Over the years, many people have come in and out of my life. The ones who are kind remind me that I should be a little less cynical and controlling. The ones who are unkind remind me that I deserve to be treated better.
In a previous essay I wrote about these people who move in and out of our lives, some taking bits of our flesh with them, others leaving us with the most beautiful and unexpected gifts.
This essay is about the people who come into your life and never leave. Who know everything about you and love you in spite of it.
I am lucky to have more than one person like this in my life. There are Ohio girls Jan and Pat, whom I’ve known for thirty-two and twenty-six years respectively. I met Lori the week I moved to Milwaukee – sixteen years now. Greg was my friend for twenty-nine years before he died suddenly in 2010. I’ve come to discover that we’re still friends, just on a different plane now.
The most recent person to come into my life and stay is my husband John. The other day I realized that I’ve known him for ten years now. Ten years! This makes me feel glorious.
Sally is my longest-running friend. We’ve known each other forty-seven years now.
Sally and her parents and two older sisters moved to our town – Strongsville, a Cleveland suburb – from a few towns over. She was the new kid in a classroom of fifth-graders who’d known each other since kindergarten. I don’t remember what attracted us to each other. But her being a rebel-rouser and my being a good-girl probably had something to do with it.
I do remember the first time I went to Sally’s house, so far on the edge of town you could throw a rock from her front porch and it would land in the next county. Her father was Italian and her mother Irish, and even when they just wanted to talk to each other about the weather or what to have for supper, they hollered at each other. They sounded angry but they weren’t. Sally’s sisters hollered too. The sheer frequency and volume of it shocked me, whose family kept things bottled up inside.
I got over it quickly. Sally’s attitude then, and still is, “Whatever,” which she usually punctuates with a dismissive wave of her hand. In junior high, when I started sleeping over at her house, we snuck out of her bedroom window in the middle of the night, picked up Denise at her house, and walked across the street and into the next county to hang out with the Sterrett boys, who were much older than us. We made tents in my backyard, pinning two blankets to my mother’s clothesline, and then pulling out the bottoms and weighing them down with paving stones from the edge of the garden. We pretended to sleep until the middle of the night, when we met up with neighbor boys Bill and Jim and roamed the streets of our housing development.
One of these times my mother whipped open the front door so quickly we saw stars. You never saw four kids run in four different directions so fast in all your life. My mother took to calling Sally “the instigator.”
In high school Sal was voted “Class Clown,” while I earned the more sedate title of “Prettiest Eyes.” We were with each other on Senior Cut Day. We attended two different colleges in Ohio. I don’t know how we managed it because neither of us owned a car, but we did visit each other’s campuses a few times apiece.
After college Sally and I rented an upper flat together. I woke up most mornings to the smell of fresh-brewed coffee and Joni Mitchell on the stereo. Sal’s homemade spaghetti sauce was a staple in our kitchen.
We lived together a year and a half before Sally moved to California to work as a costumer and dresser. I got married. She ran into some trouble with a man and abruptly moved back to Cleveland. She didn’t look like her old self when she first got back.
This all changed when she met Jim. They married, bought a house, bought a second house and became landlords. We spent a lot of time at each other’s homes, and went out to the big clubs in The Flats and the mom-and-pop taverns on every corner in Lakewood. Sally and Jim have been married over twenty years now. I should know exactly how many because I was her matron of honor.
There was the family reunion at Sugar Island, which happened at a really bad time in my life, which might have been a really bad time in her life too. We clashed on that trip, had a giant fight, and didn’t talk to each other for five, six years afterward.
During that time I got remarried. Sally’s mother died. (Her father had died some years earlier.) She and her sisters sold the family home and moved their Aunt Muriel, their mother’s sister, into another house. On a trip to Cleveland, I visited Sally for the first time in six years.
It felt like being home. No awkward silences; it doesn’t matter if your lipstick’s on crooked; it certainly doesn’t matter if you’re even wearing lipstick, not with Sal. You know just where to jump in. Your souls are connected, as deep as Earth’s inner core.
If you have this even with one person in your life, protect it with everything you’ve got. Especially if it’s not perfect. It’s not meant to be perfect. That’s the utter beauty of it. Loving one person for ten, twenty, thirty, forty-plus years, because of and in spite of everything, is life’s rarest jewel.
I don’t know what took us so long, but it was Sally who came up with the idea to Skype over the holidays. I was at the beginning stages of coming down with the flu and we agreed to limit our conversation to twenty minutes.
An hour and fifteen minutes later, we were sufficiently caught up on each other’s lives. We picked up where we always did, where we’d last left off, no matter how long ago it was, quickly and effortlessly. We talked about Muriel, who’d died just two weeks earlier. Sally looked off-camera and remarked that her family is getting very small now. She used her iPad to show me her and Jim’s Christmas tree, how she decorated their fireplace mantel, their beloved cat, which she found in a dumpster sixteen years ago, and the river, lined with bare trees now, that runs alongside their backyard.
Watching as Sally walked her iPad around her house reminded me of all the home videos she’s shot over the years. There are no slow pans; she doesn’t linger on any one thing for very long before she’s on the move again. When she sees something that she wants you to see too, she goes to it quickly and you’d better hang on for the ride. There are the continual clicks of the camera as she zooms in and out and tries to focus. There is the ongoing narrative that’s delivered a little too close to the microphone. You hear breathing.
If I ever saw a home video Sally shot that was in focus and didn’t give me the spins, I’d be extraordinarily disappointed. It’s one of her quirks that I adore.
Another is that she both boils and fries her homemade breakfast potatoes in the same pan and it takes two or three hours and you’re about ready to pass out from hunger by the time she puts them on the table.
But they are damn good. So are the eggs, the bacon, the toast, juice, coffee, and conversation. The love. I wouldn’t want any of it any other way.
Jim and Sal will be married twenty-five years this September.