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The Perennial Nature of the Relationships That Matter

I don’t have an immense amount of friends. I’m not the kind of person who acquires a friend during each new phase of my life, collecting them along the way like souvenirs from places I’ve visited. Nor would I ever have a birthday party with fifty of my closest friends and family members—and I like it this way. Instead of many, I have deep.

A few of my closest friends have been in my life since before I could even drive a car. We grew up together, made mistakes with one another, and had the kind of disparaging arguments that would shatter a relationship with even the slightest fracture. But these relationships of mine do not have fractures. No matter what happens between these friends and me, we will remain friends. It has been decided, and it’s never going to change. The same goes for some of the relationships I’ve made in adulthood, and for this, I am grateful—if not a little bit befuddled.

Why does it befuddle me? Because for a long time, longer than I like to admit, I allowed myself to believe that the foundational relationships upon which we build our lives can thrive and then they can wilt and eventually die; they can surrender to the harsh winter that all relationships inevitably go through. I allowed myself to believe that the relationships that mean the most to me are annuals and, after a cold spell, I would need to replenish my annuals, replant my relationships. But this is not the case. The relationships that matter in life are perennials.

Sometimes the relationships that are supposed to be foundational just aren’t. And sometimes you will find what you need from those foundational relationships in other places—in friends, colleagues, even your children.

The belief about faltering relationships comes from the erratic presence of a so-called foundational relationship in my life: my father. My father, who was supposed to be one of the two sturdy pillars in my upbringing. My father, whom society tells me I can trust like nobody else, who will be sturdier than all others, who will not crumble no matter what I say or do. The nature of our relationship was so fractured during my upbringing, and indeed far into my adulthood, that I began to wonder what it was about me personally that made him so unreliable, so conditional in his love. Was it me? Was I so easy to abandon?

But then—through no small amount of therapy and reading—I noticed what I had all around me: beautiful, powerful, dynamic relationships, the likes of which not everybody is fortunate enough to have. And these relationships that I’d been developing and nurturing turned out to be the ones I really needed; the ones that remained and rebloomed.

I think there is a fault in the structures we place around relationships. Sometimes the relationships that are supposed to be foundational just aren’t. And sometimes you will find what you need from those foundational relationships in other places—in friends, colleagues, even your children. As it turns out, a father is not the only person from whom a woman can learn about confidence, boundaries, and self-worth.

My father did not come to my wedding. But do you know who did? A dozen of my closest friends, the members of my enormous extended family whom I know best, and my mother in a spectacular black dress, whose train trailed behind her as she walked me down the aisle, giving me away like a loving father so often does. I did not lack that cold December day as the lights beyond the expansive windows pierced the blackness outside. Rather, I felt abundance. I had around me the faces of those who have been there for me again and again, despite distance, despite time apart, despite disagreements or periods of misalignment.

I do not lack, but that does not mean it’s always easy. The anxiety I experienced regarding my relationships used to manifest itself in peculiar ways, like taking inventory of people I didn’t hear from on my birthday, for example. I always knew I’d have one tick, so why not tally up the other important people who’d forget, since I was, in my head, apparently forgettable? I try to not let this happen anymore, and it’s still not easy, despite my acknowledgment of how fortunate I am to have the relationships I do have.

I’ve tended to my garden and I have created space only for perennials, which I know, no matter the cold, the gray, the frost, will bloom again.

I frequently see trigger warnings on social media, particularly dealing with pregnancy and baby loss. Sometimes I wish there would be a trigger warning before photos celebrating great fathers on their birthdays. Or before beautiful Father’s Day posts. Or before photos of women embraced in a hug by their fathers on Christmas. Images like these always give me pause, still to this day, but I allow myself to briefly dip into that emotional valley because my emotions are valid, and no matter how much peace I have made with my relationships, sometimes I just get upset that my father chooses not to be here. And I now know that’s okay.

What I do next, though, I am so lucky to be able to do, and that is to account for those inconceivable souls who are here, who have not stopped loving me no matter what. For these relationships, I feel indebted to the gaping absence I’ve felt my whole life, for I was given the room to fill that void with what suits me. I’ve tended to my garden and I have created space only for perennials, which I know, no matter the cold, the gray, the frost, will bloom again.

They will always bloom, because they always have. That is just what perennials do.

Kolina Cicero is enamored with stories – reading them, writing them, getting lost within them. Other things she loves include yoga, traveling, and taking cooking, Italian, and writing classes. Her first children’s book, Rosie and the Hobby Farm, was published in July 2020.

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