I got spooked. Everyone made it sound so hard. It just made sense to get all the help I could get, so I bought a book.
Nothing I read really surprised me. I expected my sex drive to crawl underneath the bed. I knew my skin would pucker, and my joints would hurt. I kind of looked forward to thinning hair on my legs and under my arms.
And then I reached the chapter on socialization. The author was adamant; the key to successfully traversing the cholesterol reducer-infested waters of middle age lay in same-sex friendships. My heart skipped a beat. I held my breath. I reread the paragraph. I felt lost.
Since childhood, most of my friends have been male. Robert D. Rogers, aka He of the Perpetually Crusty Nose, springs to mind. We were ten or eleven. We did everything together, much to the chagrin of my father who was, apparently, more bothered by Robert’s secretions than I. Dad dubbed him a “loser” which only made me love him more.
In high school, I had a core group of girl-friends who, like me, flitted in and out of various cliques. We played sports but we also studied and, occasionally, we liked to hang out with the “freaks”. They smoked…everything. And, they cursed…intelligently. I liked them. I couldn’t help myself.
But I spent most of my time with the guys. When John O’Conner wasn’t quarterbacking the football team, he was struggling with Spanish. I nearly collapsed when our teacher asked me to tutor him. Soon, though, I discovered his wicked sense of humor rivaled mine and, best yet, we enjoyed poking fun at the same things. We had bowling class together (Yes, I said bowling class. It was the 70’s, remember?). On the first day of class he made it known that he and his friend, Charlie O’Brien, would partner with my girlfriend and me. We spent a raucous three months throwing rubber bowling balls using hands dyed orange by Golden Flake Cheese Curls…the soft kind.
Later, I joined the Boy Scouts. Okay, so it was the Explorer branch of the Boy Scouts, but it was still the Boy Scouts…and boy, did we explore!
The Boy Scouts introduced me to Mitchell Steiner who drank raw eggs out of a fluted, plastic pitcher before lifting weights to the coos of Rod Stewart and Britt Eckland…”Tonight’s the Night”…and it could have been. But Mitchell was focused and Jewish…French Jewish. It was his description, and he said it in such a way as to convey significance. In retrospect, I believe the significance was that his mother was French, and she wasn’t having any chubby, southern, Methodist girl lure her Mitchell off course. She succeeded. Mitch went on to become a preeminent physician in the field of urology. I suppose someone has to do it.
In college, there was one man in my nursing class. The fact that he was gay only enhanced his allure; friendship minus the occasional sexual overtone. We could hang out no matter how I looked.
I married in a new city. My husband’s friends became my friends. One of them had a handful of sisters and a mother who would “mother” me through what seemed a never-ending flow of dirty diapers as I produced three children in quick succession. These people became “forever” friends.
And, there are others, but just a handful…okay, maybe a couple of handfuls, but I’ve never been one of “those” women. I don’t travel in packs. I don’t window shop. I’ve never participated in a progressive dinner party in my life. And, when dining out, I’m perfectly capable of going to the potty all by myself.
If I decide to actually go to a theater and see a movie that isn’t animated, I can complete a search for a companion by mentally flipping through my rolodex in just a few seconds. And, most of my friends are like me. They’d just as soon wait for the movie to come out on cable. They prefer to watch from the comfort of their favorite chair…in their pajamas…with a dog at their feet and a wineglass in their hand. And, when it’s over, we don’t call each other and “discuss”. We might mention it the next time we speak on the telephone to arrange a sleepover for the kids, or if we bump into one another in the hallway at work but, chances are, many reels of film have unwound in the meantime and that one night is lost.
On August 13, though, I left my chair. I packed my pajamas as well as a bathing suit. I left explicit instructions in dog/chicken care and made several short, but reassuring, telephone calls to a woman with whom I’d conversed online for years. Until that afternoon, we’d never shared air. By the end of the day, Kay and I had logged five hours and 350 miles together traveling to Myrtle Beach, where we spent several days with people originally introduced using names like Spuff, BooBoo Puppy, Lobo, and Queen. We met online, as members of a social group called TBD. The group folded a couple of years ago, but many of us keep in touch using Facebook.
We passed the condo three times before finally noticing the address printed on a sign out front in large, bold, black, numbers. Bags bounced off our backs as we trounced upstairs. Laughter broke through the glass barrier of the front door.
“Felicia…”, my companion giggled. She’d made an earlier trip. She knew everyone inside. I stepped back, allowing her the doorknob. We were met by lots of noise followed by flailing arms that always ended up around my neck.
It was a typical trip to the beach. The weather was beautiful. The food was obscene. I burned the first day.
It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It was the physical reconciliation of people I’d known for years, but just hadn’t gotten around to meeting yet. It was the coming together of like minds, personalities, and souls. It was effortless, and guileless, and true. Everyone inhabited, perfectly, the persona created inside my head. There were no surprises. Even their voices sounded the way I expected them to sound.
We spent lots of time on the porch. It was screened and faced the street that separated us from the beach. The internet connection was better there. Kay, wearing a half-smile on her crimson-hued lips, watched as Claudia stood over Felicia’s shoulder. They laughed together, as the video Felicia shot the day before played on her laptop. Wendy held her notebook up, and a little to the left, in hopes the satellite might hit it just right.
Patty came out and, sitting, stretched both legs out before her. “Isn’t this great?”
“Yes!”, Faye and Orin answered in unison.
I shared the story of the book I read, the one that prescribed girl-friends for a healthy middle-age, and my fear that I might not meet the requirement.
“It’s good to know I’ve got that covered.”, I finished.
“I’m going to get ready for bed. I’ll just be a minute.” Marty, my room-mate let me know the door to our room would be locked for a short time.
It was…and much, much more.
Photograph borrowed from Felicia Wootsick.