Thursday, April 22, 2010

Old Friends

Over the past three months, I've had two opportunities to spend weekends with girlfriends.  Old friends from my Florida days that I love and miss.  Weekends away from home.  No kids.  No husbands.  Just girlfriends. 

Two weekends ago, I was in Chicago with three of my besties: Heather, Denise and Diane.  We had a fantastic weekend.  We shopped Michigan Avenue.  We ate fabulous food.  We saw an Oprah taping.  We took an architectural tour.  There were cocktails.  I got my sushi fix.  The best part?  Being together.  I miss this crew so much.  We worked together for a number of years and came to rely on each other first as colleagues, then as friends.  Really good friends.  Friends who nurse each other's wounds, celebrate each other's accomplishments, and cherish each other's gifts and similarities and differences.  I love you guys.

In February, I spent a weekend in Birmingham, Alabama.  Birmingham is roughly halfway between my current home in southern Illinois and my hometown in north Florida.  Birmingham is also the site of the "girl's weekend" planned each year by my friend, Vicky, and I.

Vicky and I have been friends for upwards of 20 years and she is the sister God forgot to give me.  We met in our early twenties and became roommates.  Though technically adults when we met, you could say we grew up together.  In our single years, we commiserated over broken hearts, safeguarded each other's secrets, nursed one another through the occasional hangover, celebrated each other's accomplishments, and cried over one another's disappointments.  In our thirties, we watched each other finally find THE guy and get married.  We had kids.  We turned 40.  She's the friend who loves me when I'm my best, most generous self.  More importantly, she's the friend who loves me when I'm mean, selfish, nasty, and have bad hair.  She's the friend who'll defend me when I'm right and tell me when I'm wrong.  She's the friend who knew I was going to marry my husband before I did.  The one whose eyes filled with tears of joy when I FINALLY got pregnant.  The one whose heart broke right along with mine when I couldn't conceive a second child.  The friend who was at the airport when we came home from China with our daughter. 

Then, there's my friend, Mari.  Mari and I met through our husbands.  Mari is like a ray of pure sunshine.  Always a smile and a positive outlook.  An amazingly gifted artist.  A woman who has an uncanny facility with languages.  A woman who attracts children like a magnet.  When visiting our home, Mari would often disappear for stretches of time and would be found in my son's room in deep discussion with him about Pokemon or whatever his current obsession might be. Mari tutored my husband and I in Japanese (her native language) for a year before we traveled to Japan the second time.  To her eternal credit, she never smacked either of us while we butchered the language.  Mari and I, along with our spouses, passed many an enjoyable evening at one another's homes cooking and eating and drinking wine.
For years, I lived within 30 minutes of all these friends.  We could see each other on a regular basis, snatch lunch or a quick drink, hang out at each other's homes.  I can't speak for them, but I took all of that for granted.  My friends were like air -- always there, day and night, good times and bad.  

About four years ago, the Professor, a.k.a. my husband, accepted a job offer 11 hours away from home.  Only a few days later my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.  My world turned upside down.  There was no time to dwell on any of it; things were moving too quickly.  I went to doctor's appointments with my mom.  We flew out to Illinois to look for a new house. I started trying to weed out our belongings to prepare for the big move.  My mom had surgery.  We had to get our Florida house "market ready."  Our belongings were packed up and we were gone.  It's all a blur now. 

But my friends were there.   They comforted me and made me laugh when I got too worried or morose.  I remember calling Denise to tell her about my mom.  When she was still in her early twenties, Denise lost her sweet mom to cancer.  Her response to me on the phone was so tender and compassionate it was like balm for my soul.  Another particularly vivid memory is of Vicky coming over to help me get our house ready to go on the market.  I remember her crawling under my son's bed, pulling out Legos, Pokemon cards, stray socks, broken crayons, and matchbox cars.  When moving week arrived Vicky and Mari came over to help me clean after the movers packed up our house.  There is no way on God's earth I deserve friends like that.  It's a true friend who will clean your baseboards and window sills in the face of your desertion.

We left our family and friends in Florida and moved to Illinois.  That entire first year was misery.  I was lonely and worried about my mama.  The Professor was traveling all the time.  I didn't know anyone in our new town.  But, Vicky and I talked on the phone nearly every day.  Her phone calls helped me keep it together.  Three months after our move, Vicky and her husband packed up the family and drove to our house. Soon after, Mari and her husband arrived.   Those visits were injections of sheer joy.

I no longer take my time with friends for granted.   When my family goes home to Florida, our visits are a flurry of activity and we are tugged in a hundred different directions.  Visits with friends are rushed and stolen in between family time.  We barely get to see one another.  We always have fun and it's great to see them, but it's always quick and not an ideal setting for catching up.

So, catching up sans husbands or offspring has become something I now view as necessary.  Girl's weekends away are casual and unstructured.  We talk, we eat, we drink. We talk, we shop, we talk, we get pedicures.  We talk some more and we laugh a lot.  In the blink of an eye, 48 hours are gone.  It's time to go back.  Back to our regular lives. I am blessed with a great life, actually. A life that includes a husband I love, children I adore and an amazing set of new friends that enrich my life and make me laugh.  But I will miss my old friends.  We go back to snatching phone conversations in those pockets of time that exist between working and running a household and driving kids around.  We email.  We send each other funny greeting cards.   And we start planning the next trip.