According to my recently unearthed diary (it was not missing or anything, I just do not like to refer to it too often because of the cringe factor), my teen years were full of seemingly perpetual anguish related to various betrayals which I would never recollect but for this traumatizing written record. I was, at times, surrounded by The Mean Girls—but who wasn’t in their teen years? But in a period of just three days recently, I interacted with a variety of people who, in various ways, reminded me how incredibly blessed I have been by friendships in this lifetime.
- I auditioned for several parts in a show at the local community theater. I did not get cast for several reasons.
- First, for one of the characters, my Russian accent is no longer convincing. Yes, and I feel slightly stupid even writing this, but I am only identified as vaguely Eastern European to someone with a very good ear. There were literally women on that stage who sounded authentically foreign-born (and weren’t), while I was doing a desperate impression of Crazy Russian Hacker. And I am terrible enough with accents that I cannot just summon it.
- Second, the director decided that the part of a “wanna be lawyer” should be played by a man, because, well, lawyers are men. Triggering, and certainly nothing I have not heard from every corner over the past three decades, but for reasons passing understanding I always expect more parity from community theater. What an unlikely source of optimism! This actually reminds me of a time when I was not cast in another show. It was a dual part—Eastern European mother in her youth in Act I, and then her daughter, a lawyer, a couple of decades later, in Act II. The director called me and told me that I was believable as one but not as the other, and for the life of me I cannot remember which one was which. There is great irony somewhere here, but ultimately, I guess I would prefer to think that I am an implausible lawyer. Frankly, I usually feel that way anyway…
- But, my point in all of this is that I ran into two women I know at the audition. The camaraderie, the emotional support, the cheering each other on and complimenting each other even though we were up for the same couple of parts was absolutely lovely. I have not known either of these fine humans in my youth, so cannot tell with certainty if we are all improving with age or if I am meeting a better class of people. Perhaps a little bit of both, which is both sensible and hopeful.
- Not to make it sound like my American youth was misspent in the friendship department, the following day I drove to Hell (a real town; I am not this inventive) for a “Still 50” party of a high school classmate I have never met before. Well, we met during a series of Zoom calls that were held on the regular during the darkest days of the pandemic, and encompassed a group of pals who all graduated within three years of each and now live all over not just the continental U.S., but as far as Hawaii. I count myself more than a little lucky to enjoy the company of almost a dozen folks who knew me at my utmost awkward, clueless, and, in my mother’s characterization, gloomy, and who still willingly interact with me going on forty years later.
- The following day I had a lunch lasting several hours with a college friend. We have not seen each other in about a decade, which is a ridiculous and inexplicable gap, but there it is. The old saying of picking up where you leave off without missing a beat is always true with this friend, and has been for over thirty years. I often see people question if there can be genuine, non-romantic friendship between men and women, and this long-standing unshakeable bond between an introverted engineer/scientist and a [seemingly] extroverted lawyer/amateur thespian is a testament to the fact that friendship, like love, is a gift that you take where you find it.
- And finally, there is my childhood BFF. She is the one whom I met on my first day of school, and who is the closest I have come to having a sister in this world (I have known my actual sister for a fraction of the time, both in quality and quantity—but that is another story for another time). We have lived world apart for over forty years, and have averaged one in-person meeting per decade during this time. Right now, she is on a road trip to the Russian Near North. From each scenic stop, she has been sending me daily videos, narrating the town histories, telling fun local facts, showing scenic views. They visited Novgorod the Great, Petrozavodsk the capital of Karelia, Murmansk above the Arctic Circle, stopped on the shores of the Barents Sea. I have felt included in this wonderful adventure. In return, I send videos of my foster dog. And beer. And my office. And I feel unbelievably fortunate that my first school friend is still my best friend. She is, and always will be, family.
The wisdom of the years taught me that not all friendships are for always. Some relationships are for a season, and every season has its ups and downs. Looking back, there have certainly been some downs. But, as the song goes, thank you for having been a friend (this is the Russian/Georgian version—not to be confused with the theme to “The Golden Girls”). The ups have, and continue to, fill this life with meaning, warmth, and laughter.