I’ve been reading a lot about friendship – there are a million books out there. Quirky ones about odd ways friends meet. People that become friends through tragedy. Friends who have grown up together. Unlikely friends. Friends who travel, friends who have “benefits”, book club friends, travel friends and work friends.
But really, what is a friend? By definition, friendship is an interpersonal relationship with a range of degrees of intimacy on which we place value.
I have great friends. Some new, some old. I like to think I’m a good friend. But when I truly think about what a friend is, I never had to look any further than my mother. Now, I’m not one of those who was best friends with my late mother. She was my mother – I loved her dearly and miss her daily. But, my mother had the same BFF from the time she was eight until her death at age 78. “Big” Susan* was always a part of my life.
You could not find two more different women. One neat and tidy; one less so. One super focused on her children and the other not so much. One very fashion-conscious and the other most certainly not. As different as these women were, they were bound together by a mutual love, respect, admiration and understanding that is rarely seen today.
Big Susan helped me understand my mother. She saw a side of her that I did not. They met as second graders at elementary School in Washington, DC. They went all through school together, married and raised children near one another. They shared recipes and rides to camp –bemoaning the hours spent sewing tiny name labels into many pairs of underpants. They cooked the same and both have said they could only share a kitchen with the other – everyone else got in the way but they knew just what to do and when. They supported each other through divorce, the death of parents and a million other hard times. They shared the joy of each child’s success, the birth of grandchildren, holidays and the assorted rites of passages that come with big Jewish families. Big Susan even hosted my mother’s wedding to my late stepfather, Jack.
They discussed each and every minutia of their lives. What they wore, what others wore and how they looked, what was served, where they went and how they got there. There were no secrets. They traveled together, sharing hotel rooms and having great adventures we still laugh about. When visiting one another, we would always find them early in the morning in matching bathrobes, sitting at the table with coffee (and at one time, cigarettes) working on the crossword puzzle or in later years, reading the obituaries to see who they knew. Inevitably, my mother would recognize a name and have to explain to Big Susan how she knew that person.
I cannot imagine my mother without Big Susan. It makes my heart ache to see Big Susan without my mother. I know she misses her dearly.
I often ask myself, “Who is my Big Susan?” “Do I even have one?”
Yes, I do. I have three really amazing friends who I met at different times in my life and I have remained crazy close with. There was a fourth – but her death at age 34 made her the voice in my head instead. Each plays a special role in my life and knows all my secrets. Is one more of a Big Susan than others? Sure – but that doesn’t diminish their importance to me or the value I place on their friendship.
My first Big Susan is the one I’ve known the longest – L. I met L in fifth grade – my mother had just remarried, we moved to a new neighborhood and I was getting ready to go to a new school. L lived across the street. We became fast friends and remain so to this day. She knows what it means to play beep on the hill, remembers Winston’s in Georgetown (really, what were our parents thinking letting us go down there at 16 years old on a Saturday night – what did they think we were doing??), cringes with me at high school memories and drama and shared my heartache when I didn’t make the cheerleading squad. I watched her always meet the nice guys in bars – the guys that wanted her number so they could date while I met guys that just wanted to get laid. We spent summers at the beach and hours out front talking. We walked or drove to school every day and she was almost always running late. We’ve watched each other grow from kids to awkward teenagers to well, equally awkward adults. We make fun of our parents and then realize we’re becoming them. L is as much a part of my childhood and adolescene as my present and this keeps me humble.
My second Big Susan is M. We met as single moms through a shared preschool. Both single mothers by choice – we immediately bonded over the shared challenges and joys that come with parenthood. We are sounding boards about things that don’t really matter – carseats, educational toys, babysitters (or lack thereof), mother’s groups and daycare. More importantly, we were there for the things that do matter – her daughter’s ear tube surgeries, my daughter’s hernia operation, family angst and tough decisions such as moving away. She is patient while I completely over-analyze every friggin decision. She is wildly practical and helps keep me grounded. She encouraged me to make some changes and do things that scared me. She yells at my daughter as readily as she yells at her own and vice versa. She has brought me into her family, for which I am so grateful. M has made me a better mom.
My third, and in many ways my ultimate Big Susan is T. We met in 1992 and are actually planning and 20-year friendship anniversary trip. We know folks will think we’re a couple of old lesbians and that just makes us giggle. It’s hard to put into words how I feel about T – she is the friend I call first. And last. And often several times in between. We have been there for each other during joyful times and heartache. We have taken road trips – getting terribly lost but really had more fun on the journey than at the destination. We’ve been drunk. Really drunk. Really girl drunk and crying about crap – but never about each other. We’ve packed each other up and watched the other move with big ugly tears. We’ve said so long but never goodbye. We’ve cried together about the loss of parents, boyfriends, pets and jobs. We celebrated promotions, new homes, 5 pounds lost and a great pair of shoes. She still laughs at pantyho’ and commiserates over a Magic Pan moment. Suffice it to say that she spent 6 days snowed in a hotel with me and my family while we waited to bury my father – we drank, we cried, we laughed, we talked at length about bikini waxes. Now,that’s a real Big Susan.
Who is your Big Susan? And why?