l to r: Pam, Nancy, Mischell
I felt like I'd gone home. These were the girls who were my friends during our childbearing and child rearing years. We gave each other baby showers, we had regular girls nights out to save our sanity, we joined Jazzercise classes, we rented beach houses in the summer and took week-long camping trips with all of our kids in the local mountains. (And I HATE to camp - that's how much I loved being with these ladies...) Our kids ran naked together through the sprinklers, the boys all peed together gathered around one toilet (or on the lawn, depending on whether or not we were swimming), and we had an idiot parade on every campout (everyone wears underwear on their head and/or tries to look as idiotic as they can). We supported Pam through her husband's stint in medical school, when they had to live with her mother and they had four kids and no money. We were there for Nancy when she was pregnant with the twins and had to be on bed rest. We were all in the Last Chance Band in our church's talent show, wailing out "Gimme Some Lovin'" while Nancy (who has the only wonderful voice in the group) sang lead while prancing around in her grandma's dress with a padded butt, and her grandma's wig on. Mischell's husband was everyone's plumber with a heart of gold, Nancy's husband was the one we all thought was cute, Pam's husband was the reserved, quiet one, and my then-husband was the class clown. We spent every New Year's Eve at Nancy's house - the official party house that had the swimming pool slide installed on top of the patio roof. Yes, you read that right - we're lucky that no one ever got hurt... We floated our naked babies in the spa to make them sleepy and relaxed, and I think all of our kids learned to swim in that pool. Such good times. Such wonderful years.
And now, 20 years after I made my exit in the midst of a sad divorce, here they are back in my life. I had been in intermittent contact with them through FaceBook, but it wasn't the same. Without the late night Diet Cokes, the M&Ms and Oreos, the intimate details just weren't there. When I left their area, I felt, sadly, that I didn't have many friends left. I didn't offer any details, nor did they ask any. I thought that was that.
What I didn't know was that most of them were having severe problems of their own. They didn't put it out there, and I would never have suspected. Now, Pam had already relocated, as her husband was out of med school, and they were settling into a practice. But I did stay in contact with her through the years. We've known each other since we were small and our mothers are friends. She was happy and moving on, although I know she stayed in touch with the others much more than I did. Again, my fault. For several years, I was too wrapped up in my own misery.
As we talked into the night during our gathering I learned that one's husband had been suffering from mental illness for years. I hadn't had a clue. Like so many who suffer from one form or another, they become pretty good at hiding it for short periods, which was all I saw. But she was really having a hard time, although she never told any of us. They eventually moved to Utah, where the wheels really came off the wagon. The behavior became more bizarre and harmful and she had to leave with her kids. Like me, she was too embarrassed and ashamed to talk to anyone about the problems she was going through. Too worried she would be blamed for not being brave enough.
The other's husband was sinking into alcoholism and drug abuse. Again, she told no one, and we never suspected. She is so strong, this girl. But when it became too dangerous to stay, she took her kids and left. She remarried, but it became an abusive, possessive relationship. A few years ago, her oldest daughter was tragically killed in a horrible car accident. A short time after that, her ex-husband killed himself. She, too, picked up stakes and moved to Utah - away from the abuse, away from the memories. And not one of us knew, because she kept it to herself.
Nancy and Mischell eventually got in contact with each other and have been a support to each other while rebuilding their lives. And now, this year, Pam and I moved back into the circle. Meeting up at Nancy's condo in Vegas. We watched old videos of the Last Chance Band, and of a 60's party that Nancy and Howard threw. I saw people in the videos I hadn't thought about in years. Some, we knew where they were, and others we had no idea. Bittersweet. We ate junk food chased by Diet Pepsi, and talked until the wee hours. We laughed, we sat in stunned silence while listening to life details we hadn't heard before. And we loved each other. Completely. This is the only group of women that hasn't made me nervously eye the exit, but who instead makes me feel completely enveloped with support. Best.Weekend.Ever.
I wish I could quote funny stories, but everything is kind of insider. You'd have to know us, or at least know the history, to even find the things we laughed at funny. (BooHoo Sunday classics, Diet Coke runs during Sunday School, Unca' Bob, Temple Tic Tacs and gum - always white) All of the memories of our kids being small, all of those days that, were it not for the company of these ladies, we would surely have lost our minds. My memory of Pam and her 3 year old Ryan, who came to my rescue after I was dumped at home post C-section with my own 3 year old, a newborn, and no food in the house. I called Pam crying, and she soon showed up at my door with Ryan, and a bag of groceries. Ryan announced in his mellow contralto voice "We've brought you some food, so you won't starve!" I'll never forget it. Ever. Hot days in the park with sweaty kids, beach house days with tons of tan little babies running around in nothing but a diaper. And then when the weekend came, and the menfolk came down to the beach for the weekend, those with older kids had them babysit the little ones while the adults went to the Coach House in San Clemente for dinner and a show. It was a simpler time, and we were not prepared for what lay ahead.
Innocent days, before we knew how hard and tough life could be. When we were still (trying to be) queens of our realm. When we were too embarrassed to admit defeat, or cry "Uncle." Too embarrassed to ask for help or admit what was going on. We've grown up since then. We taken our knocks, and become stronger, better women. We are less judgmental and more compassionate. We've learned that even clean children get lice. We've learned that even nice people have unimaginable problems that they don't necessarily deserve. And we've learned that all of these things are conquerable. And that conquering our fears makes us fierce and amazing. That within our little circle, faith is alive and well. There is safety in numbers, and for the four or five of us in our own little First Wives Club (Benita was unable to make it), we've vowed to have a yearly gathering to reminisce, give support, laugh until tears roll down our legs, and pretty much experience complete debauchery in eating. No diets on that weekend... (I couldn't decide whether the most healthy thing in the condo was Cheetos, i.e. cheese, or perhaps Reece's Pieces, i.e. peanut butter. Maybe the Swedish fish. You see my confusion.) We had to leave the condo to eat something more healthy like buttery Frisco Steak burgers, fries, and chocolate shakes, after which Nancy played $20.00 on various slots in honor of the absent Benita.
Buttery, yummy steak burgers, parmesan fries, dark chocolate shakes - food of the gods... Nancy and Mischell concur.
One thing I've learned this summer - that I had forgotten a little bit - is that friends are wonderful. And we all have all kinds of friends. The new ones are good, and if we're lucky, they become keepers. And if not... well, you move on. But the old ones...they're gold. They know everything about you, and they don't care. They love you when you have potty mouth, and they love you when you tell them your spiritual experiences. When you talk to them, they don't look beyond you to see who else they could be talking to - they LISTEN. They love your kids, and you love theirs. Their sorrows are your sorrows. You grieve with them, and understand the depths of their pain. And likewise, their best days are also your triumphs. You rejoice in each wedding and grandchild. And even though Nancy says grandchildren are stupid (because she doesn't have any yet) she would be the first one to love each one of ours. And likewise, we hang onto every word of stories about her boys, Andy and Tyler.
We all have our separate lives, but the great thing about friends like these (and a couple of others like Marion and Sue) is that we would all drop everything in a second if one of us were in need. And I'm fairly certain that life is not done with us yet. There will still be tears shed and good times to share.
My husband is the ultimate Best Friend, but even he has his limitations when it comes to Crazy Girl Brain. But good girlfriends get it. Every time. So thank you, month of August, for giving me these opportunities to reunite and remember how good it feels to have a good Girl Visit. To reconnect with friends who can make me laugh even when I'm sad, who can heal the past, and who always have the ability to make me look at life in a new way - because they know me better than anyone else. I'm renewed and refreshed.
I'm ready to turn 60 next week. I think.