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Friday, April 20, 2012

The Stories Of Friends

I had dinner last night with an old friend. I just snickered out loud as I wrote that - Linda is older than me, and I love to tease her about it. She’s only got twelve years years on me, but I play it up as much as I can. Years ago, when I was showing off the ultrasound pictures of my first child, Linda was bemoaning the fact that ultrasounds weren’t standard procedure when she had her girls. I reminded her that back then, doctors probably couldn’t generate ultrasound waves by banging the rocks together in her cave.

I know, I’m a good friend like that.

Linda and I first started working together three jobs and more than a dozen years ago. You know how war veterans always form a close, lasting bond with the people they served with? WWII buddies still tear up when they talk about dragging their buddy off the beach at Normandy 50 years later, Viet Nam vets talk about their fellow POW’s like they were brothers, and so on. I believe that if you survived working in a dot-com startup anytime around the turn of the millennium, you have the same status. Linda pulled my butt off the burning workload beach more than once. She often shouldered some of the load or helped me dodge it. When those in command seemed to have less sense than God gave a package of pork rinds, Linda went to lunch with me and listened to me bitch, adding excellent bitching points of her own. And when a shell-shocked Linda was let go in a layoff after the company had burned through the first round of their investment capital, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.  Not work with Linda? I couldn’t imagine it.

So I didn't. Not for long, anyway. I took a job at another company and recruited her into it a few months later. She's still there today, over a decade later, though I've moved on.

In my many years with Linda, I have tortured her immeasurably. I’ve used everything from raucous emails (“Oh my God! I can’t believe you sent that”) to files with embarrassing pictures (“I saw it was from you and I didn’t even open it – I know better”), and of course the outright blatant reminders of her advanced age (“You just wait till you turn 50. I’m going to take out ad time on the radio, I swear”). She has borne it all with good will and dismissive shake of her head. Linda just knows that this is how I am. Like me, love me, embarrassed to be seen with me – she’s still here and I still call her friend.
You can't know the things I've done to this woman, and somehow she still calls me friend.

For instance: every morning, we used to head down the company cafeteria together and most mornings, Linda paid for her breakfast with a twenty dollar bill. I finally started ribbing her about having a twenty dollar bill tree in her backyard. “Did you pick your twenty dollar bill tree this morning?” I’d joke as she handed it over for a single cup of coffee or a solitary scrambled egg. She’d laugh and shake her head at me, as always. Day in, day out, Monday through Friday, out came the twenty dollar bill. Then one morning, the unthinkable happened. Linda inched up the line to the register, coffee in hand, then pulled a ten dollar bill out of her wallet. I smiled in amazement. “Guess you chose a bush instead of your tree this morning," I said. Linda smiled and replied, “You found me out. I was picking my bush!” Everyone in line froze, including Linda. It was weeks before I could talk her into going to breakfast again.

Which brings me to last night at dinner, when she once again pulled out a twenty dollar bill to pay her part of the check. We had a good laugh remembering that story, and many others. And along with all the old stories, came the new.

How are you doing? We ask each other. I tell her stories of the kids, of my life without a husband anymore, of my job and my other job and my blogs and the stupid pictures I've seen on Facebook. She tells me she's glad I'm doing OK, and she tells me I should have written the book I'm trying to write years ago, so I'd better get on it. She's right, of course.
Then she tells me her stories.  

It's been a year to the day exactly since they found the lump during her routine mammogram. "I still can't believe it," she says. "I have no family history or anything." Her hair is much shorter than when I saw her last - I'm ashamed to say it's been so long that it had time to fall out and grow back a bit. We live farther from each other now, but that's no excuse. Not really.

"I still remember when they found the lump, " she tells me. "I thought sure it was a cyst, and the radiologist took the films and the ultrasound out to have it reviewed. Then the doctor walked in and stuck out her hand - I went to shake it, and instead, she held my hand tight."

I'm so glad the doctor held her hand.

I'm so glad she's got family and friends galore who've all walked with her through this journey, and will continue to walk with her. The chemo is over, and so is the radiation. She has a few more months of Herceptin to take, but they got it early, so she's hopeful.

We're all hopeful.

We passed the time and told more stories because this is how friends catch up. We shared and we laughed and we felt a little more a part of each other's lives, even though those lives don't intersect so much anymore. Then we paid the bill, and I hugged her hard, as we swore we wouldn't wait so long to do this again.

"Linda, you’re the best." I said, and I mean it. "Of course, at your age, you’ve had lots of practice, so you ought to be the best by now." I couldn't resist that one.

Linda just smiled and shook her head.

Then our cars pulled out of the lot, heading in different directions, back to the stories that are our lives.

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