My latest for the Stanford Alumni Association blog…enjoy!
Years ago, when I was little and would spend the night at my grandparents’ house out in the country, I would pretend that I was Anne of Green Gables. I’d lie upstairs in the little twin bed next to the window, listening to the tiny green frogs hiccuping against the open screen, and dream that I had long red hair and a boy named Gilbert Blythe who loved me and that I lived in a white gingerbread house on Prince Edward Island. At one point, around that same time, I apparently announced to my parents that I wanted to renounce my American citizenship so that I could become Canadian and move to Nova Scotia. This wasn’t the first of such announcements. Others included legally changing my name to “Katie Blue” which my mother quickly put the brakes on since she thought it was eerily similar to Cher’s son Elijah Blue. Another was that, at the ripe old age of 10, I announced I was deeply in love with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a fact highlighted by my registration in the Tom Hulce Fan Club. My parents, I think, learned to embrace each new pronouncement with patience and a smile, all the while knowing that another, even more surprising, one was right around the corner.
At any rate, my Anne of Green Gables mood lingered for quite a while. My grandparents, at the time, lived in a big white house out in the country that could only be reached by driving down a narrow lane lined with eucalyptus trees. I used to ride my little bicycle with the banana seat and the streamers on the handlebars up and down the lane creating Anne-ish scenarios in my head. My bicycle might accidentally fall into the irrigation ditch that ran the length of the lane, but that was alright! Gilbert would arrive shortly to rescue me. Or perhaps I was carrying fresh cream scones in my bicycle’s basket to deliver to my, as Anne would have put it, “bosom friend” Diana.
Now the “bosom friend” thing was quite a bone of contention for me. I was never the child who had a “best friend.” I had lots of friends, girlfriends who invited me for sleepovers, to play “light as a feather stiff as a board” with. To play “Prom night for Barbie” with…but I always wanted what Anne and Diana had. This unspoken agreement that they were, and always would be, best friends. Oh, how I wanted that. There is a scene in Anne of Green Gables when Anne and Diana are spending the night at Diana’s aunt’s house and they’re making tons of mischief and, at one point, they fall back on the bed laughing. And, for some reason in my little poetic heart, I wanted just that. Someone who would giggle with me about nothing and who knew that no matter what might come our way, we had each other and we were best friends.
I didn’t have one in elementary school. I didn’t have one in high school and, to be completely honest with you, I started to wonder if maybe it was because I was too dorky or too shy or too quick to quote Life of Brian at inopportune times.
When I got to Stanford, I was immediately so envious of those girls who had a best friend back home. Worse yet, were the girls who had 6 best friends from home. And they always had a name, this group of girls. They were a “posse” or a “crew” or, even more impressive, “the 6-pack.” I didn’t have a six-pack. Heck, I didn’t have a one-pack. I didn’t have that one girl whom I had known since preschool who knew my every moment; who knew that my first kiss was with a guy who played the trombone in a marching band or that the first time I danced with a boy it was to Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” or that I, at one rather embarrassing time, had an imaginary boyfriend whose name was Cheston Anton Harris. (I’m really not kidding). I wanted a friend who was a witness to my life and to whom I, in turn, could likewise be a witness.
But then, I started making friends – lots of them. Who were just like me. And there started to be faint glimmerings that maybe having lots of friends was good, if not even better than having just one really good one. But still, I kept thinking that without that one best friend, there was something wrong with me.
Even after college as I moved across the country, I made very good friends with lots of different people and we traveled together and had our hearts broken and walked home late at night from crowded bars laughing about how we couldn’t necessarily remember where we’d left our winter coats, and I loved them dearly. We had monthly dinner parties where we’d try to cook fancy things with fancy names from fancy cookbooks that sometimes tasted fantastic and then, more often than not, tasted a little too fancy – so we’d hop on the Metro and eat at the all-night diner. I felt connected to friends in a way that I had never felt before. Like this might be my posse, just discovered later in life. And yet, I think I was still searching for that one person. That Diana to my Anne. Because, in a way, I felt like time was running out. Like if you don’t find your best friend by the time you’re 25, you might as well hang up your coat and settle into a nice long life with many cats.
Then, of course, is the bridesmaid thing. I’ve never been a bridesmaid. Other girls I know get so tired of all of the atrocious, ruffled, turquoise, Jessica McClintock, sequined bridesmaids dresses they’ve had to wear over the years and I smile and laugh sympathetically, when really I’m a tad jealous. Jealous that they were chosen. Jealous of that purple frock with the matching hat.
Now, as a married woman with children of my own, I’ve grown up a little. I’ve given up on my search for the perfect friend and yet in doing so, I have opened my heart up to a whole collection of remarkable women with whom I share my life. The fall after I married the most wonderful guy on the planet, I met a girl who was so like me in so many ways. She had just recently been married, too, and we just happened to be at the right place at the right time – going through similar events with the same sense of excitement mixed with terror. We found in one another what we still refer to as “non cool cucumber-ness”, which means that we are not of the “cool cucumber” class of women who always seem to float above the rest with perfect shoes. Who never seem to spill an entire non-fat latte into the crotch of their jeans (me). Who never drive off from a pizza restaurant with an entire pizza on the top of their car (her). And who never, ever, have an overnight maxi pad fall out on the floor from her purse while on a date (can’t remember if this is me or her…). And this imperfection that we found in one another was like a revelation for me. Unfortunately, this dear friend of mine moved too far away for either of us to even mention and we don’t see each other as often as we’d like. And we try to maintain a “Beaches” like friendship – channeling our inner Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey and sending each other letters and phone calls and missing each other desperately. And there are times that we’re disconnected and there are times that we annoy one another and it’s OK. I mean, Lord knows I’ve been in enough long-distance relationships with men for me to have learned that distance, while at times romantic and poetic, is really just hard. And the same goes for long-distance friendships. But when I’m sad I call her. And when I’m happy I call her. And when I’ve just almost run someone over at the ATM because I didn’t put my car in park, I call her.
And she is just one in a wonderful array of friends now. And I’m learning that you don’t just need one. If I were to put all of the friends in my life together in a room, you would have talents and accomplishments that include:
- a painter and illustrator i’m secretly jealous of
- a woman who, no matter what the time or place, always, always, always can make me laugh
- the most in-shape woman i have ever seen who can wear a denim shorts jumper (which would make me look like a trailer park Holly Hobby) and look unbelievably amazing
- a doctor
- a lawyer
- no Indian chiefs yet, but there’s still time
- an art history major who, in her spare time, took all the pre-med classes and is now a renowned gastroenterologist
- teachers whom i would be honored if my children had for every grade of their entire lives
- a pastry chef
- a professional singer
- a professional dancer
- a non-professional therapist whose advice i treasure more than any professional therapist around
- a photographer
- a woman who owns every Pez dispenser ever made
- a b’hai spiritualist with her own skin care line
- the only woman i know who can make a perfect pie crust
These are my best friends. Notice that I’m at peace what that word being plural. Did I find my Diana? Maybe not. But then maybe that was just an adolescent longing gone haywire. Maybe the lesson in all this is not to search for the one while ignoring the blessings of many. Had I known this then, I would have perhaps slept a little more soundly, listening to the frogs outside my window. But, then again, the journey away from Diana certainly wouldn’t have meant so much.