Thank Goodness for Girlfriends
I used to believe girls not my sisters were untrustworthy.
This sentence appears in my May 2011 blog, “A Woman’s Strength.” The remainder of that post reflects how very, very wrong I was about women.
I thought a lot about my relationships with women in the days leading up to my October 2013 wedding. With a baby on the way, I knew there was no way I’d be able to drive over to the outdoor wedding site in my wedding dress. I wasn’t honestly sure I’d be able to keep the dress on for the ceremony itself.
It was okay, though. I figured it would all work out just fine with the best of accomplices. A few days before my wedding, I wrote:
While making oatmeal, I got to thinking about how my mom always said, “You can’t trust women.” I wish she’d had my experience with girlfriends. I can’t even type “You can’t trust women” with a straight face because it’s so unfathomably outside my experience!
I got to thinking about this because of my bridesmaids. Based on what details Anthony and I do or don’t wrap up, my changing room might be a wall of sheets held up by my bridesmaids . . . which, when I think about it, is pretty fantastically symbolic. That’s kinda what girlfriends do, in my experience: hold out their arms in love to shield their girlfriends from the unwelcome or hurtful as best as they can.
The day came, and I discovered my wedding site was a few dozen yards from a public bathroom. My girlfriends used the sheet meant as my improvised changing room to cover the bathroom floor instead.
Dressing didn’t take long. Apart from giggling a couple of times at my oh-so-glamorous staging area, I didn’t think much about the location. And why would I? I was with my girlfriends, the women who use their arms not only to shield me from storms but lift me up in the day to day.
When I look at this photo, I see love. I see also entire histories of moments that led these women, each strong and beautiful in her own unique way, to converge in one place.
- One, my godmother, has been with me since I took my very first breath. I wrote a little about her here.
- One has been my best friend since we were barely old enough to speak. We have long argued who had it better between us: me, because her faith I could be and do anything helped me believe it, too, or her, because my going out and doing even improbable things helped her believe anything was possible. We didn’t actually grow up to be the crime-fighting superheroes our younger selves imagined, but this lady will always be my Silver Star.
- Another was somewhat alien to me through most of my youth. With several years between us, we shared a house and a family but not much else in common. It was only when I was in law school that I began to understand and appreciate her. My law school winter breaks meant Lord of the Rings movies and dollar store Christmases with her. We didn’t have much money, but we had a lot of fun–yes, even while utterly failing to keep ourselves warm over gas station coffee while waiting to see Brendan Fraser on The Tonight Show! (No one twisted my arm to be out there in the cold hours before dawn. I was there because I wanted to be.)
- One is a sister not of blood but of choice. Once myself a Little through Big Brothers Big Sisters, I opted to become a Big late in my college years. Sometimes I was inattentive or distractible, but I cherished our times together. As we have grown, I have seen her make difficult choices with compassion and grace. And I’ve smiled when I pulled out the journal we shared together back when I was in college. We’ve changed so much, but, happily, we’ve grown into these changes together.
- Next is one of the martial artists I wrote about in “A Woman’s Strength.” She invited me to a family outing in Eastern Oregon, secretly testing our friendship compatibility with episodes of My So-Called Life and Angel. I passed, leading to a year of intense, scary, beautiful friendship that marked a turning point in my life. I had a girlfriend who wasn’t my sister, and what a girlfriend she was! When I moved to South Korea, she wrote pages of happy memories we’d shared, which thrilled me for two reasons. First, I knew she’d taken extra hard college classes to avoid taking writing-heavy ones, she disliked writing that much. Nevertheless, she’d chosen to write pages for me. Second, we had actually made all those memories. Together she and I had gone out into the world–well, great, wide Oregon, in any case–and built the foundation for what I hoped, rightly, would be a lifelong friendship. Whenever I was lonely in South Korea, I’d pull out those pages and bask in the love I could feel emanating from the pages she’d written.
- A younger woman who’d taken martial arts with the lady just above and me attended some of the same nerd parties Silver Star and I did. When this young woman came back from a long outdoor adventure my first year of law school, I picked her up by bus and took her to a movie premiere near my apartment. I don’t remember the movie, but I do remember her squeezing my shoulder and uttering the disbelieving words, “David . . . Duchovny.” Later I would visit her in Northern California, liking her plenty but not yet really knowing her, and not then understanding how huge a role she’d come to play in my life and heart. Sometimes her quiet, sweet challenges of my choices frustrated me, but the fact she challenged me–and did so with such tenderness–was part of what made it so easy for me to trust her. Her actions of love were so powerful in my life, I could not imagine anyone else raising my son and showing him love simultaneously hers and like my own if I was unable. She is my son’s godmom, and she is a powerful force of love in both my life and this world.
- Fandom connected me with one of the other women pictured here. Our mutual affection for Buffy the Vampire Slayer connected us, but it was live music shows and long drives up and down Pacific Coast Highway that bound us. She makes me laugh, makes me think, and most of all makes me glad I can look back on the heartiest of my fangirl days not with a mortified shake of my head but with a “heck, yes!” During some of the saddest days of my life, when my usual support system felt closed off to me, she took a very clear stance on how terrible a person I was not. If I broke into her house, stole all her belongings and kidnapped her dog, she told me, she wouldn’t think, “What a bitch!” She’d be concerned what the heck was happening in my life that I felt that was my best choice, and then do whatever she could to get me back on track. I feel the same about her. No matter what a misanthrope she claims to be, the goodness in her heart and outward actions is undeniable.
- Shortly after I returned to Los Angeles, a common girlfriend connected me with another of the ladies pictured above. Like me, she lived in Long Beach, so we opted to carpool the next time all of us got together in Los Angeles proper. We arrived super early, using the time to sneak a couple of covert drinks and launch into conversation that felt like the kind had only with lifelong friends. Over the months that followed, I felt completely free to be myself with her, to the point I actually told her where I’d be giving birth to my son, a fact I’d treated as top secret for various reasons. She quickly reported back that her obstetrics nurse mom said, “Friends don’t let friends deliver there.” She coordinated a meeting between her mom and me, with her mom answering bunches of questions that eased my mind. Later, hours before I’d meet my son for the first time, I barely avoided physically bumping into her mom, who took me under wing and made a long, painful labor ever so much more tolerable. This girlfriend visited my son when he was but a few hours old, giving him a look of love that’s burned on my heart. Her encouragement combined with her vocal, fierce love of my son, my husband and me make it impossible for me to think of her without crying.
- I couldn’t get off the couch the first time I met the last of these ladies. I was nine months pregnant and had a killer headache–the very headache, it happened, that heralded the onset of labor. In the four years since, this girlfriend has taught me the basics of knitting (oh, the patience!), watched movies at my apartment while I slept because I was too darn tired to keep my eyes open, watched my son in emergencies, and helped me into my wedding dress. Also, having never physically met one of the other ladies in this picture, she opened her apartment to her for my entire wedding weekend. I often feel guilty when I think how little I’ve given compared to how much I’ve gotten, but–man! The time is coming I’ll get to return the many favors, and, happily, I look forward knowing she is not keeping track.
I once believed women were untrustworthy, and not friendship material. Now, it is easy for me to say with both tears of joy,
I WAS WRONG!
I am grateful to each of the women pictured above–and all the others who light my days, though not included in the picture above–for proving just how wrong I was.
Thanks to these ladies, being wrong feels downright magnificent.