This is my friend Myrtle, when she came to visit me in college about 21 years ago or so. Today is Myrtle's 44th birthday, and I'm pretty sure I've known her since she was 16. Isn't that amazing?
Her name isn't really Myrtle; it's Janet. And before we were friends, we were mortal enemies. Teen-age girls are often like that, especially when it has to do with a boy. We despised each other fervently for a brief time, and then, suddenly, we were inseparable. My memory doesn't allow me a glimpse of what transpired between war and peace; perhaps Janet can fill in those gaps.
Janet was in my brother's class, two grades above me, but our social circle was the same, since my boyfriend was part of that circle. Janet made me laugh, and she took good care of me. Our life together was constant adventure, punctuated by bouts of angst. I picture us in oxford shirts and jeans, sweaters slung over our shoulders, feet bare in Docksiders. We hung out at the Yacht Club, at Pooters, at the bay, the golf course, and people's houses. There was always something going on back then; we lived in a small town that thrived on parties. Somewhere along the line Janet and I, imagining ourselves old ladies, nicknamed each other Myrtle and Bernice. We are closer now to those old ladies than we are to our teenage selves.
And then Janet graduated. We had one last wild summer together, and then Janet started college, leaving me to re-establish friendships with classmates my own age. The next years are a blur in my memory, and then, during my senior year in college, we faced death. When we lost Bryan, everything shifted. Janet, always more stable than I, grew more determined and purposeful. And I, shaken and weary, plodded ahead. From his casket we took a piece of blue ribbon, which we shared and carried in our wedding bouquets.
We are linked by blue ribbon and a hundred nights of bonfires and bar stools. We are linked by a hometown with streets that haven't changed, by the red and black of our high school, by marriage and births and a death that froze our past and altered our future. It is a good, good thing to have a lifetime friend, who knew you from the moment you began forming into an adult, and with whom conversation—and laughter—still come easily.
Happy Birthday, Myrtle. Or are you Bernice?