Friday, June 5, 2015

in lieu of flowers, send underwear

“Mom is dying. Like, today,” the text message read.

The text was from my BFF Claire, to my other BFF Betsy and me. It was a WhatsApp message, actually, because this is how we have to communicate with each other while Betsy is in disease- and poverty-stricken third world countries without cell service, which is often.


There have been scares like this before. Edie (Claire’s mom) has been unwell for most of the 15+ years we’ve known her. They’ve been down this road before. But Claire is not one for drama or hyperbole, particularly not when it comes to her mom. Something about this time made the others seem like fire drills. This was real. This was a fire.

My first thought was, “I need to be there.” My second thought was, “My boss(es) are going to kill me.” I cannot tell you how sad it makes me that this was the next thought in my brain. But it was. This was a Tuesday. I had taken off that morning for my kids’ cultural enrichment – going to the preschool and talking about Norouz – Persian New Year – (a month overdue because – life). Though I am 0% Persian, my children are 50%, and honoring that heritage is something that’s important to DM and me. I’d also taken sick days recently for some virulent strain of preschool plague that wracked our family, and I knew I had more time off coming up for a “nebulous important engagement” (a.k.a. book signing for the book that no one knows I’m in), plus impending knee surgery. I can never quite shake the feeling that my superiors at work think I’m utterly full of shit with my requests. I mean, how many sick kids, doctors appointments and family emergencies can one woman have? Well, you’d be surprised. The final complicating factor was that we had a family camping trip that weekend for my sister’s birthday. My brother was coming in from out of town. It's an annual thing. No offense to my family or his, but I would probably try to murder DM in his sleep if he sent me on a camping trip with his family and didn’t show up for it, and I assume he feels the same, so that was definitely a consideration. Oh yeah and there weren’t any return flights on Friday.

I went to go tell X, my work BFF, about my dilemma. She cut me off mid-laundry-list of bullshit quotidia. “Who cares?! Get on a plane! Today! I have points on Southwest, do you want them?” (And this is why she is my work BFF and life coach – her uncanny ability to cut through the crap and arrange last-minute travel plans). F work. I mean, not really. This is me:

But I really, really don’t want to be the person that is so consumed with work that she forgets about LIFE. Your best friend’s mom is dying. Work will understand and if they don’t you need to find some people to work for that don't suck. Nothing is more important than this. 

Meanwhile, Betsy is arranging a flight back from Haiti, so I figured I better stop pussy-footing around and get myself on a damn airplane.

I told my brother and sister what was going on, along with my so-called travel "plans" (a one-way flight to Fresno, return status unknown). My sister replied, “Are you sure she even wants you there?” This stopped me in my tracks. My skin got hot and I felt a flame rise up in my chest as it does when something gets me really fired up. This was probably mostly because I was afraid she had a point. I had spoken with Claire, asked her if I should come, and she said no, thank you, that wasn't necessary. But she wouldn’t say “Yes” even if she wanted me to. It’s just not her style. By the way, my sister is basically the sweetest person you will ever meet, and does not have a malicious bone in her body. She wasn’t trying to be mean (and she later apologized), she was just legitimately concerned that I was going to commit a grave social faux pas. She explained that if our dad was on his deathbed, she wouldn’t want to have friends there distracting her. I got defensive. “It’s not like we’re going to take her for a fucking pedicure.” (Funnily enough, a pedicure is exactly what Claire would suggest once we were there. She’s a people pleaser.)

I texted Betsy in panic mode and asked, “What if she doesn’t want us there?” Betsy replied, “She does. Anyone else, I would say no. But we are her people.” And it’s true. These are the caliber of friends you make in college, when you're floating, un-moored, through the wicked waves of elation and homesickness and freedom and confusion and mild to moderate identity crises and shared shower caddies and sickly sweet wine coolers, trying to find yourself, and you grab onto these friends for dear life, and you never let (some of them) go. These girls, we've shared beds and bathrooms and shitty beer and underwear (ew). We did each other’s makeup (badly), and held back each other’s hair. We shared our most sacred secrets. Betsy was my freshman year roommate and she’s the only person besides DM (and my kids, I guess ;)) I could ever imagine living with. Claire and I met at a frat party where we fell in friend-love and decided to go pee outside together, and regretfully chose a thorny rosebush in which to do so. We had a shared passion for the San Francisco 49ers, and made plans to watch the game the following morning. It was as awkward as any other sober Sunday morning you could imagine, but I’m so glad we persevered because we really are forever-friends.

All of my friends, actually.* I remember when we were in our late twenties, one of the husbands of our group warned us about the “post-30 spread,” and he wasn't talking about the size of our butts. He was referring to the reality of college friends growing apart and losing touch after they turn thirty. But we’re halfway through this decade and I’m happy to report we’re only closer for it. I remember when I got engaged, someone warned me to choose bridesmaids that I knew would be in my life forever, because it’s so sad to look back at wedding photos down the road and have your kids ask, “Who is that?” But these are my people. My tribe. My band of misfits. I have made "Top Shelf" friends before and since. But going through “the shit” really cements a relationship in a way that only divergent views on politics and religion can tear asunder ;) Together we’ve been through break-ups, make-ups, unrequited love, blind dates, bad haircuts, terrible bosses, jobs that make you wear "kiss my taco" t-shirts and skorts, sickness of loved ones (in body and mind), new homes, knee injuries, infidelity, pregnancy scares and infertility, weddings and an annulment, our parents divorcing and finding someone new when we're supposed to be "grown-ups" and immune to the earth tilting on its axis this way... together we've endured the loss of parents and pregnancies, carried babies in our bellies and brought them forth screaming into the world (with mandatory live-stream email-threads), we've held these brand new babies in our arms thinking, "Now what?"... then come the toddlers, preschoolers, and almost kindergarteners (WHAT?!), family pool parties and barbecues, wondering if/when we'll be too "adult" to play beer pong... and all that the future holds. My kids will look at wedding photos and they will know every last one of those crazy fuckers, dammit.

ANYWAY. I went. I wasn’t particularly useful when I was there. But I was there. I arrived late at night, without transportation or a place to stay. I texted DM and was like, “I’m in a cab. There’s no Uber here. I don’t know where I’m going. Guess I better find a hotel.” DM: “Uh, what exactly were you planning on doing? I just assumed you were renting a car and staying at their place.” Me: “Yeah. A car would have been wise. I didn’t exactly plan this out very well, or, um, at all.” I found a hotel (there was no way I was making Claire put out fresh towels as I was already paranoid I was imposing). Betsy arrived with a car the next morning. We sat. We held hands. We drank coffee. We ate (or, pushed food around on our plates). We reminisced. We talked about nothing and we didn’t talk at all. We said I love you. We said goodbye. We bought a shit-ton of junk food and booze from Trader Joe’s to donate to the cause, and the check-out gal 100% thought we were high AF. This is my M.O. in times of need: ply people with food and alcohol, talk too much, say the wrong things, hug, cry, listen, clean, needlessly organize shit, hold babies, bake cupcakes. In lieu of flowers, I'll send new underwear, or vodka, or trashy magazines whose pages can free your mind from the strangle-hold of grief for half a minute, or all of the above, because I know you need that more. And when all is said and done, expect a gift basket and a scrap book. For better or for worse, that’s how I do.

I came back for camping, and Edie passed the next day. I am glad I had that time with my family. I needed those hugs, and my big babies' warm bodies nestled next to me in sleeping bags (or, as it happened, barfing all over the tent ;)) But I’m sad I was drinking bourbon out of a plastic cup and roasting s’mores to the sound of crashing ocean waves while one of my best friends in the entire world was in a hospital room gently ushering her mother’s spirit to the other side. Choices are hard. But. Choosing “your people,” even when they say they don’t need you, even when it’s not that simple – that is never the wrong one.

photo credits to my sis <3
* "Best friend isn't a person, it's a tier." - Mindy Kaling. See also, Best Friend Rights and Responsibilities. #NoMatterWhat

Other stuff about BFFs that I love:

The No-Bullshit, No Drama Friendship Manifesto from Renegade Mothering. Love this. My friends have never done anything but make me feel like a hotter, smarter and more capable woman, wife, mother and friend than I really am. These are the type of people we need to surround ourselves with. I also love this line: "When my kids are acting like shitheads and you’re like “Hey child, No.” I won’t get all righteously indignant. Instead I’ll look at you in gratefulness for dealing with the little bastards so I don’t have to."

When Close Friends Live Far Away on The Mid. Waaaa. This made me sad. And made me want to build a Bestie Row immediately. "I want to go to the grocery store with you. I want to see where your kids go to school and see them run and hug you when you pick them up in the afternoon. I want to sit with you in your kitchen, and cook with you at your stove." Just kidding. I'll watch you cook instead ;)

How Do You Know If Someone Is Your Best Friend - 21 Ways To Know Your Love Is For Real, from Bustle. "Like, you guys will be discussing global warming, or who has the best fish tacos, and suddenly you’ll feel the urge to change into a dress because it’s too hot. Your BFF won’t even bat an eye, and will just keep talking about the environment and tacos."

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