The Joy of Repeating
Emily’s eager voice comes through the other end of the phone.
“Mommy, I was wondering if...maybe...you know...if it’s okay with you...because Bryn’s mom already said it’s okay...so I wanted to know...if it’s not too much trouble...” Her voice fades out into the distance, and I smile on the other end of the line, knowing what she’s about to ask.
“Just tell me what you want to ask me, Monkey.”
“Well, Bryn wanted to know if maybe I could stay and spend the night at her house and then tomorrow we could come to my house and we could have a sleepover there and maybe we could go to a movie or something or we could watch something on Netflix and do we have any popcorn?”
Dave sits in his chair next to me, his feet propped up on the ottoman, our brindle lab mix, Desi, snuggling by his side. He chuckles and nods his head in agreement, mirroring my actions as though we’re one body with two heads. I think to myself that I’ve heard this conversation before, but that time the twelve-year-old voice on the other end of the line was mine.
I said yes, of course, to a squeaky chorus of “She said yes! She said yes!” from the other end of the line.
A friendship that’s lasted almost forty years so far began that way, too. Ginger and I were like two opposite sides of the same coin. Her blonde curls the opposite of my brunette shag haircut, her bright blue eyes in every way different from my dark brown ones, and yet the friendship that we forged during the winter of 1976 in Miss Byerline’s third grade classroom and on the frozen playground of Center School in Lenox would survive marriages, the births of four children and the loss of one, her parents divorce and mine moving us over a thousand miles apart, the death of a woman we both called “Mom”, a breast cancer diagnosis, two mastectomies, chemotherapy, and a reconstruction, a spinal surgery and a forearm rebuild, our fathers’ heart attacks, years when we spoke only on holidays, and ones where we were as inseparable over the phone as we once were on that elementary school playground. What I didn’t know all those years ago, while we protected each other from the threats from Barron Kern that he’d whitewash us in the snow if he caught us, was that this friendship, this magical, strong bond that we’d created, would be the sustaining force of my life.
In Emily and Bryn, it happens again. Emily’s long, dark hair and deep brown eyes are the opposite of Bryn’s blonde curls and laughing blue eyes. Like Ginger and I, their interests diverge, but they find common ground in a friendship that knows nothing about differences. The next evening I hear them in the basement, their little girl giggles calling to me up the stairs in a way that makes my heart grow and ache at the same time. I bark down half-hearted warnings to turn off the lights and go to bed, but behind my stern voice is a grin turned up on one side and a knowing shake of my head. This is what best friends should do.
Forty years ago, Ginger’s mom called up the stairs to her bedroom with the same words, the same tone, and likely the same smile. We lay side-by-side in her twin bed, staring up at the Andy Gibb poster on her ceiling, drinking lime Kool-aid that we’d made with three times as much sugar as the packet instructions called for, and dreaming of our somedays. Our hands still smell of horses from working in the barn behind her family’s house, and my cheeks are still red from the wind whipping at them while I watched Ginger skillfully ride Dixie around the ring and maneuver her over low jumps. My boots sit at the end of the bed, and there’s a combination of hay and manure stuck to the bottom of the left sole from when we mucked out his stall together. Tomorrow, while I’m at my gymnastics team practice, cleaned of barn debris and dressed in a navy blue leotard with red and white stripes that run from under my wrist down to my hip, Ginger will be out in the ring again, she and Dixie riding circles in the soft, brown dirt, jumping the fences, and feeding the big dairy cow in the meadow under the grey winter skies of western New England.
After school on Monday, when Emily heads to her middle school play rehearsal, Bryn will return home to walk her basset hounds, Sadie and Sunny. Emily will sing, dance, and smile on the stage while Bryn circles the neighborhood with her charges. When Bryn’s chores are done and Emily’s rehearsal over, they’ll be on the phone with each other again, calling and texting and talking like only best friends do. They’ll talk about the boys they like, what they’ll do on the first snow day of the school year, and why having much older brothers is both a blessing and a curse.
And when I descend the stairs and find them in the basement, the glow from the television screen is the only light in the room. On the floor below it, they snuggle side-by-side in sleeping bags, both finally asleep and maybe dreaming of their somedays. I switch off the television, grab the glasses of half-drunk milk, and walk back up the stairs thinking about their future, of all the joy and pain that they might see one another through over the next forty years. And I hope that the bond that Ginger and I found in one another will repeat in them, that Emily will be by Bryn’s side on the day she marries the love of her life, and that Bryn will be the one to lighten Emily’s suffering when a tragedy befalls her family. That this friendship, this bond, this magic, will last a lifetime because this is what I know, after all of the fear and the joy, the grief and the celebrations, the faith and doubt: as Robert Frost said, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”