Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Friends & Promises

Standing in front of the restaurant, I waited. Soon I spied a person walking towards me from the parking garage. After thirty-three years, I'd know that walk anywhere. We hugged, grateful to see each other after too much time had passed.
"You look great!" I said.
"So, do you, Andrew. So do you."
"Why is it that you always look better and I always look older?"
"Its that gray on your chin," she replied, laughing. "I'll give you the name of my colorist."
"Does she do chins?"
"Honey, she does it all."
And so it goes.
We were seated and greeted by two waitresses. one experienced, the other not so much. Both were kind and attentive. We waited ten minutes before we ordered drinks. I let Cheryl order first. I would base my drink selection on the tone she set. "I'll have an apple martini."
"Excellent, I'll have a rusty nail."
Drink details were given twice (to avoid a bad mix of scotch and Drambuie) and we settled in for an evening of conversation and catching up.
Cheryl first moved into our neighborhood when I was nine years old. Until this time the only other girl living on the street (besides my sister) was Tammy. Now there was a girl living here who was everything that Tammy was not. Cheryl was a tomboy; Tammy was a flirt. Cheryl dressed in jeans; Tammy dressed in skirts. Tammy was the first girl I ever kissed; Cheryl was the first girl I ever loved.
At least, as much as a twelve year-old boy can love his first crush.
My father has jokingly said that Cheryl was my first crush because she "had big boobs" (his exact words - 25 years ago). To me it was never about that. Nope. Maybe. Cheryl was tall, with light brown hair. She was opinionated, passionate and outspoken. She was different. You never had to guess where you stood with Cheryl.
Unless you were me.
Our love/hate relationship was legendary on our street. One day we were best friends; the next day I couldn't stand her. Or she couldn't stand me.
She's the only girl I ever punched.
I am not proud of this fact. It is simply a matter of fact.
We were fighting about something stupid. I don't remember what. A good, long "in your face" argument. Finally, she had enough and she punched me right across the jaw. I was flabbergasted. My father's voice rang through my head. "Don't ever hit girls!" So I told her to knock it off. She hit me again. Finally, I said, "I've been taught not to hit a girl but I'm going to make an exception if you don't knock it off!"
She raised her hand again. I flattened her. Right across the jaw. She ran for home.
Shaken, not stirred, I walked up to the house across from hers to talk to my friend Billy. While doing so, Cheryl (and her MOM!) stormed out of her house. Cheryl screaming at me to get off my bike because "We're going to fight!"
Calmly I replied, "We already fought. You lost. Go back in the house."
She repeated her challenge.
I asked her Mom to make her knock it off. Finally, her mom said, "You should probably just go home."
So I did.
This was the talk of the neighborhood for a week. By week's end, we were friends again.
There are so many memories. I remember giving her cards, and drawings, and cartoons. Teenage wooing, at least as I defined it. I remember sitting with her while she was sunbathing on her front lawn. Trying not to stare at her and failing miserably. I remember buying her a necklace for Valentine's Day. I remember the kiss (on the cheek) she gave me for it. I remember wanting to date her but having no idea how. We were too young to drive and too old for Spin the Bottle. We went to different schools so our social lives didn't intersect.
Finally, there was a major falling out and we didn't speak for years. This is probably due to our shared stubbornness and my hurt ego; I knew that she didn't feel the same way about me that I did about her. We never actually spoke about it. But I knew it.
Two years passed. She was suddenly at our house for a Christmas get-together. I was so glad to see her. We hugged then like we hug now. Grateful for this friendship.
Cheryl went to BU and I drifted into Massasoit. We lost touch. We'd see each other in passing on weekends and holidays but we never connected anywhere but on our street, in our neighborhood.
She was there for me when my mother died.
Fifteen years later I was there for her when her Dad died.
Between these events, Cheryl had been hit by a car while she was walking her dog. She nearly died. She was in a coma for two days. I went to see her in the hospital. Her head shaved, she was barely conscious. But I touched her hand, held it, and said "Hi Cheryl." I squeezed her hand as I fought back tears. she looked at me and through me in the same instant. But she squeezed my hand and tried to smile. Then she closed her eyes was quiet; just holding my hand. I promised never to lose touch with her ever again.
Later, when she was back on her feet (mostly a full recovery), I visited her at her house in Bryantville. Cheryl later admitted that, on that particular day, it was the first time that she ever really considered dating me. We were both single and she said that "For the first time I realized how handsome you are; how funny and smart. I thought that maybe we should go out and see what happens."
"Well, we clearly never did go out so what happened?"
"I realized that I have so few friends, and even fewer good friends. You're one of my best friends. And I couldn't bear to lose you."
She hasn't. And she never will. Because we're friends.
Cheryl and I chat by e-mail most often and get-together sporadically for dinner. Now that our lives are more settled we plan on meeting more frequently. I think that our age has something to do with this. While neither of us is suffering from a mid-life crisis we realize that we're at a turning point. We are the people that we're going to be and yet we still want to be more. While we search for who we want to be it is so special to stay connected with someone who remembers who we were. Cheryl and I chat easily. We remind each other of funny stories that happened in our past while we learn new things about each other in our present and question each other about the future. No pretense. No awkward silences. No judgement. Because we're friends. Good friends.
During our evening she worries about being old and alone. I promise her that as long as I'm around she will never be alone. She stares at me for a moment and accepts my promise.
Appetizers came and went. So did our grilled mahi-mahi. Nearly three hours have passed. It may as well have been thirty minutes. Laughing our way to the parking lot, we plan to get-together again next month. I know we will, too. We thank each other for "being here"; neither one of us means at dinner. We mean "in our lives". I look at my old friend. I marvel at the beautiful woman that she is now while I remember the beautiful, annoying, smart, irritating, sexy, opinionated girl from my childhood. The girl who was my first love.
We hug as we say goodbye. Grateful for this friendship.


Blogger Bridget said...

Cheryl is lucky to have a good friend in you...as are we all. Thanks for being there for all of us in our times of need. Thank you, my friend.

8:34 AM, May 06, 2008  
Blogger Murph said...

Boy, that was really nice. NEVER publish something like that about me.

11:08 PM, May 06, 2008  
Blogger Letera said...

OMG, that is so awesome to have someone like that in your life. Nothing like best friends. How wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

7:42 AM, May 07, 2008  
Blogger FoxInDetox said...

See that, I'm out for one day and look what I missed. Very moving post my friend. Next time you doubt your abilities, expect a right and proper dope slap.

8:56 AM, May 07, 2008  

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