A Girlfriend Tale
From birth to age 7 while living on a foggy San Francisco street out by the beach, I had a best friend. A darling pink-cheeked girl named Cheryl lived next door. We were only six months apart in age and we were inseparable. We played, we hugged, we walked back and forth to school together and we watched the Mickey Mouse Club on TV every day after we got home. By the time emcee Jimmy Dodd ended the show spelling Mickey’s name with, “Y? Because we LIKE you!” — we were clearly convinced we could jump into the TV set and join the Mouseketeers, wear cool crewneck sweaters with our name emblazoned across the front, and sing and dance the way they did.
It was the 1950s and our cookie-cutter row houses out by San Francisco's beaches were brand new, many of them purchased using the GI bill for around $7,000 each. Dads worked, moms stayed home living very frugally, and kids walked to the nearest public school. TV sets were filled with tubes and only one car graced the garage of each house. From time to time, our mothers would dress us up in crinkly, frilly dresses and put patent leather shoes and ruffled socks on our feet. We looked like Chatty Cathy dolls as they snapped pictures of us. All that was missing was a pull-string on the backs of our necks.
In my mind, one’s first friend in life occupies a very special part of a child’s psyche. The first person who stands eye-to-eye, shares her popcorn square while standing by the bear exhibit at the local zoo and walks hand-in-hand with you up and down the block teaches you things no other person in life can. Tolerance. Fair play. Compassion. Sharing. That book written long ago about how all the basics one ever learns were taught to us in kindergarten was WAY ahead of its time.
Cheryl was at my house a lot, but I had no idea life in her home was any different from mine. In fact, I would not find out until more than 50 years later, when we miraculously found one another once again on Facebook and started doing some “girl time” to catch up after having endured failed marriages, brought up children, and finally found fulfilling careers. During those formative years living on a block filled with every ethnic group conceivable, we attended birthday parties, watched our brothers have fights on the sand dunes with dried up dog poop, smashed coins on the streetcar tracks that ran in front of our houses and realized the warmest, sunniest days were in the dead of a San Francisco winter.
Suddenly (as everything seems to a 7-year old) my dad got transferred with his job to a city 100 miles away. We were to move to a lush suburb of Sacramento full of golf-green-like yards, swimming pools and fruit trees, the likes of which I had never seen. I just didn’t know it yet.
As two little girls stood clinging to one another in a long goodbye, I knew something meaningful was happening. I remember crying because she was crying. I had no idea how moving away would change my life, but crying seemed appropriate when saying goodbye to someone you couldn’t remember having ever lived without. Cheryl, however, knew how my leaving would change her existence, even at such a young age. Our house had evidently been her safe haven from a domineering, moody, often angry mom and a father who felt helpless to change things as he fought his own demons. I would learn that our lives went on to take entirely different paths – mine springing from an almost stiflingly close but supportive family, while hers would become one of sheer survival. I learned that Cheryl felt she had no “home base” and soon began to live by her wits, marrying for the first time at a very young age just to escape. Having experienced homelessness at one point, she had to fight for everything she had.
We both had daughters. She had three and I had one — all accomplished, confident women. My daughter went on to become a business owner, and all three of Cheryl’s girls became nurses like their mom, who put herself through school to become am award-winning nurse practitioner. When Cheryl and I finally came together after five decades, we took a moment to grab the other’s hands and look into the other’s eyes. Suddenly the tears began to flow. Again. In that moment we felt the first touch we had had from a girlfriend, the days we spent sharing, learning from, and even being jealous of the other. It came spilling out, as if just waiting for that moment. Despite the two hour drive we must take to see one another, the close bond we shared as babies, toddlers and little girls is still there, and neither of us can adequately put it into words. We are alike and yet we are very different, and that seems to be part of the chemistry that bonds us.
I have never discounted why people both enter and re-enter one another’s lives nor the impact they can have on one another no matter how old or young they are. While some prefer to leave the past in the past, I have always looked for meaning in any encounter.
From birth to age 7 while living on a foggy San Francisco street, I had a best friend. And if I am lucky, we will still be laughing in our old age, talking about our days walking hand-in-hand to elementary school and sharing popcorn squares at the zoo on a chilly San Francisco summer day.