On Fish and Friends

OldFriends - 3

By Carmen Denia, Yale-NUS ’17 – See bio

Last week, my grandmother and I went over to my grandparents’ best friend’s house.  My grandparents used to live next door to Uncle Rick and Aunt Lisa, which was how they became best friends.  As we walked into their house, hugs and kisses went all around.  We moved away when I was about 5, but you wouldn’t be able to tell if you saw my gramp and Uncle Rick drinking together, boisterously reciting poems while tipsy.

Uncle Rick sat beside me while addressing my grandmother, “You remember that time Salvador (my grandfather) and I had to bring Gabrielle to the hospital because she had a lump growing at her hip? We waded through waist-deep flood water in the middle of a storm!”

My grandmother laughed. “Yes, yes! Of course, I remember. Remember when Salvador sucked the phlegm out of Daniel’s nose and throat?”  Daniel is one of Uncle Rick’s sons. He was just a child then and had lost consciousness from asphyxiation while they were having difficulty calling for an ambulance. My grandfather was a young policeman at the time with basic life support training and apparently, a high tolerance level for the less pretty parts of CPR.

They continued to exchange memories –  about  how my mother had to be up at the crack of dawn to do laundry before when both families were poorer, about the year that my grandmother kept staying overnight at the hospital with Auntie Lisa because their other son Matthew kept falling ill, and about the many birthdays, Christmas, and New Year’s dinners their family and ours shared.

My grandmother was very solemn when she finally said, “The hardest time was when Teresa died.” Uncle Rick nodded. Teresa was his first wife.

They were quiet for a while before my grandmother spoke up again, “We were neighbours for 26 years, you know.”

Uncle Rick turned to her and smiled. “We’ve all been friends for even longer.”

My grandmother then patted his hand before she stood up to go to the kitchen because Auntie Lisa was asking for her help. It wasn’t long before they called us and the many grandchildren present to move to the dining room.  Over dinner, the topics turned to what the kids were up to for the summer, the different senatorial candidates in the upcoming elections and how nasty the weather had been for this month.

I couldn’t help but reflect on how extraordinary their friendship has been and still is.  You see, my grandmother is the great criticiser. It’s rather funny most of the time because she has something to say about everything: the waitress who didn’t position the cutlery neatly enough, the micrometre of dust on the kitchen cupboards even after they’ve been wiped three times, the smell of the neighbour’s food even if they’re two stories above us and yes, even my baby hairs that refuse to be pinned back. If something’s amiss, she’ll know it and you can bet your bottom dollar that she’ll say something about it too.

So the thing is, I knew that the minute we walked out of there, my grandmum would have something to say about the food, the heat, the grandchildren or perhaps all three.

These days, people will tell you that it really matters what a friends says about you, the idea being that if you back-stab me regularly, why should we be friends?  Yet, I can’t claim that my grandmother’s friendship with Auntie Lisa and Uncle Rick is any less true than mine with my friends simply because I know she’ll have something to criticise when she leaves the house.  Doubtless when they visit ours, they will always have something critical to say too. (It’s sort of cultural, or so I’m told.)

With all the pretty things we find about friendship on our Facebook news feed, in Tumblr or on Hallmark greeting cards, I guess it’s easy to forget that there are many types or shades of friendship. (More than fifty, I daresay. Hurhur~) It’s so easy to say that friendship should be like this or that real friends don’t criticise each other behind each other’s back, but I don’t know anymore how true that is. I don’t think I’m about to start backbiting my friends, but I think it’s interesting to note how my grandparents and Uncle Rick’s family have forged such close ties and been there for each other in spite of whatever they say about each other.  Their brand of friendship has stood the test of decades and life in all its harsh and gritty reality.

After we left, my grandmother commented that their fish was too small. She didn’t mean the sushi they served; she meant the poor silver Arowana in the aquarium. Nothing escapes her notice, I tell you. Nothing. But maybe, it doesn’t really matter. After all, there really must be more to friendship than admiring each other’s fish. 

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