Another one of "The girls" has a birthday this week. I tried to write W2 or W-squared the way she signed it when we were in high school, but I couldn't get it to work, so you have to imagine it. I thought it so clever back then that I copied it, becoming C2. W and I became friends in middle school. Back then, while I was sporting buck teeth, a flat chest and such deep-set eyes you needed spulunking equipment to find them, boys had already discovered her. Were swarming around her, I should say. There was something about her that drew them in. She was pretty and funny and athletic and had something about her that made boys interested. And girls--like me--wanted to be her friend. One of the things I remember from those early days I'm willing to share. A few others, maybe not. We were, after all, children. Back in middle school, our group of friends were in the somewhat inexplicable-to-me-now habit of exchanging clothes at school. Honestly, don't ask me why. But the oddest exchange, looking back, was the day when W and I happened to cross pathes in the girls' bathroom in the middle of class, and right on the spot exchanged our entire outfits. I walked into that lavatory wearing the skirt and Neru jacket my grandmother had made for me, and walked out wearing the plaid skirt and sweater W had come to school in. I can't imagine what our teachers thought when we returned to our separate classrooms.
By high school we were close friends. She was an athlete, played basketball and tennis, and excelled, as she does, in whatever she put her hand (or mind) to. We shared classes, were in Job's Daughters together (don't get me started on that), and there's something about our humor that just clicks. Maybe it's story-telling. Because I'm telling you, she can tell a story. She can make you laugh until you cry when another person would just tell the facts. And I love a good story-teller. Her wit has an edge to it, and I appreciate that too, because it's exactly the kind of sarcasm I cut my eye-teeth on. Reparte with the best of them, back and forth like a tennis volley (and she's still a very good tennis player, by the way), that's what talking with W is like at times. Or maybe it's her love of food. Our shared love of food, I should say. Back in high school--a high school so lax in its attendance policy we were all on the 'honor system'--W and I used to go up to WSU to have lunch with her boyfriend and my good buddy. Those long subway sandwiches with the hot mustard--makes my mouth water even now, thinking about them--so much better than the cafeteria food at our high school. Maybe it's that we share a love of books. Or maybe it's all of these things and a thousand others besides. Little things and large that make up a friendship.
But who she is to me is more than the thousand moment we shared. She is strong, certain, a teacher through and through, not only still in love with her husband but certain she got the best man around. And I love that about her. But I admit, in her case, I'm a little biased.
You see, that's another thing: her husband. E-squared. I have to admit, I take a tiny bit of credit for their relationship, though this was back before time began, of course, but E-squared was my friend first. They had their first date because of me, and there were about a hundred other times my buddy, KCM, and I spent with them. I just love E-squared. Always have. I love-love-love that these two people who I care about so much have had a life together that they've loved, that they've weathered storms and still laugh more often than cry and have made a great feast of what they've been given. Each other, that is. There's something about the two of them together that feels like home to me. Whenever I have a conversation with them, I am assaulted by a kind of longing for home. You see, years after high school, after they finally married, W and E moved to Eugene where I was living. And I loved having them there. It was a little bit of home. But I was also young and self-centered, and when I should have been most present for them, I wasn't. And I've never quite forgotten that I let them down. Silly now, you might think, since it was so long ago. But I look back and think of how I squandered something, and I hate having taken them for granted as I did. I tell you, people who say they have no regrets have lived a different life than I have. I have regrets aplenty because I love my people. And W is one of the best of them.
But that's the thing. W was so much a part of me, I took her for granted. Now every time I see her, I have this, "AH yes, this is you!" feeling. Of the days we taught swimming together, talked of boys, traded books, wrote notes in class. She challenges me--she always has--and keeps me sharp. With W, I've always said I can pick up the conversation where we left it the last time we saw each other, like we had simply hit the pause button. I'm glad she was in my life and that she's in it still.
Happy Birthday, W-squared.