An Anthology of Friends: 65 Years in the Books

February 23, 2023
February 23, 2023 Betsy Voreacos

An Anthology of Friends: 65 Years in the Books


It all began with a platter of cheese, a bottle of bourbon and four mermaids.

The four mermaids – Holly, Ann, Kathy and me – were affectionately bequeathed the moniker by Kathy’s husband after he found us frolicking in their backyard pool one steamy summer day. I had never given much thought to the mythical sea creatures beyond Ariel, a once outstanding babysitter for the daughter who watched her on a continuous loop. I assume, though don’t know for sure – after all, this was not a shared activity – that The Little Mermaid was all goodness and light. But there was still something a bit incongruous about being called a mermaid as a lower-end, old-aged woman. So I did my research, googling and discarding until I came upon a perfectly acceptable listing of mermaid qualities: Strong, nurturing, loving, pleasure-seeking and beautiful, yet at the same time untamable, fierce and shockingly independent. 

Friends tend to fall into somewhat distinct categories – compartmentalized groups with some organic crossover. I have Mahjong mates, walking partners, drinking buddies, travel companions, holiday-hosting friends, Hearts-playing partners, book club buds, Chapel Hill compadres, college cronies, play group pals, family friends, neighborhood gang homies, high school musketeers, weight watcher confidantes, over-eater allies, Grove Street buddies, best of besties, sports-loving soulmates, cruise crews, writer’s group collaborates, church chums, cousin contingents, Facebook friends, co-worker, co-dependent and co-conspiratorial cohorts.

The Mermaids are a bit more difficult to compartmentalize. We are all basically the same age, we all live in the same charming or tumultuous (depending on the day) town of Teaneck. We all sent our somewhat-the-same-age, white children to the minority-majority public schools. Our kids are peripheral friends at best – sharing pasts that include not much more than sports benches, 2nd grade classrooms or underage beers. As parents, our paths crisscrossed through the years in various ways but we didn’t solidify as a group until about seven years ago when I ran into Kathy at the over-priced fruit stand around the corner from my house.

“You should come do yoga with Holly and me! Ann’s the instructor.” she exclaimed, full of goodness and light.

I smiled stiffly and said I’d think about it, with no intention of doing so.

Anyone who has met me – playfully, professionally, parentally or even just in passing – knows that there is no Zen in me. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Yet buried deep in my soul was a passing curiosity of this thing called yoga. And an even more deeply recessed secret wish that I would one day be brave enough to give it a go. I knew I’d never fully embrace Savasana or the loud, intentional breathing, but wondered if my aching bones would ache a little less with the cat-cowing, downward-dogging and sun-salutating.

Serendipitously, my spinning chakras aligned and I gave in. And thus, two or three times a week Ann’s attic studio was transformed into our very own group therapy session, offering a safe place to gossip, vent and grow our friendship while our bodies contorted and our spirits united. When COVID hit and small spaces with mouth-breathing friends went out of style, yoga classes were put on hold. But we made a point to get together at least monthly in one of our backyards to bolster our bourgeoning bond.

Kathy is a former school teacher and current actor, director and great lover of theater. Ann is a health and exercise advocate, small dog lover and baker. Holly is a costume designer, clever creator of food-themed Oscar parties and turtle owner. And I am an aspiring writer with enough quirks, rules and distorted perceptions to keep eyes rolling for a lifetime.

I suspect Mermaids is as good a category for us as any other.

Our annual pre-Christmas celebration was at my house this year. I purchased a bottle of red, a bottle of white and was fairly certain there’d be a bottle and a half left over. But when Kathy arrived with a fifth of Maker’s Mark, I knew that something unexpected would come of the evening.

“We should go see Holly’s ballet in Nashville!” someone, but not me, proclaimed.

I am not particularly cultured and lack anything more than a marginal appreciation of the arts, but when buoyed with bourbon, I’m all in. Especially if it involves a road trip.

So off we went to Nashville on the morning of my 65th birthday.

We arrived in the middle of the afternoon, an uneventful flight following a bit of terminal turmoil filled with fifteen minutes of incessantly annoying alarms.

“There is an emergency condition in the building. Please stay in your present location, remain calm, and await further instructions.”

Clearly we survived, arriving in Nashville by mid-afternoon, just in time for the winding line at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken to be winding down. We downed our cluck cluck choices and headed down Broadway where we lamented our youth as country tunes wafted out open doors along with the sweet smell of last month’s beer. We landed at the roof top bar at the Grand Hyatt for over-priced cocktails and then headed to Common Ground, a delicious, newish restaurant with a ballet connection. Holly’s husband, Jim, joined us and after her final rehearsal, Holly arrived. We overate, overshared, overdrank and overspent. Well, some of them did. My gracious friends picked up the very hefty birthday bill.

Friday afforded us 20,000 plus steps – though all of our Apple watches counted differently. We walked through a city overwhelmed with construction, up and down the streets to Vanderbilt University and the Parthenon which inexplicitly was replicated in Nashville. We had a remarkably good late lunch at a fast-food Greek restaurant in an area known as The Gulch and then headed back to the hotel to shower, shave and shine for the main event – Holly’s ballet.

I braced myself for a two-plus hour performance in which I’d undoubtedly spend shifting in an uncomfortable seat, stealing glances at my Apple watch and wishing I was racking up steps rather than trying to interpret the story buried behind plies and pirouettes.

I adore Holly and am awed by her talent. As a writer, I fully understand the value of validation so was fully prepared to use my gift of words to convince her that the costumes were amazing, the dancing supreme, the story inspiring. Yet I was pretty sure that the world premiere of Anthology, a ballet artistically directed by the innovative Paul Vasterling, and inspired by dead people buried in a Nashville cemetery, would leave me lifeless.

Oh, me of little faith.

Once back in Teaneck the Mermaids reconvened at Holly’s house on Valentine’s Day for home-grown molten chocolate cake (I mean, who does that?) and a recap of the weekend. Holly brought out her sketches and swatches and gave us insider access to a costume designer’s process of interpreting dead people dancing.

Two weeks later, I’m still thinking about the fun-filled weekend in Nashville and how celebrating my 65th birthday at the ballet was so dissimilar to, say, my 21st birthday at West Virginia University. Those of you who were there (and many of you were) remember. But then again, maybe you don’t.

But what I’m thinking of mostly is how lucky I am to have such an anthology of friends from just about every walk of life there is to walk. Or run. Or jump. Or hobble. It continuously baffles my heart that despite my oh so many quirks, rules and distorted perceptions, so many people choose to befriend that strong, nurturing, loving, pleasure-seeking and beautiful, yet at the same time untamable, fierce and shockingly independent mermaid who’s swishing her tail just below the surface.