In Praise of a Childhood Friend
By Peggy Orenstein
I met my true love at age ten on the ski slopes of Eastern Minnesota. We were the two most hopeless cases in our weekly Snow Bunnies class. Kismet works in mysterious ways: three years later, we landed at the same seventh grade home ec. table. The scarf she made for a final project came out shaped like a rhombus. I reknit it for her and we were tied together, buddies for life.
When we think about love, we think about the melding of intimacy and passion. This is not that story. What Barb is, what she’s been for over 30 years, is my best friend — my anchor rather than my rocket ship. Ours is the template I have brought to all subsequent relationships — with men, with other women friends. Perhaps because of that, I’ve gone through life with few confidants, and that’s fine by me. It’s rare to find someone else who measures up.
Barb has borne witness to every important event of my life. It was Barb with whom I snuck across the railroad tracks to filch Lip Smackers from Target, and Barb whom I leapt from bed to call seconds after my virginity was lost. It was Barb on the phone to celebrate the publication of my first article and the birth, so hard won, of my only child. It was Barb who sent Hershey’s kisses when I was recuperating from breast cancer. And it’s Barb, I swear to you, who’s calling as I write this sentence, because she always knows when I’m thinking of her.
Boundless support, of course, does not mean blanket approval. I cringe whenever Barb asks, “Do you really want to know what I think?” even as I’m grateful that she’d risk our friendship rather than lie. Once, after she demanded that I leave a destructive relationship, I didn’t speak to her for months, not until I was ready to admit she was right. She never said, “I told you so.” After that, I looked for someone who’d treat me as well as she did. In my husband, that’s what I eventually found.
As much as I love him, though, there are still times when he just won’t do. Even after fifteen years, he can never know my deepest past, the girl I once was. How could he? After all, he never saw me in braces, glasses, my hair cut like a cotton ball, dancing the Bus Stop in plaid, elephant-bottom highwaters. Only Barb (thank God) carries that piece of me in her heart, knows what time and adulthood have papered over.
I am a practical gal. I’ve read the stats: women almost always outlive their mates. So when the menfolk go, Barb and I have a plan: We’ll spend our golden years together in the Jewish little old ladies’ home back in Minneapolis. That will be us in the corner of the cafeteria, playing Mah Johng and giggling over the cute male orderlies. That will be us: acting like 13-year-olds after all these years.
© Peggy Orenstein. All rights reserved.
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