Staring Down the Dark

Staring Down the Dark

I really did plan to write a cheerful holiday post today. I put the order in and sat poised at the keyboard, ready for inspiration. Instead, here is what came out: that time I thought I might die. Proceed with caution if this isn’t your bag 🙂

When I was a kid, I loved being afraid.

Grocery shopping with my mother, I would be drawn by a force I didn’t understand, to the far end of the meat section, where they stocked the chicken and pigs feet, frog legs, fish heads and tongue, all stamped with bright orange stickers, “Low low price!” I’d creep toward the display and stare at it, shivering.

It was brutal, scary, and weirdly soothing.

I learned then that if I could look long enough at the white belly, the bone, the hoof, my fear would eventually turn to curiosity. By the time I heard Mama calling me, the parts had lost their grisly pull, and although I never wished to see them on my plate, I wasn’t afraid of them anymore, at least until the next time we went shopping, when once again I would wander from the kid-friendly entertainment of the cereal aisle, into the place where nice girls didn’t go.

I remember creating haunted houses in the sweltering attic of our small house, hanging my dolls, bloodied with magic marker, from the ceiling, and arranging bowls of spaghetti brains, broken mirrors, and rubber knives in creepy tableaus.

As I got older, I added to the scene, with death threats scrawled on paper that I carefully burned around the edges, and descriptions like this, next to each installation: “This very baby carriage and it’s human contents was crushed by the axe of a madman!”

It was a little intense for the other grade schoolers in my neighborhood, so usually it was pretty much just me up there, hanging out on summer afternoons, hot as hell and perfectly at home in the dark.

My friend Risa told me that the fact that I wasn’t afraid of the dark was proof that I was The Devil. We were living in the Bible belt, so this was a pretty big deal. After I got over that first rush, similar to getting cast as the lead in the school play, I admit it gave me pause.

I had good reason to think she might be on the right track in her assessment of my character, but in the end I was way too insecure to think I could be the Anti-Christ himself. For one thing, I was having a heck of a time memorizing my multiplication tables, proof, in my own mind, that I would never be tapped for such an important gig.

By fifth grade, I was an avid reader of horror comic books. After comics came ghost stories like The Bell Witch. Later, while my friends were reading Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, I read Amityville Horror and Helter Skelter.

I was the kid who was always looking up leprosy in The World Book Encyclopedia, or holding a seance.

My idea of fun was slipping into fear like a pair of comfy slippers and walking around for a while. There were a lot of demons inhabiting my world. For some of us, feeling scared helps us, well, not be so scared.

Once I grew up, my world felt a lot safer, and I mostly seemed normal-ish, at least when it came to my idea of a good time.

Then a few months ago, I decided to address a slowly percolating health issue.

Let me preface this by saying that all the tests have come back clear and I am basically fine. No biggie, as they say. But during the whole biopsy/second opinion process, my entire being was screaming “Are you fucking kidding me? This is a biggie– this is The Biggie!”

Even though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, looking back now it’s clear that I employed the skills honed way back when, at the grocery store.

I looked.

Not at Google! I repeat: NOT AT GOOGLE. (Please don’t look at Google while waiting for test results. You’re welcome.)

I looked at what was scary.

After meeting with a surgeon who painted kind of a bleak picture, I found myself strolling the aisles of Trader Joe’s, planning my funeral, making a mental list of the friends who I could call on to help my sons and husband once I was gone.

Like a lot of women I know, one of the ways I cope with stress is to share with friends, which I did.

Some friends responded to my news with a big smile and, “Oh stop it– you’re FINE!” They meant only the best, of that I am sure and I love them for wanting to save me from my own dark side, but flipping on the lights isn’t always the compassionate move.

And plus, how could they possibly know I was fine, at that point? I couldn’t know that about them and I would never pretend to.

One friend and I talked about what we could binge watch during my chemo. We discussed the merits of something called “exposure burial” vs. cremation. I instructed her to save my journals but delete my texts, which she totally understood. We laughed about how crazy it was, but we never shut each other down.

She sat with me in the dark.

Although I had been talking funerals, and chemo, and loss, my real fear was of having to go through it alone.

By the simple act of not looking away, she told me that nothing about me was too scary. She would be there, even if/when things got that fucking bad. She would watch t.v with me, and find me banana popsicles, and help me change my bandages.

I’d do the same for her.

There’s an image in my mind that, if it had happened back in 1972, would have made all the difference: it’s of a little girl, at the far end of the meat section. She is shivering from cold coming off the refrigerated cases, and from what she sees when staring into them. She doesn’t want to look away, but feels her friend standing next to her, and knows she is not alone.

They both look.

And they are both afraid, and less afraid, together.

I’m Done With People Leaving

I’m Done With People Leaving

A mom friend and I were hanging at the park with our kids a while ago, when she casually mentioned that she and her husband were looking to relocate. LA had changed too much for her over the years and she was done. She wanted more space, and fresh air.

Just like that? I thought, but didn’t say.

I tried to sound regular. “You’re moving?”

“We’d love to get out of here,” she answered. “We’ve already started looking up north.”

I was shocked. Not shocked at her announcement, I’d already said goodbye to three dear friends and my sister in the past five years alone, losing them to lower housing prices and walkable neighborhoods elsewhere. It’s going around.

What shocked me was my reaction.

I was pissed.

I was pissed that I’d grown even just a little attached to her, this kind-hearted animal -loving urban farm girl. I didn’t want another long-distance friendship kept on life-support through social media.

One of the worst things about my face is it’s transparency. She saw me shut down. Later I got a text: Sorry if I upset you earlier. We are looking to move eventually, but it probably won’t happen for a while. I hope we can still be friends!

Sigh.

My fingers typed what I thought was the right answer: Of course we can. I’m an asshole! 🙂

In Los Angeles, you get used to people leaving and if, like many of us, you moved here from somewhere else with a full set of fancy abandonment baggage, it can be a pretty rough. Over the years I’ve learned that if it seems like someone is just passing through, it’s probably best to let them.

At this point, it’s about staying power.

Back in Nashville, my Grandmother had the same steadfast group of women friends for years. We called them “the Marys” because they mostly shared that name. If you were to run into one of them around town and drew a blank, you could throw out the name Mary and know that you had at least an 80% chance of nailing it.

For years the Marys gathered weekly for their “sewing group.” It was an afternoon of chicken salad, cocktails, and conversation, where occasionally something got hemmed.

They took turns visiting when each other was sick. The few Marys who could still drive at night would fairy the others to dinner parties, and the wedding receptions of  grandchildren. It was a bond forged over decades, a lifeline, as they chartered the waters of their own old ladyhood.

I don’t know about you, but that’s looking pretty good to me these days.

Recently I read the book Life Reimagined, in which the author, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, counts supportive friendships as one of the most vital ingredients in a long and healthy life. The evidence suggests that more than genetics, diet or even excersise, friendships keep us going strong.

It’s medicinal, people.

While the data supporting the link between friendships and our health was new to me, the idea of friendship as a lifeline was not. I’ve written before about how, as a kid, I fed my attachment hunger through close and durable ties with my friends. I may have had a wire monkey at home, but in the homes of friends, I was patched up and found a sense of belonging.

I was hooked.

Which is why when my friend Wendy tells me over drinks at a bar we know so intimately that we just call it “the corner”, that living in LA is just too expensive and that her family may, like so many others, need to pull up stakes, I freeze.

“I mean, look what you can get in Iowa for 300K” She says, handing me her phone. I scroll through her Zillow feed, unsure of the correct response. Happy? Excited? Envious? I am none of those.

I am hurt.

Look, I know it isn’t about me. I know it’s about this friend of mine, who may have to leave her hometown, her world, and move into the unknown, not because she wants to, but because she has to.

But at that moment I am unable see my way to being a grownup.

I pass my finger over the screen, scrolling past circular driveways and sprawling farmhouses with mature trees in every yard. The numbers are so low compared to LA home prices that I think there must be a mistake. But there is no mistake.

Or is there?

Taking a good size gulp of Pinot, I wonder if maybe the mistake is trying to have lasting friendships in a town of transients.

We finish our drinks and split the check. I tell her I’ll try to be supportive, but I’m not sure I have it in me. I don’t want her to leave. She understands and says what everyone says when these conversations have run their course. “It probably won’t happen for a while.”

It has occurred to me that LA would be a pretty hard place to be a Mary. Some days it’s a hard place to be a Maggie, so I can only imagine.

Oh well.

At least when we can no longer drive at night, we can get an Uber in like five minutes, so suck it, small manageable towns with low property taxes.

(Now, normally, this would be where I’d put in a big plug for LA:its beaches, its mountains, its tacos, and weirdos, and seventy degree default temp, and I’ll-never-leave-no-way-this-is-MY-TOWN!)Los Angeles California Skyline

But that would be a lie, at least the never leaving part.

It may be that one day my husband will have to cash out and move to cheaper less crowded pastures. That’s the reality for a lot of us in tinsel town, and other towns too, all across the country.

So where does that leave friendship? If we are all apt to up and move any old time, is there anyone we can count on, and can anyone count on us? Am I wrong to even want that?

This reminds me of the sand mandalas created by Buddhist monks. You know, where hours and hours go into the creation of intricate sand paintings, which are then purposely destroyed as a reminder of the impermanence of everything.

Non-attachment. It’s their favorite.

Maybe in about ten thousand more lifetimes when I am way more actualized it will be my favorite too, but I’m just not there yet.

Of course none of us knows who will stick around and who won’t. It could be housing prices, a bad diagnosis, or divorce, but the truth is that shit happens, especially as you get older. Maybe the dream of my own band of proud Marys is an effort to soothe the anxiety that comes with that midlife realization.

I don’t know how it will feel to say goodbye to the next friend who leaves. I only know that I can’t let myself go on a preemptive strike. As hard as it is, I will fight to stay open to these relationships, even without the guarantee. I will build my friendships not like a sand mandala, but like a Vegas hotel– built to last, at least for now.

We can’t know otherwise, none of us.

In closing, let me quote the often unappreciated genius of this song, made famous by the one and only Ronnie Milsap. I’m actually not kidding.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world

Wouldn’t have missed lovin’ you girl

You’ve made my whole life worth while, with your smile.

I wouldn’t trade one memory

Cause you mean too much to me

Even though I lost you girl

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Feel free to sing with abandon at your next Karaoke night, after a shot of Jager. Now go forth with an open (or open-ish) heart, my friends!

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My Plan to Not (always) Plan

My Plan to Not (always) Plan

Happy New Year!

I can’t help it. I’ll always think of September as the start of a new year. Even at my age, I still love a thermos, a sweater, and a fresh stash of #2 pencils right about now.

And also— New Year’s Resolutions!

Some people hate resolutions, but I love them.

Even if they don’t stick, they almost always bring me closer to where I want to be, if only in tiny ways. One resolution to cut out all sugar from my diet resulted only in my cutting out all sugar from my coffee, but that little habit has stuck like glue and I’m damn proud of it.

Baby steps, people.

The nice thing about making new year’s resolutions in September, is that you can ride the wave of back-to-school energy that’s got everyone buzzed, and that can give your new habit some lift-off. Also, it’s kind of like taking it for a test drive before Classic New
Year’s, on January 1st. If you’re doing pretty well at your resolution come January, I say just slap that sucker up on your status update New Year’s day and proceed to crush it!

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If, however, you are failing (as I did with my resolution to keep my inbox clear), then you can just quietly sweep that one aside and do the thing where you resolve write thank you notes or run a half marathon.

As for me, I only have one resolution for the coming year:

I resolve to loosen my grip.

I like that it’s short and snappy so I’ll remember it. It’s also kind of relaxing when I say it to myself, so it can double as a mantra for my daily meditation (which was my New Year’s resolution for last year, and probably the five years before that).

This new resolution has been a long time coming, let me tell you.

I’m a planner, and I’m not super chill about those plans changing. Because of this, I get a lot of shit done, but I also miss out on the spontaneous joys, on account of the anal-retentive side of my nature. People are often surprised when I describe myself that way, maybe due to the fact that I have a filthy mouth and a very casual wardrobe, but trust me, I can be one rigid lady.

Last week I got a text from someone I really like, but don’t know that well, saying she had to go to Target and pick up a few things and would I like to join her, just for the hell of it.

It was a totally retro moment!unknown

She might as well have asked to borrow a cup of sugar or join her for a hand of Bridge and a Virginia Slim.

I stared at her text message and thought about a response, and the fact that I had my day pretty much nailed down already.

Which reminds me, as things often do, of an Ethel Merman quote.

At the last dress rehearsal of every Broadway production she was in, she would announce to cast and crew, “Call me Miss Birds Eye, the show is frozen.”

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Preach, Ms. Merman!

Each Sunday, after I complete my To-Do list and planning ritual (which is almost a sacrament to control freaks like me), I close my beloved date book, satisfied that all The Things will get done, that no time will fall between the cracks, ergo, I will never die.

Or something like that.

But somehow the charm of this young woman’s invitation melted my frosty grip, just enough. I knew that anyone who would suggest such a madcap scheme as running out to Target together would probably make a good friend.

So I did this to my Saturday list:

Pay bills, fill out insurance forms, get dog food, fix leaking hose, pick up glasses
and said, “Sure, let’s go.”

And that, reader, is how I managed to have an unexpectedly fun morning, make a new friend, and buy a box of jumbo paperclips, which no one needs but which make me weirdly happy.

In fact, I got so much happiness mileage out of allowing myself to take a little detour in my day, that I decided I want to do it more often. Friendships, passions, even solitude, need and deserve a little space.

When I was a kid, I used to catch lightening bugs in jars, poking holes in the tops with an ice-pick, to let air in so they would live until I could set them free the next morning (or until I could smash them onto my fingers and earlobes to make glowing jewelry. Sorry, lightening bugs, and God).

In the coming year, I will try to remember to take an ice-pick to my carefully planned days.

To always let in a little air,

so the unexpected

can breathe.

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Mother’s Helper

Mother’s Helper

The boys and I have been involved in a film making project with several other families that has pretty much eaten up our lives for the past few weeks. The kids are learning a ton and having a great time, which makes it all worth it (I think), but the adults are not faring quite so well under the weight of twelve to fourteen hour days and some pretty rough working conditions. I’ll tell you more later, after time has worked it’s magic and I have regained my will to live.

But anyway…

It was my youngest son’s birthday a few days ago, during all this madness, and a twelve hour day was on the books. I got up early to heat up a store-bought coffee cake for breakfast, reminded him, with a big hug, that we’d be having a few friends over for a celebration next week, I love him very much, and could he feed the cat.

Somewhere during the long hot day, I mentioned that it was C’s birthday, and another one of the moms suggested I run out and get some cupcakes so we could celebrate together and he could blow out the candles, you know, the way you like to do when you are newly eleven.

“Oh, that’s so sweet,” I said. “No, it’s ok.”

“But it’s his birthday,” she told me, managing to make it sound kind, not accusing. She was in charge of the project and wanted me to know that it was alright to take a few minutes out, for C.

“Yeah, I know, but he’s fine, really,” I answered, sort of missing her point, now that I think of it. “He’s having a little party next week.” That was true, but the real reason I was brushing her off was that, with all the food allergies and aversions in this group, serving cupcakes, or anything other than an epi-pen, was simply a bigger hassle than I was up for. Plus, I knew we were on a tight schedule and that, by the end of the day, everyone would be more than ready to pack up and go home.

“You’re sure?” She asked.

My youngest son is pretty low maintenance, probably due to having me as a mother. I maintain that this will serve him well, even if it’s sort of a drag in the early years. Some may call that rationalization on my part (BINGO!), but I consider it a public service to raise a kid who does not think the world is his oyster. (Sorry, Louise Hay.)

“Yeah, thanks, I’m sure,” I answered, sucking down some more coffee.

And that was that.

At the very end of the day, we were all sweaty and bleary eyed, when a big tray of cupcakes birthday-cake-380178__180appeared, complete with shimmering candles for my boy to make one special sure-to-be-granted birthday wish. Kids and grown-ups gathered around, belting out the appropriate song to his shy smiling face.

He was so happy.

And so was everyone else. Forget the the loaves and fishes, coming up with vegan, gluten free, sugar-free, nut-free cupcakes at the last minute , now that’s a miracle. For a moment, I had forgotten that it feels really good to sing loud and cheer at the end, it just does, and it feels good to wish someone well.

Turns out, it was just the lift we all needed.

I found the mom, my friend Keren, who had made the moment happen, and hugged her. It was a little thing she had done, sure, but it was also big. Her kindness didn’t reflect poorly on me, far from it. Gestures like that make us all look good.

While men wage wars, we wage community.

We read a lot about mommy wars and alpha moms. The media paints a picture of women who are hell bent on raising the bar so high, the rest of us can only stare up at it, slack-jawed, downing a Redbull with one hand and giving her the finger with the other.200

Oh yeah, apparently, we have it out for each other.

By the way, I get that I’m part of the problem. I write about these very people on this blog.  I do it because it can be fun to laugh at the lengths to which we all go, or won’t go, to be good at momming. I write about it because the stakes are so high and because I am wildly insecure.

Plus, I can be an asshole, so there’s that.

But I just want to make a little space here for the truth. The truth is that, while there was absolutely that time the lady at the DMV gave me the stink-eye for breastfeeding in line, there was also that time when a friend took my son into the waves to play so I could sit my tired ass in the sand with my newborn, feeling that postpartum mix of wonderful and horrible.

Did this threaten me and make me resent her joie de vivre? Hell no! I wanted to give her a foot massage and a Margarita for doing the one thing I just couldn’t, at that moment, do.

Or like when I had the flu, and that mom I thought was sort of bitchy (ugh– how she always finds ways to remind me that “she has a very demanding career”), offered to pick up my fourth grader and keep him all Saturday so I could sleep, a favor my son repaid by barfing all over the back of her Escalade.

Get this– when she told me about it, she was actually laughing. God bless her.

Or how about when I turned away, just for a second, and that mom with the PhD and yoga butt flipped my gasping toddler upside down, and out fell the windpipe-sized Lego guy, and I wanted to mouth kiss her there on the spot? Did I feel like an idiot? Yes. Did I wish she didn’t always have to be all show-offy and super-mommish? Lord no.

I think you catch my drift.

I am so grateful to the mothers who step in when my ass needs saving, and it happens all the time, with problems big and small.

We are so lucky to have each other.

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The Rules for Moms Are Ridiculous. So I Broke One.

The Rules for Moms Are Ridiculous. So I Broke One.

Every once in a while, I over-share.

This might be one of those times.

Against the advice of counsel, I submit to you a recent conversation I had with my BFF JoDee, in which I make a confession, and she reassures me that I am not so special, after all.

 

Me: You know when you break an unwritten rule and suddenly you feel like anything could happen? Like all bets are off because you did the thing you’ve never done? That happened to me just now.

JD: What was the thing?

Me: Well, you know those little single servings of wine? The ones in the grocery store that come in little separate jars?

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JD: Yeah.

Me: I bought one and I’m drinking it in the parking lot while C. is at basketball practice. (she laughs) It’s the driving that’s eating me alive, JoDee. I drove, like, 87 miles today and I’m not even done yet. I had two hours to kill here in suburbia, and I just wanted it.

JD: Maggie, that’s not a big deal.

Me: It’s not?

JD: No.

Me: I was worried the cashier at the store could smell my desperation. It was like when I bought condoms at eighteen, or tampons at thirteen. I had to fill my basket with all this other stuff: cheese, crackers, salami, so it would be like, “oh, look at the nice lady, she must be going on a romantic picnic or something.”

JD: Except that wine totally sucks. No one drinks that stuff on purpose.

Me: Yeah, that’s the giveaway.

JD: But it’s not like you were driving someplace anytime soon.

Me: No, I was parked. Plus, I only drank one. The other little serving I threw in the trash so I wouldn’t be tempted. That’s the new line, I guess— only one plastic cup of crap wine in my car.

JD: I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Me: Have you ever crossed the line?

JD: Sure. One time I was traveling for work and I got back to my hotel room and ordered a whole pizza and, since I didn’t want to drink an entire bottle of wine, I got a four pack of those little stackable wines. I tossed the pizza but I drank three of those bad boys and had to throw the fourth away just to save myself. That was sort of crossing a line, for me anyway.

Me: Maybe a cry for help but hardly a binge, by any standard. And you were in a hotel room, without your kids.

JD: I know, looking back I don’t know what my problem was. I should have just gotten the bottle. Why all the shame? Women need to give themselves a fucking break. If you want one tiny jar of bad wine, have it.

Me: And there must be a demand, right? I mean, some focus group got together and said, yes, people need those single serving wines. The mothers have spoken!

JD: I like how they have those tin foil tops, just like yogurt containers.

Me: Yeah, we moms are good at those. They should just get real and have a logo of a mini-van on the front. You know, marketing.

JD: Seriously.

Me: And why is having one of those any different than a Xanax, or whatever the fancy ladies are doing these days?

JD: It’s not.

Me: It’s totally not! But I can’t just go buy one Xanax at Ralph’s, even if I wanted to. So don’t judge me, you pilates taking, SUV driving mommy, with your socially acceptable pills.

JD: Well, you take pilates.

Me: Yeah, but I fucking hate it.

(Here there is a long but comfortable silence, as I watch the sun set over the San Gabriel mountains and settle in for another hour and a half of waiting. My little cup, empty now.)

JD: I’m sorry you had to buy your own tampons.

Me: It’s ok. Mostly I shoplifted them.

 

I listened to JoDee making dinner on the other end of the line and by the time we hung up, it was dark and I was better.

It was communion, right there in my Honda.

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And now, a very special PS, for those who think I’m one messed up matron:

First off, you could totally be right.

When I wrote this post, sitting around with a few other women at a kid thing (yes more waiting), I expressed my concern that it might not be the best judgment call to post about drinking in my car while technically on duty. After sharing a bit about the nature of what I’d written, they laughed knowingly, which I took as a good sign. One of them, a friend of mine who had blogged for a while and knew a thing or two about how things can be interpreted or misinterpreted, said she understood my hesitation.

But then it came to me:

I have happily given up a lot to be a mother, but I won’t give up my voice.

Shit happens in the trenches, my friends. Thanks for reading 🙂

 What My Best Friend Taught Me, Forty Years In

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As William Wordsworth once said, “To begin, begin.”

I have a long scar across the palm of my left hand. The story is that, when I was a baby, I fell on my glass bottle running after my mother, as she was walking out the door. I had good reason to be anxious. When either one of my parents left, it was never certain that they would come back. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. As I got older, sometimes they answered when I called, sometimes the number had been changed. My friend JoDee was the first person who’s presence I had the luxury of taking for granted; I never had to run after her because she never left.

We met in 4th grade, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when we lost our balance, like all middle schoolers do, that we were pulled into each other’s orbit. We both faked our laps in P.E., loved meatloaf day in the cafeteria, WMAK radio, and Queen. Lying on the grass, making clover chains in the heat of our adolescence, we shared stories about our lives (her father, strange and occasionally missing, and me, left on my own at thirteen) until, over time, the stories piled up, undisturbed, and our friendship took root.

By eighth grade, I had a botched home perm and a revolving door of temporary care givers. Like those random pieces of junk that turn up when you’re packing for a move, I belonged somewhere, but no one could quite figure out where, or with whom.

They had places to be, so they left.

I wish I could say I weathered this all with grace, but the truth is that I was beyond angry. I was a mean little eye-roller, and not up for loving anyone. Basically, I was a real pain in the ass.

For a while, I loved the empty apartment, where I could sing show tunes as loud as I wanted. But eventually, though I never would have admitted it, I got lonely. JoDee and I cracked each other up, and her house had an open door policy, so that’s where I found myself. Literally.

JoDee’s mother, Dee, took me in. She was a kindergarten teacher raising three kids, but  didn’t mind that I walked through their front door without knocking and went straight to the fridge for onion dip and Tab. She didn’t mind when I called her Mom, and best of all, she usually answered. I wonder how that must have felt to JoDee, to have the finite resource of her single mother’s attention stretched to nourish a kid as hungry as I was.

I didn’t think about that. Instead, I made myself comfortable on one side of JoDee’s queen size bed and plunked my toothbrush down by the small bathroom sink.

For years I gave JoDee’s mom all the credit for this arrangement and how it changed my life, but even though I still am deeply grateful to Dee, now that I have kids almost the age that JoDee and I were then, I realize I need to share that gratitude with my friend, too.

In a pattern that would repeat for decades, JoDee made room for me when I needed it.

How long did I live with her in high school, what was it, weeks? Months? I can’t remember. It seems like a lot of my Freshman and Sophomore year was spent at her house, piled together on the La-Z Boy watching MTV, or lying on her bed staring at Sting plastered to the walls of her room.

It wasn’t a perfect world. We got up to a lot of teenage shenanigans (sorry, gotta leave that part out in case her kids read this), but at JoDee’s house I didn’t have to jump when an adult entered the room, and I relaxed into not being afraid.
This was great for me, but again, I wonder how it was for her. She was the first one I’d call when a boyfriend dumped me, or when I needed a roommate, a car, an alibi, a pep talk, a date, a meal. She saw every terrible play I was in and stayed awake during most of them. I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.

JoDee thinks of herself as a fixer in remission. She’s come a long way and works very hard now on not taking on people’s problems and not feeling like she has to rescue every stray person who lands on her doorstep. I hear her struggle with that, and cheer her on when she manages to let people handle their own shit, but the truth is, if she had been a little less of a fixer, I most certainly would have stayed broken.

I would love it if she had a list this long of the ways I helped her through the first half of her life. I could say that I plan to help her just as much during the next half but, thankfully, neither of us need that kind of help anymore. She is the most grounded, big-hearted person I know. She has a wonderful husband and kids, a job she’s good at and a community of friends who know, just as I do, how special she is.  She’s all good.

I have to accept that our friendship wasn’t always even-steven, and guess what? No one is keeping score. When I see the memes and read the popular advice that you should “only surround yourself with positive people!”, I thank my lucky stars that JoDee didn’t do that, back in the day.

One of the great things about reaching middle-age is that I can see trouble coming a mile away, and I make a sharp turn to avoid it. When I see someone whose life is full of a suspicious amount of drama, I make myself scarce. (Oh the irony.) A friend told me recently that she admires the fact that I “do not suffer fools.” I think she’s probably right, and even though I’m glad that I’m not surrounded by people who drain me, or come attached to their own personal dark cloud, I wonder if I’ve missed some lovely friendships just for sheer lack of patience.

JoDee, I’m grateful that you suffered at least one fool, and that was me. I may not be able to change my tendency toward self-preservation at all costs, but, just like I did years ago when I crashed your family, I can experiment with not being afraid. I can try to have just a little more courage and make a little more room for foolishness. Who knows what could happen?

So while you may not have been able to teach me how to drive a stick shift, or talk me out of bringing that guy back from Paris, see?

I’m still learning from you.