I moved from one state capital city to another three and a half years ago and on most fronts, I consider it a wise move. It’s expanded my career, opened up new literary avenues and come with the inherent excitement of the new. But six o’clock on a Thursday night always finds me a bit adrift and forlorn.
For more than a decade before I moved, Thursday nights meant dinner and champagne at the home of one of my girlfriends. No matter our various moods, commitments, romantic status or health, three or four of us would converge on a particular house, close the door and retreat to an intimately familiar dynamic.
The Thursday night ritual and its inviolable nature was well understood by most people in my circle. Yet one Friday night the girlfriend of a friend of a friend accosted me about my absence from a gig the night before.
“Where were you?” she demanded in the characteristically abrasive tone that prevented me warming to her. I explained the Thursday night date. “So every Thursday you drink champagne and hang out with girlfriends?”
I nodded. Her face assumed a strange, wistful quality. “I wish I had girlfriends to drink champagne with every Thursday,” she said.
Within weeks she had died by suicide.
I barely knew her but I am haunted by that short conversation in the pub. For the family and friends that knew her well and loved her the loss must be devastating. Was she sending me a distress signal that I, in my obtuseness, didn’t detect? Was I too unconsciously protective of my tight circle (mine, mine, mine) to find the generosity for an invitation?
The idea of having to navigate the troughs that no life escapes without my girlfriends is unthinkable. Unface-able. I’m an inveterate introvert so I don’t make friends easily, but once the connection is made it tends to stick. I’ve been friends with my Thursday night girls for around a quarter of a century. They ‘get me’. And I ‘get them’; so much so that our distress-response mechanisms have a quasi-military precision.
When I unexpectedly found myself pregnant (having been medically advised that the chances of conception with my new partner were slight) I was shocked into something approaching catatonia. Within half an hour of receiving the news the girlfriend posse swung into action. Soon, they were at my house preparing a roast dinner, explaining foreign concepts like ‘listeria’ and drawing up a child-rearing roster should I need it. They even poured my soda water into a champagne glass with a strawberry so I didn’t feel left out.
On another occasion, one of us was in a very grave situation in a foreign country. The rest of us were organising visas and were about to swoop in and spirit her away when she arrived virtually unannounced at the airport. She was desperately underweight and suffering terribly thanks to a man whose name I still can’t say without triggering a facial tic.
Being away from my girlfriends is hard. Yet in some ways they’re omnipresent. I can call up their responses to any given situation without effort. One of them, a beautiful, gracious woman has the most unladylike and raucous snort-laugh you’ve ever heard. Imagining it is enough to make me smile. Another girlfriend is an endearing mix of hippy-green philosophy and pragmatism (she’s indignantly quit her various jobs in the energy industry no less than three times; the last time over surveys that might disrupt whale migration). A standard business meeting is enough to trigger her virtual commentary on contradictions, about-faces and compromises.
We’ve had periods of alienation and silence occasioned by slights imagined and real. But Thursday night will always be theirs. Ours. However harried I am, however pressing my deadlines, come six on a Thursday my mind turns west towards my girlfriends. It’s trite and pointless – maybe even tasteless – to speculate on whether a similar arrangement could have saved my never-quite-friend. But I think of her often and wish she had known the female superheroes prepared for every contingency that I know.
S.A. Jones was recently named one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence. She is a renowned regulatory analyst and author of the novel Red Dress Walking.
If you need immediate assistance, call Lifeline on 131114. For further information about depression, contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or www.beyondblue.org.au or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.