Eight years ago. Lightheaded with excitement, sitting in a muggy car infused with the fumes of our fast food breakfast, my brand new fiancé (formerly smoldering boyfriend), and I danced in our seats (okay, I danced while he smoldered), and talked over top of each other like parrots in a zoo.
We were engaged.
Hot crunchy hash browns were jammed down throats in between the first snatches of real planning. As we wound the car home from Washington (where the proposal had stilled the wind on a light-dappled seaside boardwalk), the wedding party was the first speed bump. My soon-to-be husband had approximately 477 friends that deserved to stand beside him, in squeaky shoes and musty rented suits, while I had always been more Pee Wee Herman with my inner circle. (A loner, Dottie, a rebel.)
I had three very close girlfriends; we got high and watched reality TV weddings; we perfected the art of homemade nachos; we laughed until we squirted pee into our laps, then ran hobbling and laughing harder to the bathroom.
But I needed one more.
Our friend Nick had recently returned home from travelling with a fancy new souvenir – a girl from New Zealand named Sarah. (Hi Sarah! This is the intro to my story about you. I hope that’s okay. Also, tough tits if it’s not.)
I should have hated her. She had the skin the colour of baby coconuts, that accent that makes everything sound a little more fun, and the ability to slide into a tough group of friends (boys and girls) and immediately make us all want to hang out in her bra. (Everybody loved your boobs from Day One. We can’t lie.)
She could pound a beer while filing her nails, sniff out the best three things that Winners was hiding, and even though we had next to nothing in common, she loved me. So, after probably just three in-person hang outs, I asked her to be in my wedding party. Even though I knew she would look better than me that day, I still asked. She accepted and the party was complete.
The wedding day was a long day. You keen for every detail to be perfect and die a little when a bow is off-kilter or a balloon is the wrong colour. You get mad at your girls for forgetting your lip gloss and they are kind and don’t yank out your updo in retaliation.
My girls cried when I cried walking down the aisle, they adjusted their sweetheart necklines about 47 times and when the bouquet and garter were tossed, Sarah and Nick emerged from the crowds, each victorious. Yes! Of course!
But. Sarah and Nick broke up. That part of the story was not expected and when a breakup happens, a group of friends is put in that awkward spot of stumbling over lines and asking questions that don’t have good answers. (Sarah, I know this isn’t your favourite part of our story, but it changed things. Bear with me, love.)
I hadn’t seen it coming; nobody did. It was fast and sad and I was in the middle of a rough year of schooling. Attempting to learn new things in my early thirties surrounded by buck-up upstarts who knew how to turn on their computer the first day of class. (A smart, cool guy named Thomas who sat next to me helped me without any judgment passing over his features. I love him forever for that.)
On a break, I sat hunched over, ear sweatily suctioned to my phone, in front of vending machines with gaps that looked like missing teeth, and listened to Sarah tell me what was going on. I wasn’t happy. She wasn’t happy. I wanted to support her, of course. But. This felt terrible.
She said something shortly thereafter that changed it all. She told me that a real friend would support her no matter what. In the biggest and bravest move I’d ever made in a friendship, I disagreed. (Sarah, this was SO fucking HARD.) I told her a real friend will tell you when are going the wrong way. Challenge you. Be the shoulder but also the devil's advocate. And then help you go buy some magic glue from Michael’s to put all the pieces back together again.
Real friends have to have the guts to say out loud something that could thunderstorm all through the friendship. You have to take that risk. Because when you do and the sun comes out, you see that *oh yes oh yes* you’ve grown together; intertwined like two reaching branches that have held hands for so long they’re just one beautifully gnarled redwood. (Sarah, thank you for being my soil and air and sun. It’s true.)
I got pregnant. Sarah became a baby scientist, as in she was the most fascinated with this thing filling me up. She would ask me questions that I didn’t know the answers to. She challenged me. She made me want to be more curious. And we sat on makeshift picnic blankets in the summer sun, me in my maternity jeans with that hideous flesh band that covers your ripe bump, her in some fucking super stylish ensemble she’d put together with her eyes shut, and we talked about this baby. Oh, what this baby would do.
I went into labour. I didn’t progress. I sucked the gas out of the mask so hard I almost inverted it. I lurched down hospital hallways with my body smashing in half, and shuffled back down the other side. Willing something to happen. I took the epidural and then: simultaneously made an omelette, wrote a concerto and did 67 jumping jacks.
Epidural – it’s a helluva drug.
Through it all, a tight pack of our friends roamed the hospital, popping in and out of my room, providing a blessedly normal contrast to the abnormality of this situation. Shit was shot, magazines were passed around, we laughed at fake baby names, and the sun slowly set outside the blinds.
Sarah sat with my Mom and watched the baby’s heartbeat on a monitor all night like it was an Oscar-nominated short film. When our daughter finally deemed it time enough to come flying out, crooked and late, Sarah was there with achingly soft polka-dotted pajamas from the Gap for Stella Belle, and a beautiful necklace for me. A simple delicate chain with a tiny diaper pin affixed to it.
Before Stella turned one, Sarah had met a cool rogue named Jesse, who came with a motorcycle and a room-clearing laugh, and they fit like peanut butter and jelly. He made plans to attend law school and got into one down in Florida. I pretended like that was a fine adventure and they would be back afterwards. My heart, suddenly backed into a corner and cowering with grief, knew the truth.
Before they left, a posse of us girls marched to a tattoo parlour to get matching tattoos. A Futura “V.” (Thanks again to Thomas for introducing me to the most Wes Anderson-y of fonts that I will love forever.)
V for five years of her in Vancouver. V for Vancouver where she better not forget. V for vagina because: awesome. On the Release Form it asked if you were pregnant or breast feeding. I was. I told the seemingly 14-year-old manning the till, and she told me they wouldn’t tattoo me. I broke into the shittiest of ugly tears, unable to rein it in. I stood outside the parlour and called my husband and told him everything was wrong. I thought I was going to make it, without her, but I clearly was not making it.
They left. I missed her in the way that makes you mad. It’s such an impotent and empty anger. I want you here and you’re not here and rinse and repeat.
They got married in Florida.
Sarah came back for her Halloween stagette where we made her try on the shittiest of outfits in Winners while we took photos and she is such a beautiful asshole that she still looked good in this:
We held onto her like a precious stone the whole weekend, trying to ignore the impending end when she would get back onto the plane and leave us with our hands flying around, nowhere to put them, maybe just deep in pockets or searching out for dry tissues.
I visited her in February 2013, a month where my porcelain skin wouldn’t be sizzled clean off down in Florida. We spent hours in Target, with no vanity or apology. Sniffing candles and trying on leopard tights.
We trip-trapped around Whole Foods for an hour. No rush. No tapping of feet. We sat long after the PF Chang’s sophisticated Chinese chem-trails had done their voodoo, and watched kids frolic and fuck around near a waterfront. I pretended this time was infinite.
The husband who smokes cigars like the guy from A-team took me on a Harley Davidson to South Beach. Those first terror-filled 10 minutes before I got the hang of it felt like 76 hours, with near 100% certainty that I was going to die, wearing a borrowed HD t-shirt with the sleeves rolled in 2 tiny rolls each because Sarah knew the most flattering part of an arm where a sleeve should fall.
I had intense up-all-night diarrhea on my last night. I needed 2 Immodium to plug me up and hope to survive the plane trip home. That provided a distraction when we split ways at the airport and I straddle-stepped onto the plane, raw in so many places.
Earlier this year Sarah told us she was pregnant. Warmth rushed all over me like a chocolate bath as I read her text message, standing in the middle of a casino. (Shortly after, I played 3D Footloose penny slots to see if the good vibrations would keep coming. I’m sad to report they did not.)
Our Sunday Skype dates amped up because: Baby!
I had so much to tell her! So much I had learned since.
So much to ask her: How do you feel? Like really really feel?
And so much I don’t say. So much I forget to say after a week of cramming in all the things that don’t really matter.
In our friendship bank, I am overdrawn. I need to repay that debt. But I’m clear across the continent, up and across a border. My big face in the screen on her computer is something but it’s not everything. (And Sarah, know that you were everything during my pregnancy. My unofficial cheerleader and doula and fucking champ #1.)
I haven’t been there to jam a thumb into that weird spot on her back that needs to be loosened and I haven’t been there to cook 6 messy lasagna bakes and I haven’t been there to sit with her quietly as we look out at something (or nothing) and talk quietly about the biggest and weirdest life changing event ever. It’s all happening and I’m (what feels like) 4 million miles away. (But you did it. You’re doing it. You’re the bravest of brave.)
She has found her way down in a country that has very different opinions about childbirth. She is a professor of the science of baby by now, and she has planned a natural birth at a centre filled with wise women, who may not be warm, but who know their shit.
On the day that her baby boy flies awake and declares it’s TIME, I won’t be there.
When the big scary pains come, the tsunami of fire and fury that spells out labour, I won’t be there. Her Mama and her husband will be there, but the person who would joke “Don’t be such a pussy” won’t. (Your Mom would probably get mad at me for that, so I could say something less mean. Like “Fuck, do you smell that? Is that your vagina?”)
Sarah, know that I am so goddamn proud of you. The breaths you will take (studied and rehearsed so carefully) will be breaths that I take here too. I will mind meld with your uterus if I have to. I will be waiting here, doing nothing more important other than waiting for you to get through this. And you will, my love.
Everything will feel wrong and then all of a sudden it will be right. You will lock eyes with this boy you created and life will be like FIREWORKS and your vagina will be like FUCK and I will be here in Vancouver high-kicking and screaming until my own groin is shredded and my lungs collapsed.
When you Skype me with your tired puffy eyes and I see that tiny half-you, we will cry like soppy old bitches. I will touch the screen and ache that I can’t hold him, can't huff the smell right off his fresh baked head, and can't make you the best cup of tea you’ve ever had.
I’m still not okay with being so far from you. There’s a good chance I will never be. But know, in the big story of my life, you are embedded in every chapter, line and verse. And every time your boy stops crying and nuzzles in tight, I willed that to happen. (Too much?)
Know that I’m here. Any time and always. Especially for the hard parts, and the sweet Lord knows “hard” was invented to describe the first year of a child’s life.
Know this, eight years after we intersected, when I come sprinting off the plane next February, sending snowbirds scattering like human bowling pins, I’m going to grab you and love you and that goddamn kid so hard it will make us both light-headed.