You'd probably not be surprised to discover that I don't have a lot of friends. I mean sure, I have friends. I'm not The Cipher in the Snow by any means. I have 331 friends of Facebook at last count. What I don't have are a lot of good close lifelong friends that I see regularly. My mother spends most of her days with her lifelong friends from childhood. While I, on the other hand, see most of mine once every couple of years. When we do see each other, it's a hurried game of catch-up to cover lost ground and a couple of rounds of "Remember when...?" We know each other. Are comfortable together, have known each other for decades but don't really truly know each other all that well as adults. I don't know their daily lives, their regular struggles or triumphs. But I'm not so sure that matters.
I was reminded of that today when I swapped the one of two-three emails a year with my childhood best friend, Liz. Today is her birthday and I sent my annual greeting to remind her she's still 10 months older than I am - which is as important a fact today as it was 35 years ago, only now for wholly different reasons. Liz, or Betsy as she is known to most - except me as I've always called her Liz, mostly to piss her off I think, and I have always had what our mothers referred to as a Love/Hate relationship. So it's not surprising that after all these years I still take a little pleasure in giving her the occasional jab.
We were constantly swinging between being best friends in the world and saying mean things to each other from the first day we met. For example, when my mother was 8 months pregnant with my younger sister Reese, Liz remarked that my mother was so fat she probably couldn't do a cartwheel. Much to her chagrin my mother appeared on her front lawn a few hours later to prove her wrong. This little smack down by my mother proved to be one of the foundation stones of my mother's relationship with Liz's mother, who I still refer to as my Aunt Jean.
Sixth grade was a particularly tough year in Liz's and my relationship. First there was The Rainbow Club. Rainbows were all the rage in the late 70's. Well before we knew they were the flag of the gay movement, they were on our t-shirts, artwork in our bedrooms, and I even wore jeans with them embroidered on the back pocket. Liz took the fad one step further and formed The Rainbow Club whose true purpose and bylaws I never fully knew as the membership was so select as to not have included me. Yeah. I know. You're thinkin' "No fuckin' duh, Surly. No one wants you in their club." As excellent as a point as that is now, at the age of 11 it was heartbreaking. In despair I complained to my mother who spoke to Aunt Jean and the Rainbow Club was disbanded before the ink had dried on the hand drawn membership cards. With the maturity of being in the 6th grade also came the introduction to boys. In particular there was Eric Davis. Long time readers will remember that Eric is the boy I gave his first black eye. And while it wasn't directly Liz's fault that he got decked, the stiff competition for his affections in our small little class of 24 kids, may have had something to do with it. That and he said my grandmother was so old she farted dust. So there's that.
Liz, who has always been quick of wit and a snarky bitch from way back, could always be counted upon for quips and astute observations and commentaries. To this day I can still hear her voice ringing out the classroom windows as I climbed the stairs past them on the day I dared to be the first girl in our entire school to wear a bra.. "Surly's wearing an over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder!" When we were in 7th grade and attending a new school, where I tried and failed to reinvent myself as Vernette (my rarely used first name), Liz put an end to that announcing quite loudly during one of our heated arguments in a locker room, that it sounded like the name of a pubic hairspray. I went back to using my original nickname the very next day, and when asked today why I don't use my real name, I relate this very tale.
Now don't get me wrong. Liz an I weren't always at odds. In fact our bouts of bickering and backstabbing, while the stuff of personal legend, were really few and far between. We had long stretches where we were inseparable. We pulled all-nighters during finals locked in my grandfather's office cramming our heads full of dates for European History or trying to wrap our minds around algebraic equations. We spent weekends at each other's houses whiling away the hours doing things that only interest children. It was at Liz's house that I was able to get some measure of vengeance on my estranged father who had somehow wound up being her pool man. I remember standing on the balcony that overlooked her family room surreptitiously dropping Chinese jacks on his head and hiding when he tried to look up. He never knew that it was me who was lobbing them at his head while Liz sniggered behind me.
When we got to high school, though, we did drift apart. Our lives went in very different directions. She stayed a private school and wore pastel uniforms, while I went to public school wore ripped up jeans and did drugs and bad boys in the back seat of my mother's Buick. We saw each other periodically at social gatherings or holidays. I showed up at her last birthday during high school reeking of cigarettes, with my hair bleached white and a much mangled Bondage Barbie doll in tow. Everyone else looked like a page pulled from Town & Country. After college we reconnected again, our friendship having been sustained over the intervening years by letters and quick visits when we returned home. We did normal friend things. I helped Liz learn to drive stick. Bitched about our mothers. Gossiped about our friends. We even took a trip to Hawaii to relax before it was time for the real world to slap our faces.
Since then I've seen Liz only a handful of times. Her wedding, in which she made me wear an egg yellow suit dress; a one night stop-over in New York on my way home from London; and the last time, a lunch in Miami while I was en route to the Keys. That was about 15 years ago. Since then it's been the odd phone call and email exchange. However I know, that if I knocked on her door tomorrow we'd pick up where we were.
Since I know Liz's annual holiday habit is catching up on my blog, I'm leaving this here as a birthday greeting to my elder and old friend. May you always be older than I am.