I’ve Found An Ingenious Way Of Keeping My Friends Close This Winter

'As winter sweeps in and we all need to huddle closer – but can’t – we can still be close'

Emma Jane Unsworth

by Emma Jane Unsworth |

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the diary... Here we are again, with everything crossed out. We’ve said bye to all the nice stuff. All the plans for drinks and hangs. In lockdown for a second time. It’s got to be done, to stop things spiralling, but I’m missing my people so much it aches. So how are you staying close to loved ones through this next famine of physical proximity?

I for one have been wearing my friends. I’ve been wrapping them around me. By that I mean I’ve been wearing clothes my friends have given me. I guess we are all at a point now where we are past pretending. The way we look is the way things are. I’ve even stopped doing my hair for Zooms (and I was an early ring-light adopter). But what I can’t turn off is the need. Weary as I am, there is a savage urge in me for connection, for warmth, for meaning amid the utter fucking grey meaninglessness of it all.

It used to be special outfits that carried the most symbolism in my life. The satin jumpsuit I wore for my wedding. The dress of my mum’s from the ’70s with the black lace neckline I wore for my 30th, the scary brink of that decade necessitating a wormhole back to my female lineage. The spotty yellow dress I bought in Dublin after a painful break-up – with a cleavage so low it made me feel like a masthead on dates. These items reminded me of occasions. Now, there are no real occasions to be had, so I’m looking elsewhere for my daily monoliths of reassurance.

I’ve been wearing maternity jeans my friend Rose gave me, and every time I put them on and see the label I smile, because they’re from a company she used to work for who treated her appallingly and she left in such a blaze of glory, telling them all exactly what she thought of them in a spectacularly passive-aggressive group email. The jeans are over-washed into pure utilitarianism, but to me they represent the wild heart of my friend in full no-shit mode. There is the beanie hat my friend Sally gave me after I complimented her on it. It’s garish orange, so bright I feel like a button to be pushed when I put it on. I wear it on the rainiest 7am nursery runs. People look at it and laugh – I don’t care. It is impossible to be in a bad mood while you are wearing an almost fluoro hat given to you by your funniest friend. One of the things about friendship that has always comforted me is its capacity to turn around the worst day. By that rule, applying friendship early in the day can set you up for a good experience from the start. Then there are the reams of baby clothes so many friends have sent my way. The hand-me-downs that make my baby feel connected to all of theirs, in a big extended family. These clothes symbolise the idea we can be present in each other’s lives, physically, tangibly, every day. Still. It’s an act of sensory rebellion.

I’m going into hospital for a C-section in late November. I didn’t have a baby shower but three of my friends clubbed together and bought me a gift: a huge, hooded faux-fur robe, in dusky mink. It makes me feel like a deluxe badass. I’m scared about having a baby during a pandemic. But I’m going to wear that robe and feel cocooned by their love.

Everyone is getting something cosy from me for Christmas because our skin-on-skin contact has been woefully neglected. As winter sweeps in and we all need to huddle closer – but can’t – we can still be close. I’ll be doing it through clothes. Things given in love by people who wanted to say: we are with you, it’ll be OK. Friends will always find the right way to tell you that.

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