Playing Favorites by Jeni Stewart

On a beach in the South of France, under a big waxing moon and with plastic cups of the cheapest red wine we could find, we play a game.  What’s your favorite movie? People are loathe to answer.  Will I be judged if it’s a romantic comedy? Probably.  So should I say its Sabrina, or should I say its something more cerebral? The truth is, picking just one favorite, which the word favorite implies, is difficult because we don’t want to be judged by it, labeled by it, ranked by it.

With some things its easy.

This, I say, is my favorite city, San Sebastian, Spain, with its big globe lights by the beach, its big Jesus on the hill, its bars loaded with pintxos, little bites you pluck at as you drink and meander from bar to bar all night long.

This, I say, is my favorite comfort food, and bite into a Quattro Formaggi pizza – pizza with four different kinds of decadent cheese – mozzarella, of course, but dots of blue, and creamy ovals of goat, and brie too.

This, I say, is my favorite way to ride a train, with crusty fresh bread we break and eat with our hands, and cheese we slice sloppily with our corkscrew and wine and fresh cherries.

This is my favorite time of day, I say, as the light fades, changes, the energy softens, bubbles, and the sky purples.

But when asked what my favorite book is I falter.  Favorite friend? I’m sorry, am I 12? I don’t understand how the big things can be so singularly favorite.  If Facebook had a favorite button, instead of a like button, would we be so quick to use it? Some of my friends would.  They have no problem labeling things favorite, but their favorites are ephemeral.  Today, this is my favorite book, movie friend.  Tomorrow they may change their minds.

When I was a little girl, I had a best friend.  Best friend and I wore bracelets indicating that we were each other’s besties, and, of course, letting everyone else know that where we were concerned, everyone else was, of course, other.  Best friend and I did everything together.  Best friend and I went to the beach together, skipped down the block together, sang songs together watched movies together, talked together, laughed together, grew up together.  Until, of course, that growing up started to be not just up but also to branch out, to fill out our bras, to make eyes wander over male torsos.  She was a year older than me, and so she started driving first.  She graduated first.  She did not go to college.  I did.  I haven’t seen or heard from her in over ten years, because friends also fight.  Friends that go away to college lose touch with friends that don’t.

They used to say we were attached at the hip.  I rarely talk about this friend.  If we met now, I doubt we’d be friends.  But I still think there’s a her sized hole at my hip. It’s a fissure of the first forever you (or I’ll be kind and say I) ever believed in.  Every forever after that first break is tainted.  I’ll love you forever? Or, the newly made cynic inside states, until some hotter piece of ass comes along.

And perhaps out of some seething deep inside loyalty to her, that first-ever-best friend, I don’t call anyone my best friend anymore.  But I really think it’s deeper than that.  I think as we grow older we learn not just to recognize nuance but to appreciate it.  I may not have a BFF now, but I have a close circle of friends.  I know call it the inner sanctum.

To me, this implies that these are the people I’ve let inside.  They know me, I know them.  They need me, I come running, and vice versa.  And to me, this is what it means to be an adult.  To be a full person.  To be able to say I am a not friend with this person in the same way I’m friends with that person, but that doesn’t mean this bond is any less special.  It’s just different.  Do I have friends I call just when I want to go dancing? Yes.  Do I have friends I call when I’ve been hurt by (insert love or money)? Yes.  They are all my best friends, which sort of negates the idea that they’re best anything.  Except that I will always choose to eat four cheese pizza with them.  Because you love what you love.  And this way, I hope to avoid fissures of the future.  Because to me, favorite is just too powerful a word to wield so lightly, to be tossed about like a dirty penny. It should be treasured, saved, brought out on only the rarest of occasions, and only after much consideration.

To me, you don’t play around with favorites.