My favorite episode of Sex and The City is the one in which the four women are sitting at the lunch table talking about men and soul mates. At one point Charlotte says she thinks the four women should be each other’s soul mates, instead of looking to the men in their lives to fulfill that need.
I love this idea because it says so much about the power of friendship between women; it also reminds me of my best friend Jodine.
Both fresh out of college, we met in Pan Am training, moved to San Francisco, and began the friendship that changed both our lives. We flew to Hong Kong and Tokyo and all over the place, laughing all the way. After a year of flying we got laid off, and she moved back to New York. I stayed in San Francisco and met the man who became my ex-husband. Jodine stayed in New York and went back to flying while going to law school. Through the years we went through all the things that women do: unworthy boyfriends (hers), an imploding marriage (mine), illnesses, cats, cars, shoes, bags, debts, heartaches, and happiness.
We were always miles from each other but it never mattered, we just got closer and closer. There were no secrets we hadn’t told each other and nothing we couldn’t say to the other person. We never had a cross word and each conversation started right where the last one left off. We drove each other crazy once in awhile, too. She often used to make a second call to me after we’d talked for hours, just to tell me how much I meant to her; sometimes I just didn’t see the point.
We shuttled back and forth between coasts, hiking in the Bay Area and shopping in Westchester County. We went to tango shows, planned to go to the opera, the Four Corners. Happy in each other’s company, we laughed our way through adventures and years.
We made plans, and the best was our “Old Lady Plan.” Quite simply, we planned to get old together and the men in our lives were welcome to come along for the fun. Houses or apartments, side by side, wheelchairs at the ready if our legs would no longer carry us. I figured the biggest problem would be finding space for the duplicate “stuff” we bought for each other over the years, or the strays she kept on adopting!
Jodine was fierce in her love for the abandoned or underprivileged, always championing the underdog, especially if it had four paws. She loved the law, her friends, the color pink, and life in all its forms.
About ten years ago Jodine got sick with an auto immune disease. It really took a toll on her, but she wanted to lead a normal life, and mostly succeeded. She went to Johns Hopkins for treatment and came back the most beautiful bald woman I’ve ever seen. Jodine went on with spirits undimmed, telling me one day that she thought the illness had made her a better, kinder person, and it was not one of the things in her life she would change if she could.
She bought a house and adopted three dogs. I screamed “potential hoarder” over the last one, Mojo, but he turned out to be a blessing with his sweet ways and loving nature. I have a picture from that time with Jodine, hair grown out, smiling, all in pink, an arm wrapped around Mojo. I keep it on my desk at home and at work, and smile every time I glance at it.
Shortly after that photo was taken Jodine was diagnosed with stage 3B lung cancer. Starting out with a chronic disease, the fight was going to be brutal, and she came back from chemo a different kind of bald. We planned to go to Santa Fe for the opera, to see Carmen, and she bought cowboy boots in preparation. We lived our lives and intended to do the things we loved, because what else can you do?
We never made it to Santa Fe. Jodine passed away seven months after her diagnosis, her friend Kathi close by. I had been back two weeks before and knew the end was coming, so did she. I got the call the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and flew back for the funeral the next day. The service was packed, and we all agreed she would have been amazed at the number of people whose lives she had touched. Those of us who loved her weren’t surprised at all. Her hospice nurse adopted Jodine’s nearly toothless rescue Chihuahua, Shirley, and brought her after the service in a pink dog coat. It was perfect, and totally Jodine.
Where to now? I don’t know. I go about my day, act as if I’m fine and once in awhile I am. I have loving and compassionate partner, who’s been through his own losses, but I don’t want to talk about how I feel to him. I’m not angry over what I can’t change. I have been well schooled in acceptance over the last few years, and understand its harsh ways, but who ever said acceptance was comforting?
Even so, I can’t contemplate letting go of my grief. I want to feel that clenched fist around my heart and the pain that slices against the back of my knees, threatening to knock me down. I want to keep my grief and pain close, as if somehow that will keep Jodine near me. Of course I know it won’t, but it doesn’t stop me trying.
It might help if I had friends in San Francisco who knew her well, who could laugh with me about her high heel obsession, spendy ways, and the naughty chuckle, but most of her other friends are on the East Coast. Long distance calls with both people sobbing into cell phones just doesn’t work, and we can’t seem to span the distance and make a new connection, separate from Jodine.
Elizabeth II of England famously said that “grief is the price we pay for love.” Strangely, I find that enormously comforting. So, I grieve and go forward. I cherish my old friendships and take heart from the possibility of unexpected new ones. And every once in while I look at that picture on my desk and say: “I get it. Those second calls meant the world to me, and so did you.”