I’ve never been one to go for too long without a friend. And so, minutes after my parents left me alone at Shippensburg State College my freshman year, I waltzed right across the hall into Chris and Leslie’s room.
“Oh! You like the Beatles, too?” I asked, seeing the White Album propped up next to the turntable. We’ve had many a laugh over that lame ice-breaker, especially considering what they have later come to expect from me and my mouth.
How I met Ann and Peggy was more like it. They were the pretty blonds on the third floor who sauntered along with a casual arrogance I envied. It took a long time, about three days, but I finally mustered up the courage to follow them home from Kriner Diner, barge into their dorm room and say, and I kid you not, “Will you be my friend?”
Jeanne came along when we were sophomores. Ann took that year off and Jeanne was the random replacement, a transfer student dumped into our brand-new on-campus apartment we had won by lottery. She was initiated quickly with one of our own’s blessedly-botched suicide attempt the second night of school.
While many others we have known and loved have come and gone, we are the six who have stayed together through thick and thin. A lot of thick, I might add.
We all got out of Shippensburg, one way or another. Some graduated, one transferred, one left without a degree. And, thanks to Leslie, who organized the very first Annual All Girls’ Christmas Party, we’ve gotten together at least once a year, every year, since 1979. Peggy and Leslie have never, ever missed a get together and I don’t think anyone has missed more than three times in three-and-a-half decades.
What started out as an overnight reunion held the first Saturday in December has morphed into a three-night getaway the third weekend in October with a supplemental gathering in late winter. We rent a house in a pretty place and hike, shop, overeat and talk and laugh and talk and laugh and sometimes even talk and cry. Since it all began as a holiday party, we continue to bring presents for the grab-bag gift exchange.
One night we devote to “doing our goals.” As we munch on potato chips and sip wine (or gulp bourbon as the case may be), we reflect on our past year and what we wish to accomplish in the next. Our goals have included the practical: buy yoga pants, get a doggie door and renovate the bedroom. The artistic: write a novel, join an art league, continue with photography. The self-reflective: be kinder, don’t feel like a failure when I don’t meet a goal, learn to live with less. And some are just plain necessary: get a colonoscopy, stay clean and sober, get heart palpitations checked. We made a new rule this year. No more weight-oriented goals.
We all look forward to our weekends together and return home feeling energized and ready to tackle the world with a new-found fury.
But alas, we are getting older. We all have quirks that annoy and physical ailments that deter. We are set in our ways and our ways are no longer easily waylaid with dangling carrots. Some of us won’t share a bedroom. Or a bathroom. No matter what. Three of us bring portable fans to drown out noise when we sleep, regardless of the season. Two of us have had hip replacements. One has a bad case of sciatica. One has neuropathy and can’t feel her feet. One of us has had a double mastectomy. One has been in rehab. More than once. One has Raynaud’s Disease and is always freezing. Another has hot flashes and wants the heat set at 65. Some want the curtains open. Others want them shut. Some like bright light at the dinner table. Others want it dim. Some want to control. Others want to be led. Some like to shop. Others like art museums. Some take advice. Others put up road blocks to Every. Single. Suggestion. Some can dish it out but can’t take it back. Some belch loudly. Continuously. Others pass gas. Some snore so loudly they shake the house. Some worry incessantly. Others are carefree. Some can’t stay awake past 9 pm. Some get up at 5 am. One still has a flip phone. Others don’t leave home without an iPad. And an iPhone. And a laptop. And a Kindle. One can’t hear. One can’t see. One can’t smell. One obsesses. One is scared of bears. One is scared of the bogeyman.
One has small cell lung cancer and doesn’t know how much longer she’ll be with us.
Statistically, she wasn’t supposed to be here this year. Or maybe even last. She’s thought long and hard about why she has been given the gift of extra time. She knows she’s here to be a bearer of love. And perhaps to remind us that life is never guaranteed and that true friends should be cherished.
We may not be the carefree college girls we once were who could curl up on the couch with a musty blanket and sleep until noon. We may not be able to party like we used to or be as spontaneous and adventurous. We may not be able to keep up on a nature hike or stay patient through rune readings. We may not have the interest in going to a museum or the money to afford a fancy restaurant.
We may all have annoying habits that have become more pronounced with age. Our idiosyncrasies may control our happiness. Our behaviors may annoy our friends. We may tease. We may snap. But there is also a good side to each and every one of us that far outweighs the bad.
We are fun. We are smart. We are dynamic. We are creative, clever and compassionate. We are good mothers, good partners, good aunts, good sisters, and good parents. We are good friends.
And we are lucky to have each other. Warts and all.