"I'M TOO OLD TO make a new best friend," Nancy said, almost wailing in pain.
Nancy's best friend moved to New Jersey, relocated by her husband's job. Mary took with her not only the children who had been the best friends of Nancy's children, she also took Nancy's lifestyle support system. It was as if Mary had ripped the cords out of the wall.
"I didn't lose one friend, I lost five," Nancy says. "The one I talk to about books. The one I car-pool with. The one I call if I want to go to lunch."
And most important: "The one I could call and say, 'I'm stuck at work. Can you pick up my kids and keep them?' "
Nancy didn't simply lose a neighbor, though Mary lived just behind her. And she didn't simply lose a pal. Like most women, Nancy has lots of people she calls "friends."
She lost her lifeline, her escape hatch, her body double. Nancy feels more than lonely. She feels as if she's working without a net.
"I almost wept when the school sent home the emergency cards. Who was I going to tell them to call?"
It is no secret that the texture of women's friendships is different from that of men's. Guys have buddies, other guys they do stuff with. Women seem to have soul mates, women who understand them in intuitive ways.
But let's be practical. Women also make friendships that work for them. Our lives are too hectic not to have functional relationships with other women on the same circuit.
"I had to change where I get my car fixed," said Nancy, and her voice ached again with grief and frustration. "Mary won't be there to give me a ride home."
Anybody can give you a lift home. Anybody can pick your kids up from soccer practice. And you might find yourself complaining about your husband to perfect strangers if you are angry enough.
But there is an unspoken litmus test that only a few friends pass. Are you comfortable with your kids spending big blocks of time in her house?
"She was a mother with values like mine," said Nancy. She exhaled the words, talking the way a woman talks when she knows she can finally relax.
"I knew they weren't watching R-rated movies. I knew there were no porno Web sites on the computer. I knew she would be home.
"You can't always count on things like that anymore."
Nancy has friends where she works. She has friends where she takes her guilty pleasure -- horseback riding lessons. "But they might not even know the names of my kids. We are friends for other reasons, on other subjects."
None of those women can function as the kind of friend Mary was. And when Nancy looked around for a suitable replacement, she found all the friends like Mary were taken.
"Everybody is all paired up. I'll have to stand in line -- wait until somebody else moves."
When Nancy isn't feeling sorry for herself, she is feeling sorry for Mary, who has been pulled out by the roots. More than Nancy, Mary is starting from scratch.
This is the second time Nancy has lost a best friend. Eight years ago, Phylis relocated to New Jersey for her husband's job, too. ("What's with New Jersey?" she asks.)
"When it happened, I went out and consciously made a new friend. It was Mary."
"I don't know. I don't have a plan. When my kids were toddlers, it seemed easier to make friends. Maybe we were all just desperate."
Nancy seems desperate without Mary. Maybe that's all it takes.