Last weekend, my cell rang. It was my friend Michele, back here for a visit from the East Coast. “I can’t talk long,” I explained. “I’m over at Amy’s for dinner.”
“Oh! Say hi for me.”
Standing in Amy’s kitchen in Berkeley, I realized this was a conversation Michele and I could have had more than four decades ago, had there been cell phones. I’ve known these two women since we all started junior high. While I’ve had periods of being more or less close to them depending on geography, life circumstances and our kids’ ages, it’s always easy to pick up where we left off.
Michele can still get me laughing with her imitation of our 7th grade math teacher, who bore a striking resemblance to a woodchuck and had the compulsive habit of wagging his chin back and forth while loosening his tie, as if in desperation to break free.
And Amy and I still descend into horrified giggles about the time she mistakenly interpreted an 8th grade boy’s invitation—“Do you want to go to the school dance?”—as a theoretical question posed to gauge her hipness. “Eeew, no!” she responded.
Besides being funny, smart, generous, reliable, loyal and insightful, Amy and Michele are uniquely orienting in my life. They’ve borne witness to my family struggles in a way that actual family cannot.
Hey Lis, Amy wrote to me in an e-mail a couple of months ago. I read your blog and enjoyed it very much. Wasn’t that your mother’s phrase (“I’m not impressed”)?
Ouch, I’d forgotten that particular manifestation of my mom’s relentless fault-finding.
Amy recently mentioned her shock one particular evening during our teen years, when my mother almost gleefully described her dislike and contempt for one of her own daughters (my sister).
I wish I could say this incident was aberrant. It wasn’t. And as painful as it is to recall such reckless cruelty, Amy’s description was validating as only an outsider’s reminder can be: yes, this is what happened in my house; no, it wasn’t irrational adolescent rebelliousness that made me enraged at my mother in those years.
Michele, for her part, has challenged the black-and-white thinking that informed my childhood and that sometimes creeps into my current mindset. Recently I got mad at her over what I perceived as inadequate support. I told her that the interaction reminded me of the worst of my family history—history she knew—and indicated that despite her apologies, I was ready to end the friendship.
You know how friends are great because they really listen to you? Well, sometimes they’re great because they don’t. Having apologized yet again for her part of the problem, Michele did something I’ve never experienced. She ignored my air of finality with loving detachment, and quietly, confidently, kept trying until I realized I was over it.
Amy and Michele are not family. And that’s part of what makes them so dear to me.
Published in the Piedmont Post, April 14, 2010