Today is Penny’s birthday.
I always think of Penny on her birthday, and wonder if she thinks of me on mine. We were born 359 days apart, but Penny skipped 1st grade or something, because she was a genius, so we ended up in the same freshman class in high school. That is when I met her. We had English together, and we were friends then, although not yet best friends. We had fun ridiculing our teacher, who had this maddening habit of clasping and unclasping the clasps on his briefcase, which he would slide toward him and away from him, back and forth, toward and away, on the table, during the entire length of the class. Clasp, unclasp, slide, slide, clasp, unclasp, slide, slide. You get the picture. Add to that the fact that he was kind of pompous and silly, and having a love affair with an even sillier teacher, a DANCE teacher, in the same school, and we really could not take him seriously.
I had a best friend that year, Ana. She was half Brazilian and absolutely radiant, smart, funny, and wise. I’m not even sure she was human, she seemed more like a sprite. She was irresistible. Ana drifted away from me after she fell in love with an Italian boy and began having sex on a regular basis. She outgrew me. I was only just barely getting my period, which arrived halfway through my freshman year only to slither away for several more months, leaving me with a box of tampons and not much else. I didn’t have a boyfriend, although I wanted one desperately. I still had the body of a 12-year-old. I had one brief, odd kiss at the very end of that year, with a man on a bus on our way back from a march in New York to protest nuclear proliferation. He kinda sorta stuck his tongue in my mouth, and then he lightly stroked my face for the rest of the bus ride (he was sensitive that way), and then the ride was over and he disappeared. It was that kind of year.
It wasn’t until our junior year that Penny and I really began to spend time together, and once we did we quickly became inseparable. Penny was like my long lost twin. We had the same sense of humor, the same love for language, the same taste in music (that year it was lots of Talking Heads). We even looked a little alike – we had similar hair types, similar bodies, similar tastes in clothes. We were both still waiting to fall in love, and even more, to be fallen in love with. While we waited, we had each other, and Penny’s Saab, a major enhancement. There were other friends, too; hers, mine, and ours. Together we studied for placement tests, applied for colleges, got drunk, wrote papers, fretted over boys, listened to music, wrote endless stream-of-consciousness notes to each other, drove around the countryside, and talked, and talked and talked. We were capital B, capital F, Best Friends.
Penny wasn’t my first Best Friend, she was actually my fifth (after Elizabeth, Brenda, Laura, and Ana). But she was the best Best Friend I ever had, and she was the last. We saw each other quite a bit during the summer after graduation, even though she was up in Vermont and I was living down in Massachusetts. In the fall, she started college at Brown and I went to spend a year in Cleveland, working in the theater. Penny wrote me lots of letters and even flew out to visit me which, in my isolation and confusion out there (my year in Cleveland alone deserves its own blog) was a huge gesture. The following year I went to school in New York. I would visit Penny on the weekends, stay with her and her roommates, go out to shows, but it wasn’t the same. We kept in touch, mostly writing letters (this was before email, kiddos). Slowly, painfully, we drifted apart, until our visits felt more cordial than anything else. She moved around (Connecticut, Texas, Alaska), I moved around (Japan, Boston, Madison). We were still in close enough touch that she came to my wedding in Wisconsin. In fact, I think that may have been the last time I saw Penny. There have been a few letters (wedding announcement, birth announcement, from her), and two or three phone calls (initiated by me), but essentially the friendship is over.
I’ve had lots of friends over the years since I graduated from high school, but never a best friend, and I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever have one again. Moving all over the country hasn’t helped much, and having small children helps even less. Working from home is maybe the greatest factor in my isolation. Living in the suburbs just puts the nail in the coffin. That much, at least, will be changing soon. I suppose as the babies get older they will be less tethered to me and I will have more opportunities to meet people. Still, I don’t expect ever again to have a best friend, and that makes me sad. I hear so many people say “my (husband/wife/significant other) is my best friend,” and I think that’s very sweet, but I don’t really buy it. Brian is my heart, I love him madly, he makes my life worth living, he, oh God, insert song lyric here. He’s that. But he’s not my best friend.
What is this post about? I’m not even really sure. Maybe you all could tell me how it’s working for you, the friendship thing. Do you have a “best” friend? Do you have a lot of friends? A few? None? Does your partner fill in the friendship gap for you? Is that a good thing?
We just got back from grocery shopping where I picked up a new, copper-y color for my toenails, courtesy of O.P.I. The name of the color? “Down to my last penny.” Happy Birthday, Penny A., wherever you are.