In booking, or at least trying to, a flight to Kalispell, MT this summer for a weeklong visit to my soul sister’s daughter’s wedding couldn’t occur at a worse time for me, financially. Last year when my husband was between jobs and I was dissolving our IRAs to pay the mortgage because my paycheck was so paltry I couldn’t squeeze two lemons out of it, was not a good time either. But that’s not how friendships go. They don’t run on my time, your time, or any time. Friendships to me have always been very dear. I still am in touch with people I went to grade school. The saying you can’t pick your family rings true. I am not close with my sister, and my cousins are living with their own devils of all levels from within the fractured family we came.
Which brings me back to friends. I work very hard at making and keeping friends. Yes, blood is thicker than water, but in the meantime, you never know if the person you just met at the gym will end up being more alike you than your twin sister. Since my sister and I only saw eye to eye when we were little, perhaps that is why I cherish my friends. I have no fear of telling a best friend of dark times in my life, and trust that she will not blab it all over town, or criticize me or blame my husband on our financial misfortune. Friends can disagree and offer their own opinion, but not scream at you like you have no brain in your head as a sibling would. Unfortunately, sisters/brothers will judge, intimidate, and/or, laugh you into tears. Not funny tears, but downright tears of ridicule. Who needs this crap?
Bonnie and I have been thick as thieves close friends for 10 years. We met in an Internet chat room. I was seeking pen pals, as was she. Was I leery? Yes, but I am eternally optimistic, and trust my gut feelings. When something is amiss, my gut sends me signals, and I take note. Bonnie, like me, is a great writer and can describe scenery in her town of Whitefish, MT better than any tourism brochure. But once we had finished introducing ourselves to each other, could we have grown bored and gone our separate ways? Mais oui! She lives as far away from me as Europe! When would we ever meet? Besides, we, on email paper, seemed like polar opposites. I was a career woman, who got up at 6 am every day, managed an office, spent a good portion of my salary on work clothes, took a beach vacation every year, and was financially secure for my senior years.
Bonnie was a mom to 2 children, a girl and boy, still in high school. In their self reliant family, Dad was the hunter and gatherer, while Bonnie,as mom,was the nurturer, and housewife, a life vastly different from my own, where I bought meat and stopped often for fast food meals. Whitefish, where she moved after falling in love with the small town feel on a ski trip, has a population of 6,000. Her husband started his own plumbing contracting business, and for a long time, remained the only trusted plumber there. And even though Bonnie spent most of each day scrubbing every inch of her house to sparkling cleanliness, preparing dinner every night from scratch, and running errands for her husband, she also worked for a man who sold holistic creams and oils online. She was busy. She was in up to her ears as a doting mother and wife. I, who cleaned my house on a weekly basis, gave more time to my daily runs than cooking meals. I was involved in driving my son back and forth to lacrosse games, but did not make my own clothes, or curtains. How did we ever remain friends?
Eternal curiosity as a writer helps me live vicariously through others. I am not a world traveler, or CEO of Amazon, but instead, I am me. Happy with who I am, and happy where she was, Bonnie became my confidante, someone to go to for a good vent, and always come away with a different bend on how to resolve my issue. I think it’s because we are so different that makes us best friends. She agrees. She can write me at the darkest moment of her life, and I will not react in a judgmental way, rant or rave against whoever pissed her off, but instead take time to analyze the entire moment and offer a variety of ways to get her back on solid ground. I know I could NEVER hunt for my winter meals in the foothills of the Glaciers, skin the deer, and then stick my hands into the flesh to turn meat in to Bambi burgers. Never, ever, ever. And Bonnie could Never take her descriptions of Whitefish in the winter, how she longs for fall leaves that the evergreens lack, and even how much she wishes the closest Mall wasn’t a 45 minute one way drive from home, and submit these words to a magazine for others to enjoy and read.
About two years after we “met”, Bonnie and I actually met in person. She had read copy from my first novella, acting as a 2nd pair of eyes. She was instrumental in giving me critical feedback that I didn’t have access to at the time. So when I accepted an offer from a small Canadian press to self publish, she was as excited as if she had written the book herself. And, when I went to press, I held a huge blow out party where I would autograph copies & sell them to my party guests. Guess who was my most cherished guest? I was truly surprised and honored that she would make her very first trip by herself to Baltimore; it had to have taken a lot of faith in our friendship together on a series of planes to come see me.
We sort of look like sisters. We both wear glasses, have dark hair, like to keep it short, lose and gain weight often, are shy in large crowds, and though we let our husbands think they run the show, it’s actually us who keep things sane.
Which makes us wonder how life could spiral out of control so easily 5 years later when her then 17 year old son up and joined the Marines. Yes, he been shooting guns since he was 7, but Bonnie had thought she’d impressed upon him that violence and war were not the be all to solving problems. The worst thing about her son signing up for 6 years or more of duty, was that he’d done so without telling her beforehand. Something he has admitted he deeply regrets. After all,they were close, and Bonnie was her son’s biggest fan.
Bonnie stopped writing me for about 3 weeks. I thought the worst, wondering if I had not been sympathetic enough at this horrifying announcement? The year was 2007, just before Al Qaeda started using IEDs as a main way to take out large groups of Marines. But Steven, her only son, was going to be a sniper, fodder for insurgents, and even though I hoped she was venting big time, I knew it was true. He might not come home. And if that happened, Bonnie, as would I if any such tragedy struck my only son, would fall off the deep end with grief.
Because of, or instead of losing herself to fear about his safety, Bonnie, by then working as an office manager in a real estate office, took up a cause to keep her mind off the negativity of Stevens service abroad. And, yet, he was the only thing on her mind day in and day out, so she decided to hand select items to ship to him with cheery notes tucked inside. Underwear: this was one item I didn’t understand the need. Didn’t the military provide that? Yes and no. When soldiers go out on missions, they only take what they can carry on their backs. Underwear is not a priority. Socks: same thing. Twizzlers: great snack that doesn’t melt under the desert sun. Chewing tobacco, check. Girl Scout cookies, enough for Steven to share with his entire platoon. Especially some for his Sergeant. Check. Bonnie, over the entire 5 years of Stevens service, plus every year since his resignation, has run a nonprofit called USTroopFund; she has become a seasoned fundraiser, ensuring that almost every citizen of Whitefish contributed to the 5 tons or so of goodies shipped out twice a year, and though shy when we met, currently works for a leading politician in town, attending city council meetings and speaking in public on his behalf.
So now it’s my turn to travel to Whitefish, MT, as close to the Canadian border as one can get. Where moose and antelope play. Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are snow filled all day. Bonnie’s daughter is getting married! Although Shannon and I have never met, I will be there for my best friend, Bonnie. Currently unemployed, broke as a doornail, my husband also laid off from his job, I am reciprocating as that’s what good friends do. We are “there” for each other.
I’ve never been to CO or UT or Minneapolis, but these are all routes I might have to travel to get to MT. I’m psyched, excited, and willing, if necessary, to travel for 3 days by train if money remains an issue. Bonnie has always been there for me, how can I not be there for her too? Who knows? Maybe I’ll find my next job in MT and move there. That way, Bonnie and I can share that cup of tea we always talk about having.