Posted Aug 12, 2008 2:44pm
Remember what your friends were like if you were a kid before the ‘70’s?
I gravitated towards the ones that made me laugh the most, which hasn't changed much. This usually resulted in our being relegated to the back of the class where we would be less disruptive, or sent outside or to our room when our giggling stretched our parents’ tolerance. We always pushed the envelope, giddy about getting “in trouble” for being silly.
Between these gleeful incidents, we had tantrums, created drama, and consoled each other about how we surely must have been adopted away from our “real” parents (who most likely were royalty). If we were kids today, I suspect we would be sent for psychiatric evaluation and then drugged into “behaving.” Our cure back then was to seek friends that could identify with our angst and make us laugh about it. We’d balance our moods opposite each other on our emotional seesaw, secure that this confidante would be protection from ever flying into uncontrollable mania or slamming into depression.
One of my first friends – from birth - was Gail. Our mothers worked together, and my dad was her godfather. Gail & I were great friends growing up and had frequent sleepovers during summer vacations; every memory of her involves our laughing until we couldn't catch our breath. At bedtime we'd try to smother our giggles in our pillows, but we were really out of control. We'd get in trouble every time - and go back for more. There were a couple of those episodes at her house that still make me laugh out loud every time I think of them.
We must have been about 10 during one of our sleepovers on a humid New England summer night. We were ehausted from laughing at things only ten year old girls find hysterical and settled down to sleep. Gail interrupted the stillness over and over to jump up to swat at a tormenting mosquito that buzzed her ear. Every time she turned on the light it disappeared, only to return in the dark, and her agitation was escalating. Determined to win, she flipped the light on for a final showdown and raced around the room swatting at the air with her slipper. It outsmarted her every time. I thought this ranting was hilarious, but the elusive bug made her increasingly furious. This made it even funnier for me.
It finally landed by her dresser mirror. She swung her arm overhead for momentum, and with a full swing, smashed it with a loud WHOMP, dragging the carcass downward into a bloody smear on the wall. She gave a satisfied "HMPH!" and headed for bed. I asked her if she was going to clean it up, and she said, "No, I'm going to leave it there as a warning to all the others." Her pounding in the middle of the night and our subsequent round of hysterics tested the patience of her groggy parents, who alternated their visits to our room with frustrated threats to “pipe down.”
I didn't realize how serious she was about this protective shield until I visited the following two summers – mosquito remnants still stained the wall, and she was adamant that it was an effective warning, because she hadn't had a mosquito problem since.
A year or so later we were at the age where we woke up every morning wondering if our breasts had suddenly appeared, and worried that they may not. Gail was tall, slender and beautiful. I always thought she looked like a supermodel, but she wallowed in her angst of being too skinny.
We were sitting on our beds in her room, she was wearing a fitted red t-shirt, and was brooding over how flat and boring it looked on her. She was especially pissed at me that day because I had matured into a "training" bra and it was somehow my fault that she was unfairly running behind schedule. She was working this theory up to a frustrated frenzy, becoming so upset that I had just sat quietly stunned, watching her antics. I was afraid that if I didn't console her through this she may actually get more depressed.
Suddenly she bounced up and started digging frantically through her dresser drawers. She pulled out a couple of pingpong balls and with her lips pressed in firm determination, placed them strategically under her shirt. Gail studied herself intently in the mirror, pouted and blew kisses through several dramatic poses, then did her runway walk around the bedroom. She went back in front of the mirror, put her hands on her skinny little hips and announced, "There, that's how it's supposed to be..."
As soon as she snapped her face toward me and looked me in the eye with the satisfaction that she made things right, we fell apart. We giggled like only preteen girls can, that uncontrollable stuff when you double over and fall down and can't even catch your breath through the laughter. Your eyes squish shut, your voice squeaks and your cheeks cramp in delightful pain, dampened by your own salty tears.
We lost touch in our mid 20’s when I moved to California, and back then we had only phone directories as search tools. Since the internet days, I ran searches periodically, but pretty sure that she had a married name, I felt she was lost in cyberspace. You can imagine my excitement when a search last week turned up her brother’s name! I emailed him from his website, and although he didn’t remember me, he was kind enough to respond immediately:
I wish I had better news for you, but Gail passed on Nov. 17th, 2006, of brain cancer, which was her third bout with cancer after two mastectomies from breast cancer a few years earlier and a few years apart.
He sent a long letter, recent photos and a video from her 34th birthday. I attached faded photos of the lakehouse where they visited, and the black & white photo with serrated edges of Gail & I “gossiping” in 1952.
So call your friends, email them a stupid joke that thanks them for bringing joy to your life, and keep them in your address book until it crumbles.
Gail will always be in my heart, and it's uncanny how she can still make me laugh so hard that tears pour down my face.