I forgot the frog. Left him in my purse instead of slipping him into my front jeans pocket, as I’d planned. He had been sitting on my desk at work, next to three beautiful, hand-formed clay stones imprinted with the words “Just breathe.” The frog is as big as my thumb tip and made of plastic. His upturned face is rather stoic, meditative, mouth closed and set like a quiet little monk. I meant to carry this little guy with me to my first track day, running hard and fast lines around a racetrack in my quick little car—a bucket list day, a long-time-coming, maybe-one-day goal, a push-the-boundaries-of-my-life day. I meant to carry the frog as my sidekick, a tiny little relic of luck and love.
The small plastic figure was one of hundreds that filled a clear glass vase in a friend’s house. Last September, she turned 50 and we had celebrated in a big way, her party themed with her one kooky love: frogs. My friend was anything but kooky. She was everything lovely, smart, put-together, sweetly flawed, hard-earned wise, and always, always abundantly connected to her circle of friends. Five years ago, I was the “outsider” of the large social circle. And she wanted to know me, the new girlfriend of their old buddy. Of the whole group, she was the one who reached out during hard times or quiet times. If we hadn’t texted or talked in a while, she checked in. She remembered things, what was coming up in my life. She paid attention and she asked. She was a person much like me, who invests far too much sometimes in the wrong people, yet still wants to make sure everyone is making it in this world. Two months after her birthday, my friend died unexpectedly during a surgery. And like moons without a planet, all of us close to her were left without gravity, floating without orbit.
After she was gone, while helping pack her house, each of us picked out one of those plastic birthday frogs, each of us tucking away a small comfort, like a worry stone or a lucky penny, a pocket sized friend. Many years before all of this, back in my hometown and a life of more knowns than unknowns, I learned my first true and good lessons about friendships. They came during times of a new career, a terrible man, crippling mental health, safe spaces, new grown-up discoveries and joyous singlehood. One friend taught me the beauty of unconditional trust, of the easy back-and-forth, of laughing without restraint, acceptance without strings, instant adventure, being a wingman, being a bodyguard. Everything I know about “swooping” I learned from her. Back then, we knew when to “swoop,” when to just show up, when to call, when the radio silence got too long, when the laughter was fragile. Friends helping, friends just sitting quietly, friends packing up your shit when you find another’s girl’s texts on your boyfriend’s phone, friends guiding your drunk ass out of a piercing shop, friends battling shaky tears as you drive them across three states in the middle of the night, friends sitting on a hill during lunch break to talk out fears of marriage. We swooped each other. We swooped well. That friend was grace and ease, loyalty and hidden tough girl. She paid attention and I followed suit, giving, knowing, accepting, and growing together. When we parted geographically things couldn’t help but change between us. Our lives were now far apart, and bumpy with all kinds of hard and strange times. Yet my foundation was set, already a part of my nature of pleasing others, the art of the swoop was just the right thing a person should do.
There’s no score keeping, only recent recognition of this energy. I’ve swooped an overwhelmed friend to cut down her blackberries, weed her huge overgrown yard, swooped to find a way to send a friend to classes, to fix someone’s computer, swooped to get people together for dinners, host parties even in the midst of my own huge mental crashes and insecurities, nudged my boyfriend to buy a little bird sculpture for someone who’d loved it on the store shelf, sent text cheers, “hellos” after long weeks of quiet. I’ve swooped with so many cards (“paper hugs!”) in the mail, suggested weeknight happy hours, smiled and listened through problems that never seem to get better. In spite of my own anxieties, my life’s bumps, I want to ease the way, to show that we aren’t alone.
After some recent months of grief and more months of feeling a shift in age and thought, I’m settling into a new place of clarity. The realizations have sometimes been painful. I’ve not been properly swooped in a very long time. It’s a hard truth to swallow. There have been times that bouts of hard-wired depression has frozen me to my couch, my desk. Times I’ve ached with loneliness, this gypsy girl who set off from her home and support system to explore and make a new life, braving the unknown while facing the inevitable shock and isolation of change. It’s easy to overthink it, to blame myself for not being enough for some people, for failing here and there. I’m flawed like everyone else. Yet one way to acceptance is moving forward. And it’s done with making boundaries that serve my tender heart, choosing to stop the swooping, to swoop myself and the few who choose to see me. And so it goes slowly and with careful thoughtful actions. Invest here but not there. Wait and see. Feel the good of now, not what could be. Find the joy that defines you and the right people will show up.
On Friday, I took my car to a racetrack for the first time. Since I was 16, I’ve been a car geek in my own way. Sneaking little bouts of speed along the highway, focusing on how a turn feels on country back roads, and polishing my old Honda until its red paint turned my towel pink. A strange thing for a teen girl, I suppose, but add that to the jumble: publish a book, walk on hot coals, travel to every city Hemingway wrote about. These are the quiet pops of inspiration that bubble beneath my everyday armor of smiling, pleasing, and duty. These are the kooky frogs of my life and the things that keep my eyes looking ahead to the next thing that will shape who I am.
On Friday, I needed some swooping. I needed friends to calm my nervous belly, to love what I love, to love that I’m out here living, fearing, to see me push back what oppresses me because they know me. My swooping friend from back home used to say: “I’m in your pocket. Go do it!” It was our mantra when we were apart. Long-distance swooping. And so that frog was going in my pocket. In the early morning blur of packing my helmet, extra socks, granola bars, I forgot him. But it was ok. I drove the track hard and good. I felt the pull of G-forces, smelled hot brakes, felt my body glide into everything like water into water. And my friends—those few swooping distant friends—were with me, in my pocket. And I trust they will always be as I keep my eyes looking ahead on the track, on this road. Here I go.