The Gift of Girlfriends
No MaTTER WHAT LIFE bRINGS, i KNOW WHO i CAN ALWAYS COUNT ON.
“I don’t have breast cancer,” I sobbed in relief as I hung up with my doctor. Ten bewildered faces turned to look at me. My best friends hadn’t even known cancer was a possibility. Our college gang gets together every other year, and during a recent girls’ weekend I’d vowed to wait it out in silence until the results of my lumpectomy came in. My friends only hesitated for a second and then, moving toward me, the whole lot of them locked me in one giant hug.
Nine of us lived together in a house our senior year. We each bought groceries, cooked group meals and rationed yogurt and granola, depending on who was dieting. After graduation the current ran just as strong between us all, even if we didn’t plug in those connections every day.
I’ve known these women for more than 30 years now, and we have all laughed, cried and eased each other through the transitions of life: marriage, childbirth, divorce. When I am with them, I feel more myself than any other time.
A few years out of college, I was nursing a particularly bad breakup with a cheating boyfriend when we all headed back to campus for a reunion. I was sniffling in the back seat, but my friends were determined not to let me sink into self-pity. “C’mon,” Nora urged me. “He wasn’t worth it. He didn’t deserve you and you know it.”
“He wasn’t your equal,” cooed Kitty. ”You’re much smarter than he is.”
“Plus, he picked his nose,” said Megan, causing me to spit Diet Coke onto the headrest in front of me. By the end of the weekend, I could feel the pieces of my heart growing back together.
Like a stick in a bicycle spoke, we’ve each had our own bugle calls about the fleeting nature of life: a husband injured, a parent’s sudden heart attack or long slide into Alzheimer’s, an ugly, caustic divorce that rips the children’s hearts in two, or…a lumpectomy.
Through it all we have tried to be there for one another. There was no pact, no blood oath. This is simply what girlfriends do. They are there in the overblown bridesmaid dresses for the union and they navigate the U-Haul in the middle of the night if it disintegrates.
In my 40s, when my husband, Bob, was injured in Iraq, I came to learn the very depth of these friendships. The notes, the meals delivered, the box of crafts sent for my kids, the visits to Bob’s bedside. There was no discussion—my girlfriends just did. They picked my children up from school and kidnapped me for a sleepover when I was at my lowest point, weepy and worried about the future. And even though I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone and assured them repeatedly that I was fine, my friends knew when to insist.
A few years ago, when we turned 50, we gathered to honor the next five decades to come and marvel that we had made it this far. All 10 of us in a circle, raising a glass, a little more wrinkled, a little wiser, looking pretty good for our age. Like girlfriends everywhere, we are stronger when we are together. That unbreakable bond has helped each of us understand the power that comes from simply surviving.
Womansday.com, June 2014