I don’t have friends

According to her

Columnist Ciku Gitonga explores the struggle to maintain close friendships in adulthood. (Supplied photo)

Reading week was rough. On the second lonely night, I waited for my sister to come home from the library.

I said to her, “I don’t have friends, Kit.”

Then I said, “Well, I have you. But you don’t count. You have to love me.”

I paused for a moment, thinking. I was holding my second can of beer.

“There’s also Chep,” I said.

Chep is my Kenyan friend. For nearly two decades, we lived across from each other in the same neighbourhood in Nairobi. Chep has seen everything. Once, we got into a fight, and I shoved her into a metal gate. I was 10. I watched her get one cute boyfriend after another when we were teenagers, seething with flat-chested jealousy.

But the storm has passed. We are now two sort-of adults, calm in our admiration of each other. And 10,000 km apart.

“This country makes me feel unchosen,” I tell her over video chat.

Back in Nairobi, I had friends from my childhood neighbourhood, from church and from school. These were real friends, the kind you could visit at the drop of a hat. Well, things were different in Kenya.

All the time, I think “Canadians are cold.”

Sitting on campus, I watch groups of laughing white people pass me. I’m old enough to know that friend groups are not always healthy, that what is outwardly enviable can sometimes be an internally lonely place.

But the truth is that most days I come home to an empty apartment. I send texts to people I chatted with after a lecture. Want to study together sometime? And they might say yes. And we might have a good time for an hour. But something must be wrong with me, something must have turned them off, because they never seek me out the way I sought them.

“I want someone to be like, I was thinking of you, specifically of you, and I wanted your company. So, I’m reaching out to ask if you wanted to chill. You know?”

Chep’s grainy image nods.

After some time, she says, “We as humans sometimes have a tendency to focus on what we don’t have and ignore what we do have.”

I roll my eyes. But she’s right.

I do have what some would call friends. I would call them acquaintances. I can’t ugly-cry in front of them. But I could cobble together a house party.

And I have had close friends, but the friendships fell away. I’ve found that you can’t really walk back from the adult equivalent of shoving someone you love into a metal gate. There is less room for that explosion of dark emotions that could happen in childhood, that was usually followed by a slow dissipation, a peaceful rain. In adulthood, to choose peace is to walk away completely.

I’ve been the toxic friend. I’ve been picky. I’ve lost some good people and some people have lost me. And for now, I’m alone.

Ciku Gitonga is a fourth-year creative-writing minor with no friends.

Published in Volume 77, Number 09 of The Uniter (November 10, 2022)

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