This is a love song to my old friends — friends who I’ve known and loved for an outrageously long time. Along with my parents and a few others from that time, these gals are my foundation. And like a structural foundation for a house, they aren’t visible to me all the time. But I know they’re there, holding me up, providing strength and integrity.
These gals know me. They remember my unfortunate attempt at Farrah Fawcett “wings” in the 8th grade. They know how long it took me to grow into my teeth. They remember the one and only time I got in trouble in school, when I stuck my tongue out at 7th grade honors math teacher Mr. Sneed.
These were the gals who drove me to Love’s Country Store when I turned 18 to buy my first legal six-pack of beer. (Yes, the drinking age was 18.). They were there when I was heartbroken because I had no date to senior Homecoming. And they pooled their money to buy me the biggest and most obnoxious homecoming mum anyone had ever seen, so I could attend the dance “stag” with my head held high. (For those who didn’t grow up in small town Oklahoma in the 80s, “mums” were giant chrysanthemum corsages, with ribbons and shiny stuff hanging off them, which we all pinned to our chests and wore to homecoming.).
And I know these gals. I know the names of their childhood pets (Kilroy the Terrier, Jigger the Cat, Sooner the Schnauzer, etc.). I slept in their childhood bedrooms. I know all their siblings. Well, except maybe Janet, because she has 11, and I only know about 9 of them. I knew all their parents, and ate dinner at their kitchen tables. I remember their first cars. I know who skated with whom during the 6th grade “couples skate” at Skateland. I know their first loves, and when each and every one had her first kiss and first heartbreak.
I know or knew their mothers. I can see in each beautiful 54-year-old face in what ways this one has her mother’s eyes, or this one has her mother’s mouth, or that one has her mother’s mannerisms. I can see how each of us is becoming our mother in wonderful ways, like work ethic, humor, patience, or fortitude.
We graduated and we scattered. None of us lives in our home town, and only one lives in our home state of Oklahoma.
Being geographically separated, we’ve missed so much of each other’s lives. I didn’t get to hug Jaren when, after so many years as a successful corporate executive, she became an adoptive mother to a child that was seemingly left on her doorstep by God. I missed seeing my scrappy friend Tracey move to a town where she knew no one, build her own successful law practice, and raise her beautiful daughter with the help of her new “village” — where even judges altar their schedule to accommodate Tracey’s parenting needs. I haven’t been in the audience to see Lei flourish as an artist, performer, teacher and mentor, helping young artists in the Chickasaw Nation reach their potential. I’ve missed seeing Lisa build a high-powered career in banking, and I haven’t gotten to see her become a supportive mom to a terrific young athlete, following every game and practice to cheer him on. And I never got to see Janet in her element, doing advance work for First Lady Laura Bush or running the White House Fellows program; nor did I get to hold her hand while her little boy was treated for leukemia.
We haven’t all been together in the same place for a few years. That’s OK. Things will snap into place when we’re all together again. It’s like this, if you can imagine. . . .
Imagine stepping into the exact house you lived in when you were 4, or 12, or 16. My parents still live in the house they have lived in since 1964, and very little has changed in that house in 54 years. The color of the kitchen cabinets, the layout of the furniture, the bathroom tile — it is all exactly was it was in my childhood. It is as if there was a photograph from 1978, and I was part of that photo, but I have been cut out and removed like a missing puzzle piece. But when I walk in that door, I’m being returned to my old spot in the puzzle — except I’m no longer 13, I’m a grown woman with her own family.
The feeling is somewhat disorienting, but ultimately familiar and comforting. That’s how it feels to return to the arms of my old friends — like I’ve been snapped back into my place in the puzzle. I can’t live in this puzzle all the time now, but it sure feels good to be back in it for a little while.
These women have taught me so much: love, loyalty, strength. And humor. Always humor. They’re not next door anymore, but they’ll always be near, in my heart. And if I ever need a giant mum pinned on my chest, they’ll be there to do it. Thank goodness.