Katrina and Her Friends

Friends have been on my mind lately. Not specific friends, but the notion of friendship. The idea of it. I’ve been reading numerous articles about friendship over the past couple of weeks; specifically, female friendships. It’s given me pause, made me think, caused me to reflect.

I’ve been blessed — beyond blessed — to have had an abundance of friends in my life. In grade school, I had my posse, my girls. We were tight, the four of us. We ruled Goff’s skating rink, Brownie meetings, and the Ranger Rick Club. I still vividly remember our late-night sleepovers, sharing soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in Sister Veronica Ann’s classroom, choosing each other first for kickball teams at recess. I rode my bike (my first place prize in a Jim Dandy coloring contest) frantically across town to perfect my roller-skating moves in Kerri’s basement, sailed across Lake Tippecanoe with Anna in the Gray Ghost, hunted for crawdads and dead frogs in the creek that ran beside Heather’s house. My childhood days were full and adventurous and wrapped tightly around those girls who were sisters to me.

Then we began growing up and growing apart. It wasn’t that we didn’t love each other anymore, we just began, ever so slowly, to part ways. I tried out for the middle school volleyball team, Kerri continued to swim. We met and made new friends, and life marched on. It’s funny now, looking back. When I see Kerri, I always return right to those days of fairy dust and our Fred and Freda Finkelstein books. There are few childhood memories that I can easily conjure up, but Kerri is always a part of them. She lives near my mom now, but I rarely — if ever — see her. That doesn’t mean she isn’t in my heart, though… that she isn’t forever and always a part of me. She was my best friend then. Besties. BFFs. We pinky-promised.

Before we knew it, the topsy-turvy, hormone-driven days of high school were upon us. I was a three-sport athlete, and those girls who lived on the court and in the field with me were my sisters. We played together, laughed together, won and lost together. We were bound by a common love of sport and competition and the camaraderie that comes from sharing a sweat-filled locker room. We worked hard and we played hard. We shared the highest highs and the lowest lows. We traveled on hot, muggy buses together in search of our next win. We had sleepovers and early morning free-throw practices and after-school Dairy Queen runs. Our lives were parallel. Our hearts and our 2-3 zone defense, synchronized.

And the others… the friends chosen by soul rather than circumstance. Andi, my Andi. Still my go-to girl now, the one who always takes my crazy, middle-of-the-night phone calls and talks me off the ledge, the one who can make me laugh through a torrent of tears. (“Are you having a period? Did you get into a fight with Chris? Are you taking your meds? Do you need me to arrange for a refill? Are you out of wine?”) Libby, my college roommate… fun-loving, uninhibited Libby. Beloved Gail. My music teacher and savior, ten years my senior, unlikeliest of compadres. I knew as soon as I saw her beautiful face and that crazy cap of untamed curls that she would change the trajectory of my life. She saved me from the depths of myself when everything else felt like it was coming unstitched (as it is so often wont to do when you’re a seventeen year old girl).

College brought new friends, new sorority sisters (shout out to my Jess, my Moon Dancer, my free-spirited beauty and to Karyn, the best little sis out there), new experiences, new relationships. Through the bulk of those days, I was with Chris, devoted to Chris, wrapped up in Chris, existing for and beside and with him. But there’s something different about girls. Something my female friends give me that even my beloved can’t. And much to his dismay, it doesn’t involve some seedy girl-on-girl action. (Sorry, Babe.)

As I’ve grown and matured and meandered through this life, I’ve been blessed by some pretty damn amazing women. I’ve met them through so many different and varied venues — as fellow parents, as neighbors, through church (Yes, church! We weren’t always home-churchers…), via mutual friends, as bloggers, through our shared love of writing and reading, by blessed blind luck.

When I’ve needed them, they’ve shown up at my doorstep (my real one, or my virtual one). Sometimes they stayed for a few drinks. Often, they crashed on the couch. Every once in a while, they left sooner than I’d have liked. They brought casseroles and cakes and cabernet. They helped themselves to my clothes and make-up and books and jewelry. They hugged my kids, petted my dogs, turned their noses up at our pet rodents, and ignored my dust bunnies. (Or they pointed them out and mocked me openly for them.) All left an imprint, an indelible mark. Every single one carved her name on my heart.

I’m a girl who easily gives away “things,” but who holds on tightly — sometimes too tightly — to people. My friend, Andrea, described me this way: “If someone has a wall around her, you want to climb that wall. You want to get over that wall and climb into her lap and hug her.” She didn’t say it disparagingly. She said it honestly. That’s exactly who I am. If you are someone I want to know, watch out. I’ll be in your lap before you have a chance to deflect me with a purse or a baby or a quick and pointy elbow. And I’ll probably be laughing too loudly or crying inconsolably when I get there. And I’ll probably kiss you on the lips upon arrival.

“But not everyone wants you in her lap,” Andrea said. “You’ve got to be okay with that. That feeling is about them, not about you.” It’s true, how she painted me. There are not enough friend laps in the world for me. And lip-kissing? It’s just what I do. Heredity, I think. My Mama, Sweet Caroline, always goes straight for the lips.

Female friendships are such a mystery and a blessing. I used to be fearful of them, apprehensive about the perceived and expected competition, the back-stabbing, the conflict. “Girls are mean,” I used to say. And, indeed, some of them are. So are some boys. So are some dogs. So are rhinoceroses. It’s unfair and inaccurate to pin that generalization on a group simply because I am intimidated by them as a whole. I used to worry about whether I would have The One. The BFF. But I’ve found that the label is unimportant. It is a life saver to cling to when the waters are rough, but what really saves you are the hands that pull you from the depths, the ones that reach out and say, “Here. Hang on tight. Stay strong. I’ll hold you until you can get back on your feet. You’re safe with me.” Some who say BFF might only mean BFT (today). And that’s okay. I might choose to say it, too. We know when it’s real, we girls. We know what’s lasting, what’s substantial, what matters, what perseveres. Friendship is not an acronym or a title, it’s a commitment. It’s a hug when you need it most, a phone call at just the right time, a key to the back door, a necessary kick in the ass. It’s trust and honesty. Sometimes, it’s booze. Often times, it’s booze. On the best days, it’s salted dark chocolate caramels AND booze.

Some girls can, indeed, be mean. I can be mean, even when I try my very hardest not to be. Even when I claim it’s exactly who I don’t want to be. (Mirror, mirror…) And other girls are authentic and loving and giving and vulnerable and kind and open. Some come to you with their big hearts and their loud laughter and embrace every bit of you — the post 4 c-sections stomach, the flabby arms, the gray hairs, the neediness and angst. They honor your dramatic flair and pull you back when it threatens to cross into the ridiculous. (Which, of course, it so often does.) They bring you homemade chicken soup when you’re sick, they run your progeny all over town, they offer their homes and their spare beds and their softest pillows when you need a place to rest your weary head.

Women do this. Women love. Women nurture. It is part of us, it is in our blood. We grow and birth our babies, we hold hands with those as they pass into the next world, we organize the bake sales and orchestrate the funerals. We sit beside those who have lost their hair — but never their spirit — to chemo, we snuggle each others’ babies when they’re fevered and croupy and contagious. We are not afraid of germs. We do not shy away from the green snot. We are women. We are moms, daughters, sisters, aunts, lovers. We are soft and hard and strong and vulnerable and damaged and brave and brilliant all rolled into a beautiful package of unfettered laughter and deep, cavernous souls.

It is said that people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I used to want all of my women to be lifetimers. As I get older (and have the bifocals to prove it), I am beginning to realize that the gifts I am given by this universe, the inspirational women who come into my life to walk this path with me, always seem to arrive at just the right time. When they go, should they choose to go, it is often painful and searing and hard. But with time, I realize that it is right and as it should be. There are a million more human hearts and minds out there to discover and enjoy and serve. Someone will serve her better. Someone will serve me better. There is a greater plan than mine, than ours. Sometimes I love my friends more than they are able to love me. Sometimes I need more than they can give. And sometimes, those roles are reversed. It’s okay. Life is not about keeping score, it is about being. Being, giving, receiving, opening. And then doing it all over again.

I’ve learned throughout my four decades how I want to be treated, how I need to be loved. And by watching, experiencing, expanding, I more fully understand now how I want my friends to treat themselves, their other friends, the world. I want kindness. Kindness and acceptance. Eyes that see the beauty and promise in whatever form it manifests. I don’t want to be changed into what someone else thinks I should be… I want to be challenged, so I can choose to grow on my own. I want to be led by example so I can lead by example.

And more importantly, I’m settling into the truth of what I have to offer my friends, what gifts I can bestow, how I can help them balance and laugh and prosper, how I can hold them when they cry, how I can lift them when they need to soar, how I can sit beside them, silently, hand in hand, when words become cheap and insignificant. We all have so much to give, if only we’d trust ourselves with the giving.

As I look around at the framed faces in my bedroom office, I realize how truly blessed I am. There is a special picture that hangs above my desk, one that was given to me by a soul mate, a mentor, a lifetimer. It’s a Curly Girl quote that reads, “We all let people into our lives, but you will find that really good friends let you into your own.” I didn’t quite understand it at first, but I’m learning. I’m beginning to understand. I am much more equipped to rightfully honor and elevate my friends when I, myself, am grounded and stable, when I know who I am and what I can be for them. There is this delicate dance to friendship, the give, the take, the push, the pull. To truly grow and expand, we must give selflessly and graciously accept what returns.

Your breath, my breath. Your step, my step. Without that cadence, all the oxygen is depleted, all the life is extinguished.

And with friendship, it’s all about the life. Thank you, dear, beautiful, vulnerable, authentic women who have chosen to sign your names across my heart. Thank you for visiting, for staying… even for leaving when you felt you must. Thank you for your gifts, your cards, your songs, your words, your example, your hugs, your hands. Thank you for seeing me, for taking the time to look and understand. And for being okay with — for truly embracing — what I have fashioned out of this existence. That’s all we want out of this life, really. To be seen, to be embraced, to be understood.

You are loved. You are cherished. You are super stars.

I am undeserving of such treasure. And so profoundly grateful for it.

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15 Responses

  1. This is beautiful! A tribute to the amazing women out there who love, give, hope, believe in us.
    This also makes me wish I knew you in “real” life because you sound like the kind of lady whose lap I would climb onto. 🙂

  2. Dear Katrina,
    This is truly beautiful. This needs to be read by so many people…you have put into words so many feelings I carry within myself…you have given voice to the scared woman inside me, the boisterous woman and the hurt woman, but mostly you’ve given voice to the woman who embraces her sisters with both arms….looking for the adverb….irrepressibly! You didn’t literally crawl into my lap when we met, but you took one look at the notebook I was carrying (on which there was a 1940s image of a woman holding a cigarette under which the words “maybe I WANT to look cheap” were stamped) and made it clear that you were going to get to know me whether I was ready for it or not. I’m SO glad you did!! Despite that notebook, I tend to be reserved, especially in big cities like SF and you just waltzed up and said, in so many words, “Hey lady, put your defense shield down, I’m Katrina and I want to get to know you.” I’ve rarely felt so privileged. Thank you for metaphorically crawling into my lap and insisting I get to know you – I have gained SO much from this unique internet friendship, which manages to be intimate and remote at the very same time. Yes, “thank you” is the bottom line of this comment.

  3. Oh, Dawn, you are so sweet. Of course I had to meet you in San Fran — you exude an aura of confidence and fun and love! Who wouldn’t want to get to know you?? The pleasure and gift was all mine! XOXO

  4. You are most welcome to get all up in my lap whenever you want. I read this at school Friday and had to stop, since I was getting teary and I thought the last thing the kids needed was a crying, homeless woman with them that day. This is so me. I cannot stand to lose touch with anyone. I’m the one that wants to plan the high school reunion right after its over, thinks my grade school friends and I should still all be in close touch, can’t believe my friends have the nerve to move away from me. It’s really hard for me to accept that sometimes friends just move on, but I know it’s true. Never, ever have understood those women that have disposable or merely convenient friendships or none at all. I’m going to copy this for my friends , because you say it so much more eloquently than I could ever dream.

  5. This is beautiful, Katrina. While my life is centered on immediate family, it is so much more wonderful because of the women I have spent time with over the years… for a day or a decade, the impact is priceless. Some day we’ll have glass of wine together – red for you, white for me. Until then – I will leave you a bottle at Mary’s.

    1. Thank you for such lovely words. I would be honored to share a glass of wine. And in my humble opinion, there is no better place to raise a glass (or two or three or seven) than Mary’s patio. 🙂

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