Today I’m thinking about a red dress. A perfect red, somewhere between fire engine and wine. Fitted button-down bodice edged in a ruffle made from the same soft cotton as the dress. The skirt was full, a little flounce to it, above the knee. I was twelve (give or take a year) and my best friend and I had gone shopping together, downtown Brooklyn, Abraham & Strauss. We both tried on the dress, loved it, bought it. We were not (quite) the same size, but that didn’t keep us from an occasional swap, some special occasion demanding a garment too perfect not to be shared. This would be taking friendship to another level, wearing the same beautiful dress. Almost twins.
Only a funny thing happened when I got home and hung it in my closet. Red was a favorite color of mine, and maybe it did dominate my wardrobe (my grandmother thought there was a communist lurking in me). But something about having the exact same dress as my very best friend suddenly struck me as not quite right. I returned the dress, my friend kept hers.
A year ago I found myself sitting across from that very friend at a table in a New York City restaurant after years of no contact. One of the benefits of Facebook. The beauty of looking into the face of your oldest, dearest friend is the beckoning, read between the lines, the you-go-your-way/I-go-my-way years that separated us nothing more than a wrinkle in time. She became a teacher, retired now. I was at her wedding (she married young), she was not at mine. We both have grown children. Being a grandmother occupies much of her time. Her smile is as infectious as ever.
A favorite activity of mine, with another longtime friend, is to go to the Met on Friday afternoon, sit at a table in the Great Hall Balcony sipping a drink between exhibits. Last time we did this we saw “The Steins Collect” and “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.” She is a kindred spirit of the truest kind, and we count it among our mutual blessings to as readily enjoy “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert” at Madison Square Garden as “War Horse” at Lincoln Center and an afternoon of jazz at Caramoor. And, yes, that wanted/needed/recently purchased pair of shoes has been known to kick-start a conversation. It goes with the territory, Renaissance women flowering with style, leading lives deeply rooted in substance, no contradiction there. What we get is so often more than what we see.
Good friends: I can tell you what they like to drink, the men who broke their hearts and vice versa, the health scares and the bullets dodged. Instant memories with BFFs are far more powerful than instant messages: driving along the cliffs of Highway 1, finishing off champagne (directly from the bottle) while cleaning up after a party, being nudged along by oh-so-familiar sparkling eyes when I hit a wall in Central Park during the NYC Marathon, 1981. Tears are meant to be shared with good friends, not masked by a stiff upper lip. The give and take never needs explaining. It is what it is. Why can’t it be this way with men? we ask ourselves. Because.
In one of the title stories of my collection, a woman eavesdropping on a conversation remarks, “Men have their locker rooms, women have their nail salons.” Times have changed since I wrote the story, and women have their share of locker rooms as well, but the heart of the observation still stands: there’s an incomparable camaraderie that goes hand in hand with girlfriends shopping, getting pedicures, dancing in the street. With my best friends there’s no splitting hairs when it comes to splitting the tab after a dinner or lunch. We know just what to buy each other for birthdays. Too much time never passes between phone calls. All of which has me thinking about a beautiful red dress. Maybe the impulse to return it was the more knowing sister of the spirit that had me buying it in the first place.
I had a dream a few weeks ago when I began thinking about writing this piece. A good friend whose life we recently celebrated on the five-year anniversary of her death (breast cancer) showed up at a dinner or a party. I did a doubletake – mostly at the surprise of seeing her. I didn’t know you were coming, was the thought I would have expressed if my dream gave me the chance. It was looking into her younger face that surprised me as much as the fact that she had shown up. Almost as if she had never left.
Isn’t that the way it is with cherished friends?
Photo © Britton Minor Graefensteiner
***If there’s something in need of celebration, guaranteed someone has (or will) come up with a national day. Maybe you know this, maybe not, but August 1st has been designated NATIONAL GIRLFRIENDS DAY. How I stumbled upon this tidbit is as much a mystery (to me at least) as how it got started. So, in honor of those special women in our lives, I’m making available signed, personally inscribed print copies of my short story collection, SHOES HAIR NAILS, directly from my blog, now through August 5th, for $5.99 (shipping gratis). Just hit the button below, follow the link, and let me know what you’d like me to write as an inscription, and to whom I should send it.