Blogging about my client’s sister last entry got me thinking about family. There are different kinds of family and sometimes friends can be the family you choose for yourself.
I don’t remember when our friendship eased away from being fellow uneasy in-betweeners on the periphery of more popular girls and into full fledged best friendship. Looking back, I don’t think that either of us felt entirely accepted, although we both treaded social water with the feathered alpha dogs as best we could. We threw each other a neon 1980’s life preserver and clung to each other during good times and bad for the next thirty plus years.
The 80’s were an awesome and yet dangerous time to become teenagers. Our parents weren’t all that concerned about what we were doing or where we were, as long as we didn’t get caught. There were no cell phones to check in, no internet to point out the hazards. I rode my bike seven hot summer miles down a busy highway to Vicki's house. I’d flop, exhausted and sweating, on her couch where her spazzy dog would jump up and pee on me. I'd borrow a clean shirt, and we'd walk to Taco Bell, where we would pollute ourselves silly.
Remembering some of our teen shenanigans makes me shudder and consider installing LoJacks on both of my children. We wandered and experimented and made stunningly risky choices, usually followed by long, tears-streaming, belly laughs. I think we only saw Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight once, but we successfully used it as a late night excuse for all sorts of other secrets.
My only real date to a high school dance was thanks to one of many visits to Columbia, Missouri, where Vicki spent summers with her dad. We’d cruise up and down “the loop”, gaping out car windows at cute boys, pretending not to be interested when they shouted suggestive come-ons at us. We were 17 years old and lucky not to be dragged into an empty lot somewhere. We met a slew of boys and it was all sort of innocent, but sort of not. My Missouri souvenir boyfriend had a southern accent, a full beard and I dated him through prom until college, when I promptly dumped him.
Vicki visited me at U of I while she was taking her twisty, winding path through growing up. Her father was in the Navy and she moved constantly as a child; a habit she's kept. As we became young adults, Vicki was so utterly gorgeous that it was sometimes annoying to be her friend. We’d be out at bars and guys would smile at me sheepishly after Vicki shot them down. “Okay. Well… how about you, then?” they’d ask me dejectedly, trying not to be too obvious about lowering the bar. Vicki earned a degree in social work, modeled awhile, got a degree in nursing. She had tumultuous crazy relationships with the guys who adored her and/or wanted to kill her. She could wreak havoc when she wanted to, driving her mother and boyfriends nuts on cue. There was just no stopping her when she made up her mind.
|U of I and Mizzou. |
I'm sure the floral print and haircut weren't helping my odds.
At my wedding reception, there is a fabulous scene captured on video when Vicki’s date of the moment was incorrectly doing the electric slide. He was faced the wrong way and it looks like he’s having a dance off against the entire floor of people. He was the last of Vic’s guys to be out of step, as she was about to find her husband, Steve and hang up her naughty hat. I recently teased Steve, for the hundredth time, about how very quiet and shy he was when Joe and I first met him. Steve patiently explained that I was so damn hyper and loud, nobody could get a word in edgewise. Plus, I think we freaked him out. Touché.
|Alec and Maxie|
We’ve lived seven minutes door to door when our babies were little. We’ve lived a plane ride away for years; we’ve had long, long drives between us for other stretches. Some years we’ve only needed to drive 45 minutes or an hour, and visits seemed as hard to schedule as the plane rides when we were sprinting around with work and kids. When Vicki’s dad was dying, she was a million miles away, in shocking pain she couldn’t share, even though we lived close. As of three months ago, we’re back to being only 15 minutes apart after four years of rare visits between Arizona and Illinois.
The distance was different this time, because we really needed each other and it was just so far. When we had visits, they were more precious than ever because we knew the next one would be a long time coming. We were needy and hurting, at times, and we’d put all our friendship eggs tenderly into each others’ baskets. It’s hard to lean on someone new when your lifelong friend suddenly can’t hop in her car to hold your hand the way she used to hold your hair when you made all those forever ago bad choices.
So now my person is back, and it’s funny. I don’t even need to be talking to her or see her; life feels different knowing that I can. I am so insanely lucky to have my husband, my kids, my parents nearby. But now I have my neon life preserver back within reach and I feel grounded and safer and more like one of the cool kids, even though it’s just in our own weird little world.
Olivia recently asked Vicki if she and Aunt Wendy ever had fights. All these years and we really haven’t, probably partly because I am terrified of arguments. Plus, we are both usually too awesome and entertaining to irritate each other. When I was working full time and Vicki was a stay at home mom with baby Alec, I would try and listen to her on the phone while I was working on the computer. I’d half listen to her while click-clacking away and then give her my full attention when I had something to say. It was the closest thing we had to a real fight. She was pissed that I was half-assing my part of our bargain. She gave me the silent treatment for a little while, maybe to let me know how it felt not to feel heard. Now, Vicki is the one who is crazy busy with work and her active family, trying to fit in chats with me between endless discussions about cancer with the frightened patients who need her help. We’re still growing up together and learning how to balance it all.
My husband Joe imitates Vicki’s soft, rather nasal voice, by saying, “Meep, moop.” Sometimes when he calls me on the phone from work, he says “Meep, moop,” in greeting, which I take to mean that someone I love is on the line.
I talked Vicki into hosting our high school Bunko group last week. She’s only been back home for a few fast months, but in some ways, it feels like she never left. I sat in her bathroom while she was getting ready for Bunko, just like we did in junior high, in high school, during college visits, on our wedding days, for grown up girls’ nights out, before our high school reunions. Talking and laughing and looking forward to sharing time together. And yet that ordinary moment that we’d had a thousand times before, was suddenly a kind of miracle. And I’m just so grateful. Love you, Vic.