A friend indeed

Would I think she was crazy, my friend Lisa wondered, if she came to visit me from her in- law’s place Down East and then drove back to her folks in Connecticut by way of Keene, NH, before flying home to Ohio? Yeah, kinda, I thought. But at least she’d be a good crazy—a sweet old Nana crazy—not the kind that makes you stand at the end of your driveway wearing a tin foil hat and barking at the moon.

Once she got here Rangeley would, of course, be worth going way the heck out of her way. But she’d soon find out that coming “up the mountain” and over to my side of the lake would be more of an adventure than her average drive in the country. It would take more than a quick peek at the Maine Atlas and, before she got to my doorstep, more than a few arguments with herself about the sanity of her circuitous trip planning.

“You call that a bridge?” I could almost hear her yelling when she got to the causeway—the “you can’t miss it” landmark I told her would be a sure sign she was getting close. Like most friends from away (and plenty from in town), the old wooden one-lane bridge marked a pivotal point in her journey. She could dismiss all former notions of marine-grade, Florida Keys calendar picture causeways, aim both tires toward the other side, and forge ahead. Or she could slam on the brakes and recalculate how much a visit to my little GPS grey area was really worth.

But, assuming Lisa chose not to flee or freeze and made it down my driveway, what then? Over the past 35 years, we’d only seen each other once in a blue moon and, even then, it was within a larger circle of friends. Our visits were news flashes shouted above wedding celebrations and New Year’s parties instead of the heart-to-hearts which, long ago, had exposed our common ground. Would what we found back in college still be there for us? Would the bond we had—pre-kids, pre-menoupause, pre-pretty-much-everything—still hold?

I didn’t have to wait till the road dust settled on her rental car to know the answer was yes. Easing down the driveway, she poked her head out the window, grinning like she’d just seen me yesterday, her familiar face framed by chestnut curls still barely tamed by barrettes. “This time, I’m driving a big black couch!” she declared. I had to agree, eyeing her dark Chevy “little old lady” sedan as we hugged hello. “That thing could fit Tom’s Yaris in the trunk!” I said. But it did get Lisa here, safe and sound, swearing she didn’t even mind the drive. And this time, we had some catching up to do.

Many years ago, I walked Lisa out to her car after our friend’s wedding near Framingham, MA, to plan her visit up to my house (then in Rochester, NH) for some quality girlfriend time. “My first trip with the brand new car,” she announced. “It’s a standard.” We rolled our eyes and giggled. Neither one of us took to the highway on a whim. Driving was a necessity. Manual gear shifting wasn’t. For me, negotiating Route 128 with a standard transmission would have been a jolting experience, indeed. “You’ve got courage,” I said playfully. But I really was proud of Lisa—for her quiet determination, for the scientific mind that lay quietly beneath her playful exterior, and for other reasons, personal and professional, I’d never found an appropriate time to express.

Back then, I’d set aside a day for just us. “Helen will be at school. Becky will be at day care,” I told her. “Meet you at my house about 10:30.” I was eager to tell her how I saw “computer literacy” opening new doors. I wanted her to tell me how she came to be cross-referencing DNA molecules. I wanted to do lunch.

But Lisa called me at 11:00 that day to tell me her new car had sideswiped an oil truck at the Berwick rotary as she was coming the “back way” toward Rochester. She thought she could still drive, but could I come to the scene of the accident for moral support? On my way there, I felt sorry I’d been so sure the country route was easier than going the slightly longer way with better roads. But then I imagined her little Honda Civic colliding with a tanker truck and I was glad I’d be able to put my hand on Lisa’s shoulder and tell her “It’s not that bad.”

Lisa couldn’t stop shaking while the police officer wrote up the accident. I couldn’t stop blithering on about all the fender benders and near misses and errors in judgment that characterized my driving history. Sometimes she’d smile as she shook, and I’d walk around to look at the front of her car, trying not to suck my breath in at the same time.

We spent the afternoon at my kitchen table waiting for the insurance agent to return Lisa’s call. Between bites of day-old pizza, we talked about being lucky, being foolish, feeling scared and feeling challenged. We agreed we’d take a campsite over a cruise any day. We delved into the mysteries of DNA and desktop publishing. We parted ways after a pilgrimage in the pelting rain to find a mechanic with enough time and honesty to tell us if the car was safe to drive. It was, and Lisa left with some of the confidence I didn’t think I could help her recover when we’d hunched by her battered fender that morning. She probably didn’t realize it during her eight-hour push to get home, but she helped me find a bit of strength, too. It came from not hearing her say “I owe you one” the way casual friends do, from not feeling funny about watching her cry, and from not having to apologize for day-old pizza. It came from knowing we didn’t have to wait for tough times to appreciate being there for each other.

“You know there is a blue moon coming up this month,” Lisa said on the second day of her Rangeley visit. After a lazy morning eating blueberry pancakes and looking at the lake, we were sitting on the dock cramming three decades of girl talk into the half hour we had left before she had to get back on the road. It was time enough, though, to figure out all we needed to know.

We still felt we’d have better hair days if only we could trade. I’d take her mass of wild, natural curls, and she’d happily accept my straight, fine strands, not even caring that mine got a little help from Miss Clairol and hers didn’t need any. Kids, we concluded, didn’t come with an owner’s manual or any guarantees. But, being teenager-hardened, I could bolster her up now and then, cheer her on as she checked off the milestones still ahead of her. We commiserated that we both plodded through life in clunky shoes, sharing much the same non-feminine footwear inferiority complex. But, even though we were scared to death of what we imagined people were whispering about our clodhoppers, we loved roller coasters, the steeper the better. And, over the years, we discovered we’d both been reading the same self-help books and, while we couldn’t yet declare ourselves maintenance-free, we could swap more than a few success stories.

Before Lisa left, we captured the visit on film, huddling in front of the camera in several attempts to freeze frame our best features while cropping out those we’d rather Photoshop. Then, just before she got back in her big black couch of a Chevy, we agreed that next time it was my turn to drive for a visit. Hopefully long before the next blue moon, I’ll head out to her house in Ohio. And I’ll go by way of Cedar Point amusement park, where we hear they have some killer roller coasters. We’ll do ’em all in our sensible shoes, letting our hair get all tangled together as we careen forward, laughing the good kind of crazy girlfriend laugh that transcends time, smooths bumpy roads, and drowns out any thought of aging gracefully.

2 thoughts on “A friend indeed

  1. Love this. This is how I feel about Becky and I’s friendship. We don’t get to see each other much and we catch up when we can. But when we finally do get to see each other, we share that same smile and catch up where we last left off.


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