Every once in a while, you need someone in your life to remind you of its more ridiculous and/or hideous moments. Someone who won’t shy away from bringing up the time when you had a teenage crush on Steve, a guy who lost most of his teeth before he turned 30 (and those that are left are mighty decrepit). Someone who can describe in vivid detail the night you did a drunken ballet demonstration in the middle of the street. Someone who has experienced your parents and knows what social misfits they could be. Someone who’s got your back and makes sure your ego never gets too big.
Ten days ago, I spent time with four of these someones: May, Charlene, Rochelle and Tracey. Since we can never finish telling all the stories on our two-hour coffee dates when I’m visiting Canada, this time, we planned a sleepover. Granted, Tracey, who used to rock out to AC-DC and now goes to bed at 9 every night, went home around 11, preferring the comfort of her bed to a pull-out sofa for her old bones. Charlene, stuffed up and sneezing from one of the several viruses she gets each year, likely picked up by her kids at the petri dish called school, packed it in at 1 am. May, Rochelle and I managed to stay up until almost 3, but were only a degree away from sober for the duration of the evening.
We may not party like we used to but boy, have we got history.
I’ve known these women since I had bad home perms atop a giant head atop a tiny, flat-chested body. Since before we’d ever *really* been kissed and still had posters of pop music stars on our bedroom walls. Since the year the TV show “The Waltons” was cancelled. I’ve known them since 1981.
We grew up laughing about bad bosses at our first jobs (three Wendy’s, a McDonald’s and a Baskin Robbins between us) and swapping boyfriends (there was no “can’t touch this” rule like there is now). We’ve gone through more hair colors than L’Oreal has names for (and as of last weekend, May and Charlene were still sporting pink and purple bits, respectively). We have driven each other around in bashed-in, used-up cars that were on their last breath (anyone ever propped up their hatch door using a field hockey stick?), or just crashed them (Rochelle has an impressive record of totaling Volvos. I think Volvo’s engineers need to meet her).
There were no cell phones and email, yet we always knew what was going on with one another. We went to university and got better jobs, had long-term boyfriends (or declared celibacy or eloped—Tracey has still not been forgiven for that one) and traveled. Somewhat unconsciously, our postal codes remained collectively confined to just a few zones. For a while, I lived in Charlene’s basement, then later, May, Tracey and I all owned condos on the same cul-de-sac.
We knew we were really adults when our family members—parents and even a brother—started dying, and we’ve carried each other through that, too. Some years ago, I picked up May’s mother’s last prescription for morphine as she lay at home in hospice care, ravaged by ALS. In 2009, I ate lunch with these girlfriends just before visiting my father in the hospital, where he stayed until his passing a couple of days later. Our families changed again when babies were born to a few of us, and since then, those kids have been generously lent out to the one in our group who couldn’t have her own (note: in my house, we used the vasectomy-hysterectomy method of birth control).
In an essay that I penned for the book Write for the Fight, I opined that on my 80th birthday, I really wanted people to say that I’d been a true and loyal friend. Shortly after, when I read a draft of Molly Greene’s novel Mark of the Loon, I told her I wished I had the close rapport of her four main female characters with some of my girlfriends. What’s that old saying, “It has to hit her in the face before she sees it?” Well, I guess that despite the laser eye surgery, I can still be pretty near-sighted at times.
I’m more than a few postal codes away from my old school friends now and don’t often hear about their day-to-day goings-on, but the good news is this: they’ll be at my 80th birthday party, Insha Allāh, and while they will probably bring up toothless Steve, the disorderly ballet dancing and other debacles, I think they’ll have some pretty nice things to say, as well. And, after not seeing them for months and then falling right back into our old habits and patterns last weekend, I realized my rapport with these women is a million times better than what could be written in any book (although Molly does a darn good job). After 31 years of love and loss, health and illness, birth and death, these dear friends will never let me forget from where I came, and to whom I am connected. Now, if I could just get them to shut up about how dorky I look when I run.