I talked to my friend Dom for 96 minutes last night, I know because my phone has a little timer thingy built in.
We have been friends for twenty-eight years.
When her husband was relocated a few years ago to the deep south I was horrified and sad and angry. So far we have been able to keep up our chats pretty nicely, which come as a huge relief in these days of deep, dark loneliness and isolation.
I knew her younger brother first. He was in my English class in ninth grade and had retained his New York accent when the family moved to Portland, from Long Island in grade school. He was bright and funny and irreverent. The teacher hated him and it showed. The teacher loved me and I often tried to smooth things over. Our school was chock full of wealthy children with nothing better to do than give public school teachers a hard time, but the brother wasn't one of those, he was just a smart, poor student.
We both loved The count of Monte Cristo, I was a sucker for any kind of noble revenge story, even then.
He told me many times that I should meet his sister, a girl one year older, a loud,blue eye shadowed, mini-skirted girl that smoked openly in the smoking lounge with the stoners. She often arrived at school late, driven my her college boyfriend. I had a difficult time seeing how he thought the two of us had so much in common. I barely spoke, favored black sweaters and what I thought was a Bohemian flair, with peasant shirts and embroidery on my jeans and straw baskets instead of a purse. My hair and make up were painfully, perfectly and tastefully detailed each morning at 5:00am, lest I be late.
I took the city bus downtown daily after school and waited in coffee shops, reading and smoking classy imported cigarettes, waiting until 6:30 to meet my stepfather for a ride home. I was a nervous wreck of a girl that lived on tomato salad, coffee and my time with other outsiders, away from my stifling suburban home and school.
My sophomore year I took Western Civ as an elective, and so did Dom and her brother. She and I were the only girls in the class. I sat in front the first day, because I had a mad crush on the teacher, the brother sat behind me, and just as the class was about to begin Dom walked in and sat beside me.
"I've heard so much about you!"
She was a very smart girl, and she got all As, that is what I learned that first week. Not just smart in humanities the way I was, but an excellent well rounded student that took high level math and science and was shooting for a scholarship to be able to go to a good college. She also worked as a waitress to help with her parents bills.
I was gobsmacked.
I was raised by a single mother, but I could not imagine having to chip in for the utility bills. I could not imagine working until midnight waiting tables, then showing up for first period.
When her birthday rolled around I gave her a cigarette case with St Moritz, the brand that David Bowie smoked.
"you need to lighten up".
At the time we met I was dating an insufferable bore, that had recently returned from an east coast boarding school, a fact that thrilled my John Irving loving heart beyond belief. He hated Dom and called her "abrasive". I dropped him like a hot potato. She had that college boyfriend I rarely saw, and I had my series of dreamy, arty boyfriends. They played a limited role in our friendship, which was an oasis, from the turbulence of unstable home life we both shared. She loved photos, took pictures compulsively and has stacks of carefully maintained albums from that time, I have a few time worn pictures, snapped by her or a boyfriend, thrown in a box. I never owned a camera.
"You need that crazy strong emotional connection to things" she said last night, when I questioned why I have to let everything be so heavy all the time. No judgment, just an honest appraisal. I suppose that is the intense emotional connection I was going for, for all these years.