August 29, 2006 at 11:54 am (Uncategorized)

Yesterday on a hike with a friend, I had poor aim on a potty stop and ended up with a wet hiking boot and pants leg. On the one hand, this bothered me because I consider myself an intrepid outdoors woman. I have hiked hundreds of miles, camped in the back country for days on end, and have become (or so I thought) a pretty accomplished wilderness pee-er. On the other hand, I wasn’t embarrassed, since I was with Amy, my oldest and dearest friend in the world. “Oh, look,” I said, after emerging slightly sodden from the bushes, “I seem to have had a problem.” She laughed once, promised to keep it a secret between the two of us (I do have a reputation, you know), and then told my husband about my faux pas about 2.3 seconds after he came home from work.

I’m sure you gentle readers are wondering why I am waxing on about urinating in the woods. Good question. The story here isn’t about bodily functions, but rather about friends. There are many classes of friends. There are men and women I meet for lunch and we talk about writing and other serious topics, but we never venture into the choppier waters of our interior lives; there are other folks who understand my fears and my dreams, but who simply haven’t known me long enough to understand me intimately; then there’s Jay, who I consider my best friend, but he is also my husband and partner, so sometimes I have to be strong with him and for him; I am also blessed to have a family whose members are often more like friends than siblings. None of these relationships is like the one I have with Amy, though.

I met Amy in college in California when I was nineteen years old. “You are just a baby,” she said, sitting behind me in Western Civilization I, sage and aged in her twenties. We ended up together in Western Civilization II, where I think we were the two best pupils in the class. We studied together and shared notes, but there was a definite competitive edge there too. I don’t remember who ended up being the top scorer in the class.  (Well, I do – but I’m not telling.)
I’m not sure exactly what pushed us from the casual chatter of young women (“My hair is, like, so out of control today.”) to close friends. We certainly were never cookie cutter versions of one another. She has always thrived on stability and continuity, while I have looked for change and chaos. She has lived in the same house almost her entire life; since I met her, I have lived in twelve different homes across the world. She likes nothing better than riding her horse on a trail; in the lexicon of western recreational land use, I should be her nemesis, since I prefer to hike and mountain bike. I am married and have a child, while she is single. Before I was married, I jumped from relationship to relationship, which is not Amy’s style at all. Her hair is always short; mine long. She has cultivated a garden like something out of House Beautiful, while I live surrounded by weeds and empty flower beds.

I’m probably overly-exaggerating our differences because while we differ in the outward appearances of our lives, we share a world view and a temperament that make us spiritual sisters. We’re both intensely loyal. We’ve pissed each other off more times than we can count in nineteen years, but we’re both forgiving of the people we love. We’re both anal and fastidious in our own ways. We’re both sarcastic, as well as fairly attuned to our interior landscapes, which means we can make fun of ourselves. We love to travel together and experience new places at each other’s side. We even hike the same way – full bore ahead, not too much stopping to check out the landscape and catch our breath. We love animals and treat the pets who have graced our lives more like royalty than the fur-brains they are. We like to tease each other. Her laughing about my pee-soaked foot, or my laughing at her pea-sized bladder (Really, you could not imagine someone needing to stop and relieve themselves as often on a car trip as Amy does; it’s like every four feet down the interstate, we need to find a gas station) is a form of affection, a way of saying, “I know your strengths and your flaws. You don’t need to be perfect with me. If you try and pretend to be perfect, I will know you are bullshitting me. So laugh with me about yourself.”

We have definitely seen each other at our worst. I have puked my guts up after nights of drinking while Amy has watched; I have called her in hysterics, so sad and crazy about something that I couldn’t breathe. I tried to be by her side when her closest friend died of the flu when she was only 22. We’ve shepherded each other through bad relationships, stupid career choices, and miserable years. Most importantly, we’ve seen each other through the dark times and have emerged out the other side, into bright sunlight, still friends. She was by my side when I married Jay; she came to the hospital the day I had Andrew.

Neither of our lives are idyllic right now. I have sarcoidosis and a heart problem; she sometimes feels a little stuck in her life in California. But we’ve learned from each other (and perhaps from the intervening years) that although life does not have to be perfect, you still have to show up for it. We’ve also helped each other see the small blessings that surround us every day: a saucy tabby cat in each of our households, good television shows to distract us (Amy is my arbiter of taste in all things video), an e-mail to cheer us up. I would not count our friendship in this category of everyday goodness. Rather it is extraordinary and sustaining.

Amy spent nearly three months last summer with us in Montana. Although she says that she needed the time to reevaluate her life and that she wanted a break from her job in California, I suspect that the reason she took such a long leave of absence from work was so that she could come help her sick, chronically fatigued friend. That’s the sign of true friendship, I think, when someone doesn’t make a big deal out of saving your life. They just do it.

She only has a week to spend with us this year, but it’s amazing to me how quickly we settle into each other’s company. I never feel the awkward strain of distance or time passed. I only see my friend, who has helped me progress from girl to woman, who has watched me become a wife and a mother, who has loved my son and my husband, who has sat with me while I’m sick, who has listened to my fears about dying and leaving behind a young child, who has taught me that Buffy the Vampire Slayer truly was the best show ever on television, who has never turned her back on me, who has laughed at me when I pee down my leg. Who has always, in every way, been a friend.

I don’t enjoy being sick, but sarcoidosis has taught me a few things. One of them is I’m not alone and that I am damn lucky to be surrounded by the people I love. Even if they can’t be quiet about a little urinary misdirection on the trail.

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