Shiny, (Truly) Happy People

(A rare paparazzi shot, catching vintage badasses Denise and Ron (circa 1990) arriving “on the scene.”)

I read a blurb recently about a study conducted on a group of “truly happy” people to find what–if anything–they had in common. The study found that those surveyed only shared one trait: the strength of their social relationships. I’m not exactly sure how “truly happy” is measured and what metrics would actually reveal that, but I found it fascinating nonetheless. And in thinking about it for a while, I took great comfort in the relationships I share with my friends and family–and, of course, the crown jewel of them all–my relationship with Ken.

Stumbling across this article was “interesting” timing. (I’ve said before I’m not sure I believe in coincidence anymore since Ken’s death.) One of my oldest and dearest friends, Denise, was in Chicago for business this week. After coordinating schedules I was excited that she extended her trip by a day so we she could crash at my place and we could spend some time together, drink some wine and catch up. She and our mutual (and supremely lovely) friend Nick traveled to town last year to attend Ken’s soiree. Though they had no expectation of spending time with me, it meant more than I could ever put into words to have these two iconic friends take the time to travel so far to love and support me, and to honor Ken. But in terms of the study I mentioned earlier, it goes a long way in demonstrating the web of social relationships I’m lucky enough to have that form an intricate lattice that has caught me every single time I’ve fallen–not matter how hard.

Though we’re both far too young for this be true, I met Denise twenty-two years ago as I was finishing up at Purdue University. I’d only recently come out then and met her through Nick (our mutual friend who we harassed via text after a couple of glasses of wine last night.)

When I left to Lafayette to move to Chicago, Denise moved to northern California. In subsequent years as I moved to southern California with Ken, she moved to Texas. Like many of my friendships, no matter how long it’s been since we’ve talked or instant messaged or emailed or iChatted, it’s effortless to pick up where we left off. And it’s always been that way.

Denise was a constant dancing partner of mine during the early 90’s. From Depeche Mode to B-52’s to New Order to REM. We frequented the local club and tore up the dance floor week after week after week, culminating in–wait for it–a choreographed dance to a popular song of the day. The freedom of dancing was almost drug-like in its sweaty, gyrating satisfaction. But the unity I felt as our song would start and we would casually bust out our coordinated moves, impressing the onlookers week after week made me feel a part of something important–and more importantly, a part of…something. And as much as fun as that was, I think back to being at her apartment and working for HOURS to create the dance. That was, for me, the most fun memory of our concerted effort.

So much of what makes Denise and my friendship special is unspoken. It’s just the way it work works for us. Over the years I’ve wondered if she truly understands how impressive she was/is to me and what a powerful impact our friendship has made on my life. I reminded her during our visit together last night of something she once told me: feelings aren’t right or wrong; they just “are.” Those words made a big impression upon me, and served me well through all of my subsequent friendships, in falling in love with Ken, and most certainly in learning of his cancer’s return and in coping with his death.

We haven’t lived in the same city with daily access to each for twenty-some years, but when we’re together, it’s impossible to forget the power and excitement the future held for me then, and what it can still hold for me now. Denise and Ken met in 2007 when she traveled to Chicago for a couple of days before she and I returned to Lafayette to visit with Nick and our old friends there. I remember being excited for them to meet and how effortless it was to conjoin these seemingly disparate parts of my life.

I’ve never been overtly social. I don’t know how or why it works, but for the most part I’ve always been attracted to people who prove to be long-term friends. I think friendship is something that is organic and comes easily. As I still struggle to find equilibrium and continue to figure out what my new “normal” is, I take great comfort in the friendships I’ve made and how they offer me a sometimes greatly needed center-of-gravity.

Some things never change.




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