My dearest friend and I speak almost every day now. Fran has been my linchpin, a constant connection in my peripatetic life, my guide, confidant, cheerleader, consoler, and BFF for 60 years. Since she’s ten years older and therefore much wiser, I have benefitted from her predictions of what to expect as each decade unfolds. Galloping arthritis, sketchy memory, the growing list of departed friends and family, and adjusting to elderliness are all predictable topics, but coping with the craziness that has persisted for the past four years is a new wrinkle, you should pardon the pun.
Fran has lived in Oklahoma City most of her life, while I have zig-zagged around the world, living in many parts of the country and abroad. In the early ‘60s, she was a revered on-air personality, host of a nationally recognized show for children. Fresh out of journalism school, I worked in public relations at the same television station. The moment we met, I felt an instant connection, a recognition that we would be friends for a very long time. In those days, we were tall, blond knock-outs, and we had a glorious time celebrating life together. When the two of us – Fran at six feet and me at five foot nine – entered a party, everyone knew we had arrived. Many times we were taken for sisters.
After I left Oklahoma, she earned an advanced degree in early childhood development. She became a nationally respected pioneer in her field, a distinguished pillar of her community with civic awards galore. Conversely, I’ve had so many businesses and jobs that I can hardly remember them all. I had several husbands, I am twice widowed, and I raised two darling daughters. Fran is, of course, their Godmother. Despite these differences in lifestyle, we forged a profoundly satisfying friendship all those decades ago that has endured. We have nurtured our connection by seeing one another as often as possible, traveling together, and staying in touch regularly by phone and letters. I don’t believe there’s anything she doesn’t know about me. Well, to be frank, there are a few incidents that neither she nor anyone else will ever learn about, and I’m sure she clasps some secrets close to her vest. Imagine not having done anything to hide – what a boring life that would be!
Having a child psychologist in my corner was a boon when I raised my girls. She’s still counseling me about everything from resisting the urge to meddle in my children’s and grandchildren’s lives to the best potions for aching knees. She’s what you’d call an all-purpose pal.
We share the same political views and are outraged by the same issues – the inequity and mistreatment of women and minorities, some elected officials’ reprehensible behavior, the stupidity of climate-deniers, and other travesties that we liberals find infuriating. Now we speak almost daily from our respective Covid-19 hideouts, Fran at her elegant cottage in an upscale senior facility in Oklahoma City, and me at my home in California. We used to visit each other twice a year, and I increased my trips to Oklahoma when she became unwilling to navigate the horrors of air travel. Losing her is my worst nightmare. Even though it seems likely that she will precede me into the next world, I choose to invoke magical thinking, believing that she is eternal. The alternative is something I’ll deal with when I have no choice.
Most of our daily chats start with a fifteen-minute rant about whatever fresh hell has visited on our country. Now we spend time gushing about a new team in Washington and segue into commiserating about the most recent physical developments that bedevil us. Bits of A little gossip often enlivens our conversations, if any interesting tidbits have come our way in this time of quarantine. Reminiscing is a favorite segment, and if one of us repeats a tale, the other politely listens, feigning interest. After all, what the hell do we have to do right now but indulge one another? Besides, we sometimes discover stories we haven’t told before or perhaps have forgotten. This amazes me since we have carried on a non-stop conversation for over sixty years! On occasion, we stray from current topics and revisit moments we’ve shared. My memory isn’t too reliable now, but I can recall vividly the times when we have laughed hard enough for tears to come and cried so hard that the tears turned into manic laughter.
No matter the topic, the subtext of these leisurely chats is our connection. We know that our time is limited, both on the planet and with each other, facts that make these conversations all the more poignant and important to me. I bask in the warmth of a person who has known me intimately all my adult life and still loves me unconditionally, a friend who has never purposely hurt me and has always been my champion. Unbelievably, we’ve only had words once, forty years ago, when I told her that she had wounded me deeply by withholding information about a serious illness. I felt excluded, as if I weren’t a close enough friend to be privy to her problems, only to her triumphs. She explained that she was trying to protect me and vowed never to exclude me again. She has been faithful to that promise, and we have navigated through our challenges ever since – together.
Fran’s friendship is one of life’s greatest gifts to me, a continuous theme is woven into every decade, as dependable as the stars, as necessary as the sun. Her beautiful smile, her sharp wit, and her sweet voice are mine to keep always and mine to enjoy this very afternoon as we meet once again for our cocktail hour chat and renew our life-long connection.