I spent a week in Sunnyvale, CA, with my closest, dearest, longest-standing (don’t want to say oldest) friend, S, and her husband W/M (complicated). She and I met when we were 11 years old, and our first meeting was not auspicious. At least, not for me.
My mother had moved us back up to Palo Alto, to join my grandparents, who rented a home on Kingsley Avenue, near the corner of Middlefield Road. I don’t have a photo handy of how the house looked when we lived there, but this is how it looks now.
The house is essentially the same, except that there was no fence or gate in front, and no gazebo (or whatever that structure is in front). And the outside was painted a very plain white. The window above the garage, was my bedroom (somehow, as the oldest child, I had a huge room, even larger than my mom’s, who lived in the room at the other end of the upper level). In my teen years, I climbed out that window in the middle of many nights to roam Palo Alto with S, mulling over the meaning of life while gazing at the stars from playground swings.
S lived around the corner on Middlefield Road. Her mother and brother still live there. We all had dinner together at a funky little Chinese place on El Camino Real, during my recent visit.
So, back in 1974, we moved into the Kingsley place, after moving 3/4 times a year for the past three years. I was going to be starting 6th grade at Addison Elementary, and my little sister was going to be starting Kindergarten. With all the moves, I had retreated from being a fairly outgoing person, to complete withdrawal. I remember almost consciously thinking that, since I’d invested in making friends at every move we had endured in the past couple of years, with three schools per year during 4th and 5th grades, I was done with that. Books were my reliable companions, and I was not going to invest myself in the effort of forming any more friendships that would just go bust when we moved yet again, as we seemed bound to do.
My grandma, who loved to walk, and loved to garden and flowers, took my little sister for walks around the block, and in the neighborhood. On one of their walks, they met Mrs M, and S’s little sister M. My grandma and Mrs M got to talking, and when Mrs M learned that I was near S’s age, she urged S to walk around the block, and introduce herself to the new neighbor (me).
So, S appeared at our front door. I know I was upstairs on my bed reading. I remember coming very reluctantly downstairs, and being surprised to find this girl in a little league uniform at our front door. She introduced herself, and invited me to come around to their house. I couldn’t think of an excuse (although I really wanted to stay and just remain in the imaginary world of my book), so off we went.
She said “I have something cool to show you!”
I said, “OK”.
She led me through their front gate, into their huge front yard that was dominated by a huge kumquat tree, which she started climbing, and urged me to follow.
I had never climbed a tree.
I hate heights.
I wasn’t athletic.
Up we went, to a branch about halfway up the tree, maybe a height of about 10 feet above the ground, and there was a nest with baby birds in it. Very cool, I had to admit, but, after we’d admired the babies long enough, I froze in a panic and could not get down.
S was above me, of course, and she had to somehow negotiate around my frozen and petrified self to get down, and then she guided my feet, foothold by foothold, to talk me down.
I was mortified with embarrassment. And angry with myself that I had allowed myself to get talked into climbing a tree that I knew I didn’t want to do. And wished I had just said “No” when S invited me to come over.
But, we became bosom buddies – tied at the hip through the next 6 years, through middle school and high school. S is 6 months older than I, and one grade ahead of me, and when she was leaving for college, I abandoned high school, took the GED, and headed off to college myself, because I couldn’t face a year of staying behind in Palo Alto without my compatriot, guide, sparring partner, Monopoly and Scrabble opponent. S is the alto to my soprano, the yin to my yang (or is it the other way around).
Through more than four decades, we have remained friends. We don’t always agree, and we have followed very different paths, but, I know that in S, I always have friend who knows my darkest secrets, and has stayed with me through thick and thin.
During this visit, she and I were sitting in her room just relaxing one afternoon, and she paused and took a moment to say that she wanted to apologize for any hurt that she has caused me, or any judgement she may have voiced to me that I didn’t appreciate.
We are both judgmental. She has judged me, and I’ve judged her along the way.
And, yes, there have been many times when I was absolutely infuriated by her, and frustrated with her seeming lack of understanding of my situations or difficulties. And I know that I’ve done the same to her.
So, I so appreciated her courage to bring this up, and to voice the apology – and allow me to offer my own apology in reciprocation.
And, I feel now, after this visit with her, that we are better friends than ever, and I hope that I will do better at staying in closer touch with her. I want to support her in her current struggles with job, and relocation, and the challenge we all face of the aging of our parents (although my sister N has alleviated me of much of the burden of our mother’s care).
I love you, S.