The Laborious Birth of a Tribute

Post the family’s Thanksgiving get together, I was driving down Mopac listening to KGSR wrapped in the afterglow of all the well wishes, good conversation and great food.  I had 40 minutes of music and in-my-head time and I started thinking about how great my friends and family are. While under the influence of a lethal combination of L-Tryptophan and sugar, I started composing a blog entry.  I do this all the time while driving, but few rarely make it to the website because I either don’t jot down the idea or it floundered before I could commit it to virtual paper.

Bringing Out the Worst in Ern

As I drove, I composed the entry which basically talked about how completely in awe I am of my friends and their talents.  I wrote about how gifted each and every one of them are.  At this point in the thought process, I mention a story I wrote in an expository writing class at UT called “The Aluminum Rose” – a story specifically about one of my oldest friends, Angie, that reflected on how beautiful and unique she was by comparing her to a foil rose her father crafted for her many years ago.  I backspace over this bit, recalling the day the professor took that story, threw it up on the overhead and an entire class picked it apart (nothing beats the humiliation of having a classroom full of uppity upper level English students holding a microscope to your writing).  This particular class nearly ended in a brawl due to a disagreement over whether I had proven that Angie was either a unique or a beautiful person.  What I took away from the whole experience was that while you can make certain claims in writing there’s a limit to what you can expect your audience to accept wholesale.   I ponder this for a bit – if I say that my friends are awe inspiring and gifted, I will need examples.

I mentally start writing examples starting with Ernie, my oldest friend – the kid who was responsible for me my first day of school in Austin, Texas.  I talk about Ernie the concert quality pianist (after only a couple of years playing), Ernie teaching in China, Ernie the guy that tried to sneak into a forbidden part of China and didn’t get arrested, Ernie, the Germans and the Crazy Knife Wielding Chef – so many stories.  I even tease him a bit in this unwritten blog over his perception of himself as a young boy.  (I’ve known him since he was seven and he remembers himself as a bit aloof and overly studious – not particularly a playful kid.)  I recall that I once had to remind him of our various 3rd grade adventures, to which he replied something along the lines of how I brought that out in him.  (It was actually a less flattering recollection – I think it had to do with me being kind of a spastic mess and being so irritating he had to sink to my level.  I love my friends.)

No Doors Were Harmed - Jers NYCI write about Jerry, my college roommate who really came into his own in New York.  I recount some of his adventures like with the tribe in Ghana or the private tour of the Roman Baths in Malta by one of the archaeologists. I write about his work with psychiatric patients and the homeless and I take a moment to be blown away.  I make a mental note to send an “I love you, guys’ note to both he and another old roommate, Jim.  I truly love them both. Recently, through Facebook, the two of them had made me laugh over a tiny clash with someone who doesn’t know me.  I think about how perceptions of me vary wildly between the older friends and the newer, but decide not to mention it in the blog piece because it’s not very relevant.

I think about the rest of my amazing friends, but before I decide on who to write about next and what I’m going to say, I begin to wonder why it is that these incredible people go slumming with the likes of me.  There’s an Ernie speech that immediately pops into my head, but I don’t let it play out.  Suffice it to say that Ernie is right. I can’t decide whether to include this bit, because no one wants to read some sad little self-deprecating analysis.  Plus, some might think I either need a serious pep talk or I’m trying to manipulate them into throwing praise my way.  I decide to leave this out.

At this point, I’m well down the road and a story pops into my head from my PBS days.  It’s where I thanked the universe for helping out after a pledge drive.  I was cautioned not to name names in the future to avoid accidentally forgetting someone and the inevitable hurt feelings that would follow.  I think I may be heading down that road where I heavily praise some and forget others.  I see the drama unfold.

I mentally crumple up the pages and chuck them into the bin.  I’m working myself up into getting mad over a blog entry that doesn’t exist.  The post-Thanksgiving moment has left and I’m neither feeling warm nor cuddly.

Now it’s Sunday and I’m kind of having a grand “fuck it” moment, mostly because I haven’t poked the blog in awhile.  So, I’ve decided to write what I intended in a rather round-about fashion and give a blanket thanks to all of my friends (and one beautiful parent of a friend who has always inspired me) – you are all truly amazing and gifted people who I am constantly completely blown away by – from your stories, your writing, your photographs, your sculptures, your beauty,  your achievements with your patients, your clients, your students and your kids – your adventures, your unique views of the world and how you choose to share/express those – for all the laughs and smiles throughout the years and the fact you all choose to slum with the likes of me.  I kind of love you guys.

… and to those who are hurt that I didn’t name them specifically, know that it’s only because I happen to love Ernie, Jerry, Jim and Angie more or you owe me an email.

Angie

There are few people that have made a distinct impression on me the first time I met them. My friend Ernie was responsible for helping me find my day care van the first day I attended school in Austin. I remember Jonathan as the very serious soon-to-be new RA at our dorm when we were huddled around receiving instructions for monitoring balconies. A parade went underneath our dorm and the residents had a nasty habit of unloading whatever they could grab on the parade goers (liquids, pickles, a full keg…). Everyone else I know is more a blur – no beginning to the friendship; it just always was.

Tonight I have my first overnight houseguest. She’s someone I haven’t seen in 16 years and for various reasons I’m nervous and anxious. Angie is also one of those people I distinctly remember meeting.

In 6th grade our teacher, Mrs. Craig, announced we were getting a new student – a girl who had been advanced a grade named Angie. Immediately, I didn’t like her. I didn’t have to know her to know that I didn’t want some sassy overachiever elementary school kid near me. We had 6th grade centers back then and I’d legitimately exited mine, unlike some kids named Angie. When she entered our classroom she completely lived up to my expectations. She flaunted her advanced vocabulary, plagued the teacher with tons of questions about Algebra (mind you, we were just at the stage where we were doing advanced multiplication and division in our public school system) and challenged the teacher’s knowledge on various subjects. Needless to say, the girl caused me to roll my eyes so many times I’m sure people thought they were white.

Karma is constantly biting me in the butt, so that meant Angie road our bus. This was actually a bad time for Angie because she was separated from the teachers who recognized her for her intelligence. In the classroom, she was special. On the bus, she was a target. Here she was with kids who didn’t particularly like new kids and didn’t like new kids who thought they were so smart they could go around skipping grades. I remember the day she stepped off the bus and the two bus brutes (girls, of all things) stepped off after her. I watched in a very satisfied manner thinking, “yeah, that new girl has it coming.”

When our teacher finally separated Angie from another group because their talking had become an issue, she had it in mind to place her next to me. “Beth, you won’t talk to Angie will you?” GOD NO! First, as I’ve mentioned before I gave up talking after 3rd grade and 2nd, it was Angie. I’m not talking to the new kid. That first day Angie bounded in with a huge smile, plopped down and said in her very characteristic and cheery way “Hi! I’m Angie!”

I struggled from that moment forward. I didn’t want to like her but she was kind of nice, I suppose and funny and very chatty. Mom remembers a time we ran into at the corner store and said to me, “that little girl really likes you, Beth.” I shrugged. Good for her.

The first time Angie called my house, she gave me a 100 question quiz she had concocted. Basically, Angie felt most people our age were rather ignorant and this was a way to measure intelligence. 100 questions is a lot of questions when you’re in 6th grade and would rather be skateboarding or climbing up on your roof. The one that really stood out was, “What is the gestation period of a sheep?” Gestation? Of a sheep? You’ve got to be kidding me!

The first time I spent the night at her house, I was forced to memorize the names of her 50+ plastic horses. FIFTY PLUS!!!! She wouldn’t let me go to sleep until I knew all of them and to this day I remember a few and I’m bitter about that. Then there was the horse trial – a play featuring several of these plastic equine stars and I got to be the audience of one. Karma. I was in my own special hell.

I learned many things that night. “Beth, don’t eat the brownies?” “Why? … Your parents put WHAT in them?” “Beth, the bathroom may have porn.” “Really?” I’m pretty sure our bathroom never had porn. “Beth, this is ABBA” as a headset was thrown at me. “ABBA?” (Now you know that partial reason that “Dancing Queen” has been my sign-off song at every skating birthday party for the last 10 years. It’s how I get Angie there.) At 8am that morning she finally let me go to sleep.

Angie methodically broke me down and she’s been my friend ever since. One of my saddest days was the day I started high school, terrified because I had heard there were gangs and I had barely gotten over being bullied, and my 9th grade English teacher called her name during roll call. The kid I didn’t want sitting next to me in the beginning wasn’t going to be sitting next to me weathering the storm of high school.

These days she’s out in California practicing as a Veterinarian, something she’s wanted to be since I first met her, living with her husband and their daughter Denali.

Since we get this a lot, I want to say. No, we’re not twins. No, she’s not my sister. We have different mothers. (Ok, that’s my Dad’s line; he thinks it’s funny.) She’s my friend. My beautiful, smart, funny, clever friend and I wish I were more like her. Well, the parts that don’t include 50 PLUS PLASTIC FRAKING HORSES! Hate those things. (For the record, she still apologizes for that.)