When I was 14, I auditioned for my first production. Our middle school selected "A Christmas Carol" as its winter theatre program and I hand landed the very prestigious female lead of "The Undertaker".
Oh... I'm sorry. Did I say "prestigious female lead"? I meant "bit part, dressed as a man". You could see how the distinction might be blurred. This entry, however, is not about the start of my seemingly-endless career of bit roles and cross-dressing. Trust me, there are plenty of stories to share - hell, I even hit a point where I flat-out refused a part in Peter Pan because I realized playing men was depleting my self esteem. But I digress...
To compound things, she scored a larger role than I had, so our rehearsal schedules were not in synch.
Somewhere toward the end of the rehearsal schedule, "she" and I finally crossed paths.
"There she is", I remember the girls saying to me, "That's her". She strode into the room with a confidence like I had never experienced. She knew where she was. She knew what to do. She was not going to put up with bullshit. Of course, I was 14... and a big goodie-goodie... I didn't say "bullshit". I never introduced myself but, rather, lingered where I could overhear her. She had some sort of song or solo - or some occasion to sing - and I remember being awe-struck by the maturity in her voice. Powerful. Belted - a skill I could not learn.
It wasn't until Tech week that I can really recall speaking to her. My heart raced and pounded in fear that she would reject me (hey - don't judge! I didn't make friends easily!) and on the last night, after the last curtain, we stood in the long corridor beside the auditorium exchanging our pleasantries - ready to part ways.
With a panic like I had never felt, I asked her for her number and, with no paper to write on, feverishly attempted to memorize it.
As I recall it, we were instant friends. She was opinionated, straight-forward and experienced. She lived in a house filled with music; with supportive parents who were passionate about their children, loved each other fiercely, worked hard and let their kids pursue anything their hearts desired. Loud singing was encouraged. I was in heaven.
We fought. And when we fought, we fought fiercely as theatrical people often do. She got roles when she wasn't even eligible to be in the show. She got lead after lead while I was consistently cast in the chorus. And to add insult to injury, we were the same height and wore the same shoe size but she was substantially thinner and prettier than me. There were times I wondered whether I remained friends with her to beat myself up - whether I was doing it, in some way, to be unkind to myself.
Still, our friendship was inexplicably valuable to me. There was a sincere kinship and a depth in our friendship - so easily - that I couldn't walk away from no matter how jealous I was.
And we laughed. Oh did we laugh. We laughed when we sang and danced when no one else sang or danced. We laughed because we were unbelievably loud just because we thought we could get away with it. We laughed because we developed and partook in elaborate scenes made-up on the fly for absolutely no reason to amuse others around us. We laughed because we pushed the envelope in every situation for our own amusement. We laughed because our parents were ridiculous. We laughed because we were ridiculous. We laughed at boys and ex-boyfriends, at friends at enemies and frien-emies, at strangers and mid-night car rides, at sour high notes and missed harmonies. We laughed at Pennsylvania living, at our obscure futures and our total lack of certainty. We laughed at Opera, our bodies, our brothers, at Marching Band, at detentions and teachers and Ambercrombie and Fitch. We laughed at her complete lack of shame and my prudence, at promiscuity and abstinence. We laughed at our own expense and at the expense of others never to be hurtful, but to be momentarily joyful.
When I graduated and left for college, I did so without a second thought and without saying goodbye. Our college years did not bode well for the progression of our friendship and I thought for sure that the season had passed and we would forever look back with fond memories of our 5 years together in High School, but with very little in our future. She moved on to a prominent Musical Theatre program in Connecticut, I (not surprisingly) pursued a very safe degree in New Jersey.
Through 4 years of college, I visited her only once.
But during one of her breaks she returned home and we met for coffee at a local chain-style-dive. We spent 2-hours catching up on the last few years and reminisced to our high school shenanigans.
I shared with her, as I always had, a very personal experience I was facing during that particular week which was culminating the next morning.
"What time?" she asked.
"11am," I replied.
And despite the fact that she was only in town for (like) 4 days, she spent one of them with me. One very important day - on the fly, without warning and without being asked.
And we laughed.
In the years since that August day, life has given us both some shit sandwiches - some of which directly impacted our relationship. Neither of us has had a particularly easy go of it. We have joked that we would begin our own commune - living in a duplex, watching each other's kids to help support one another while we ride out the shit-storms, meeting each morning on our porches for coffee and watching our girls grow together. Each time I think about it, I find it hard not to begin to analyze the viability of the prospect because it sounds like "awesome" to me.
To date, our friendship has survived the test of nearly 20 years. 20 years... and counting.
Over that time, I have had the blessed privilege of calling one of the strongest women I know, my best friend. She is smart, witty, compassionate, charismatic, charming, empathetic, and a dedicated mother. She is insightful and generous with information, without soapboxing or finger-wagging if you don't choose to heed her advice. She is upbeat when most would find no silver lining.
To her I would like to say: It is my greatest wish in this lifetime that I can be 1/10th the friend to you that you have been for me. I respect you. I admire you. I count myself incredibly and categorically lucky that God put you in my life and that we have continued our friendship.
.... here's to another 40, girl.