Here’s the kicker: We became friends on this day 20 years ago.
I’m fudging my dates a little here, because our friendship did technically start a couple of weeks before her birthday. My first day of 7th grade was also my first year in public school. I had transferred there without really knowing anyone and found myself in that awkward position of having to figure out who your friends will be.
Lucky for me, in that first week of school I saw a sign up sheet for that year’s musical, and I jumped at the opportunity. Everyone that was there to audition had already been friends for some years – a distinct group, but not a clique. They were smart and nice and funny and I didn’t know it then, but this group would remain my friends all throughout high school. A friendly freckle-faced girl lent me a pen so I could fill out some paperwork. That girl (and a few others) also happened to be in my French class. We started talking, laughing, sitting together at lunch, and a few weeks into school she invited me to her 12th birthday party.
It turned out that her house was only half a mile away from mine. At that party our group of pre-teen girls ate junk food, watched Grease AND Dirty Dancing, playfully swatted away Kelly’s 3-year-old sister, and slept in sleeping bags on the floor of her living room.
Nothing particularly significant happened at that party, but it was after it that Kelly and I became inseparable. (We used to say “KellynEllen” really quickly, slurring the two names together a la “SamnEric” in Lord of the Flies.) Kelly was such a breath of fresh air in my confused, somewhat unstable prepubescent life. She was so willing to be weird and when she really laughed – with abandon, way in the back of her throat – I would ultimately lose it as well. (She still laughs like that, by the way.) Her parents were totally okay with me showing up unannounced on their doorstep, something I would do for years on end.
As we got older we shared all kinds of experiences – hilarious, ridiculous, tragic, and everything in between. We wrote notes constantly about everything and nothing, all the usual things that high schoolers do.
Early on, Kelly became an expert at embarrassing me. She would leave the bathroom while I was in the stall talking to her – bonus points if I was saying something really stupid or silly. Once in the car, sitting in a parking lot, she rolled down the windows and started belting out “Don’t You Want Me Baby” every time someone walked by. During our many dinners at TGIFridays (in the mall, of course), we would play a game called “What would you do if I….” in which we would gauge the other’s reaction if, for example, I (hypothetically) pulled the light off the wall, smashed it on the ground, squirted ketchup all over myself and then yelled something like, “RABBITS FOR EVERYONE!”
We continued to do the school musicals together. We laughed backstage and crushed on boys. Whenever Kelly came home from a trip to Ireland, her voice excited with a faint Irish lilt, she would play whichever “NOW: That’s What I Call Music!” album had just come out and regale me with stories of Irish weddings and Galway discos and kissing boys behind chicken sheds. I hung on every word.
Sometimes I would call guys from her house. Not often, but definitely a few times when I was interested in someone who went to a different school – for example, my future husband Tom.
In college life got a little more real. We started to actually have boyfriends. Kelly came to visit me in Hartford often – often enough that she was genuinely friends with all my friends. Kelly has always had the amazing ability of getting along with everyone she meets, a quality I have always loved and appreciated.
There were plenty of tears. We would cry over family or relationships or difficult classes or car trouble or maybe we were just drunk.
We somehow slipped into adulthood. We started working. We started traveling.
I have a very vivid memory or us in a dark hotel room somewhere in Ohio. I was recovering from a stomach bug, dating a serial cheater (that I really needed to break up with), and in love with someone else (who had a girlfriend). Kelly had just found out that her ex (who she still loved) was having a baby with someone (that she knew). We sat in that room, each of us in a double bed, crying, and mindlessly flipping through channels on the TV. I’m pretty sure we settled on Dangerous Minds. (Is it bad that I’m laughing at this memory now?)
It’s not a secret that we didn’t talk for 2 years. I think that any long-term relationship, romantic or not, comes with the same difficulties as you grow and change. Kelly and I reached a point of conflict and we lacked the communication skills to deal with it. Fortunately in those 2 years we continued to grow and change and were able to come back together. And seriously, thank God. Because I don’t know what I would do without this girl.
Now that connection is more important than ever. As I’ve gotten older and settled deeper and deeper into my role of “Mom”, I’ve encountered a dilemma: How do I present myself to the world? Who am I, now? Of course I know that I am many things and that I am not solely defined by my children – BUT – after very long days of whining and crying and dirty diapers and my girls challenging me at every turn – when I need a shower and a good night’s sleep and I miss my husband who has been at work for hours – when I feel an almost desperate desire to sing, to be heard, to be creative – those are the days I look in the mirror and ask, “Who am I, now?” And so, when I meet someone new, I feel like I lack a personal elevator speech. Some days I even feel an embarrassment, a shyness around those who don’t know me, simply because I don’t know how to present myself.
That is when I yearn so strongly for those who already know me. The people I don’t have to explain myself to, the people who get me, who know what I’m about. And (other than my husband) no one knows me as well as Kelly. (And you know what? My husband is A LOT like her.)
Kelly, I love you. I admire your loyalty, your work ethic, your sense of humor, and your ability to make anyone feel comfortable. Your endless optimism, your humility, and your kindness make you a joy to be around. Thank you for accepting me and loving me as I am for so many years. Your friendship truly means more to me than I can ever say – not just because we’ve been friends for so long, but because now as adults we’ve chosen each other as friends. You are a gem, and quite simply the best friend I will ever have. I am so happy we met 20 years ago.
Happy, happy, happy birthday!!!!