rain-drenched, sweating after playing basketball at Tompkins Square Park. Maybe you’ve seen her with smudged makeup, with sweat stains draping from her armpits, with the strawberry rash that flushes her chest when she is forced to speak in public against her will. And maybe these are only the surface imperfections; maybe you also listened, silent and hurt, while she criticized or called you names because you knew she needed to. Maybe you waited days or weeks for her to respond to an email. Maybe you ditched a date with your boyfriend and bought groceries to cook for your best friend instead, only to have her cancel at the last minute. Maybe, let’s say, you teach yoga, and have included a song or a poem in class that you knew she’d love, only to glance back mid-vinyasa to her empty mat in the back row. Maybe you’ve opened years of text messages including variations on a theme: sorry, not going to make it, too much work to do, too tired, big day tomorrow, big night last night, exhausted, hungover, have fun, say hi, love you.
But still: she’s always beautiful, isn’t she? It’s a disparity of feeling, those kinds of relationships, and maybe it reminds you of being around your little brothers when they were babies. You remember them running and screaming and slamming doors on your fingers, and you would run and scream right back, sure, but your heart was never in it. Because you knew what few did: that those two tiny demons carried around their sweet, true selves inside them, secret yet visible at all times, like transparent jellyfish who have no qualms about surreptitiously showing their inner organs to all the world. Even if you were a pissed-off teenager at the time, it would have been impossible for you to separate those screeching daylight phantoms from their adorable sleeping nighttime alterna-selves. Maybe during every fit of frantic boydom you would look at the two toddlers and see their future and their past, neither of which included the small frightful creatures caterwauling before you.
Maybe it’s the same with your best friend; when your story gets awful or disappointing, you can still see the perfection between the pages. Maybe between those tossed-off text messages there are the fewer handwritten letters that hold your lives in their lines, or theory-heavy emails that were the dissertations of your hearts — footnotes and all. Maybe beneath her empty yoga mat are the days she comforted you, supported you, challenged you, applauded you, fed you, held you, drove you to tears and back again.
Because it’s not the disappointments that stick, but the nights and afternoons and the few remarkable mornings on Christopher Street, on Bleecker, on Bowery, on Tenth Avenue, on University Place, on East 92nd Street, on Vanderbilt, on St. Mark’s, at Washington Square. Because every corner of the city is cobbled with her footsteps and haunted by your younger ghosts. Because even her body is a rune, an internal sunshine with a wry mouth that has warmed yours once, twice, forever. And no, maybe you can’t say that all of these beauties, with their individual pains and perfections and aspirations and agendas, occupy a greater cumulative space than the absences — but maybe the trick is that they weigh more. Maybe they weigh a lot more.