Part I: West Point, NY, 1983
I sat in the second of the neat rows of wooden desks--the kind that had the chair attached to the desk, and you'd slide your little uniformed body in under the desk--in Mrs. Rose's first grade class. Stacey sat next to me. We became friends. In first grade, becoming fast friends doesn't take a whole lot of analyzing and thinking. You don't think about what you like about a person, you just do or do not like them.
And I liked her.
She had deep, glossy hair with thick bangs that never got in her eyes. They just sat perfectly over her forehead. Like me, Stacey spent time making her own ribbon barrettes, and we both thought it was neat when the ribbons matched our Catholic school uniforms--yellow and green. We were both in Brownies together although neither one of us took it very seriously. We ran the same speed on the playground, we liked playing the same games, we both liked school and didn't think that was dorky at all.
Best of all, Stacey could laugh. She was just a happy girl, and everyone wants to be around a happy girl. We became best friends at age 7. It was an easy friendship, like all childhood friendships should be.
Part II: Schofield Barracks, HI, 1989
As an outgoing type, I always had plenty of friends. But after a year in Hawaii I didn't have any really close, bosom buddy (like Anne of Green Gables says). And I wanted one. I don't remember saying this out loud, but my mom knew. She knew like she knows when I'm having a bad day after uttering one syllable on the phone with her. When she heard that Stacey's family was moving from Germany to Hawaii, she called up Stacey's mom and said, "Let's get the girls together." So those moms got us girls together.
And I found that bosom buddy in Stacey.
Our friendship still had that easy quality, the same kind of feeling you get when hiking or walking with a person and you fall into an easy step with one another. No one is trying to catch up to the other, no one is walking much faster. Just side by side. Together. And this is how we approached our pre-teenage years.
We both had total crushes on Christian Slater, but in real life we had crushes but didn't follow through with them. We ate way too much macaroni and cheese at her house, talked about everyone in our class, and laughed. Stacey was the oldest of five; I was the youngest of two. Our house was usually quiet and orderly; her house was rowdy and fun. I was over there a lot. You could sit in one spot and witness way too much in a really great way.
That Stacey could make me laugh! She was witty in a way I'd never be, and I felt funnier just being around her.
Part III: Northern Virginia/Southern Pennsylvania, 1994
With some stroke of luck, Stacey's father and my father were stationed relatively near each other during our final year in high school. There was an hour or so drive between us, but with fresh driving licenses, that hour was nothing after a few years of writing letters between Kansas and Hawaii. Letters were fine, but seeing each other face to face--well, that was the best. So, for important events like birthdays and graduations and a few random days in between, we got to hang out.
I drove north for Stacey's high school graduation. She wanted me to meet a guy she'd just met on prom night--Dan. She'd gone with someone else to prom, but met Dan at a party afterward. He was cute and funny and tall and charming. I met him. I liked him. Plus he had a cute best friend--what's not to love about two best friends spending part of their first summer after high school together? His cute best friend, Jeff, had a family place near a beach in North Carolina, and we all drove down together. I have no idea why her parents allowed her do that--but I know why my parents did. They were in the midst of a divorce, busy in that heartache that comes when ending a marriage. I could do what I wanted, and I knew it. I was responsible enough--and they knew this--that "whatever I wanted" would be fun in a slightly few-notches-above-lame way.
We laughed and laughed at the beach...I can't believe how much we laughed. We were just responsible enough to be on our own a little, but still felt no weight of responsibility. What a nice feeling. I know all that the laughter and fun was amplified because my home life was so serious and dark and...just falling apart as I packed up my stuff for college, never to return to my childhood home. I'm so grateful to have a best friend who could make me laugh, could cheer me whenever I needed it. Or at least make me a box of macaroni and cheese and share it with me.
Part IV: Adulthood, 2014
Stacey married that funny, charming Dan guy. And then, seven years later, he left her. Just like that.
And, just like that, we both knew how horribly brutal adulthood could be. But still, it's beautiful.
As I muddle through the messes of my own making and others that fate has sprinkled on me, Stacey and I talk and talk and talk about silly and serious things whenever we can. She's still the best friend I could ever ask for, if only because we have a similarly catty sense of humor and laugh at the same sorts of jokes. But between us there are so many common threads that go back and go deep. We believe in the good in people, we believe that you've got to choose happiness, we believe you can't deny feelings but sometimes you have to let go and rebuild something else with them, we believe that we'll both be okay, we believe we'll be there, still laughing, for each other when we're 95.
Stacey still laughs loudly and deeply, and she does this often and with a great number of people. Maybe the laughter means a whole lot more to her, and to me, too, because we know, as two women approaching our 40s really know, how to cry. What heartbreak and heart ache feel like. And we know that although there's a whole lot we can't change--and there are hours of conversation about what we'd like to change but can't or not sure if we should--we can laugh.
I'm so grateful--SO GRATEFUL, PEOPLE!--for this woman in my life.