Friday, December 5, 2014

Seat next to me in Ms. Davis’ class

Way back in senior AP English – high school, we're taking – I sat by Ruth. She was the new kid in school and we just sort of found each other, perhaps because we were seated together. I don’t remember. What I do recall is that every day, when I would give her a look, she would glance at her watch and, with a smile, confirm that it, indeed, was 10:15 a.m. It became our inside joke as we endured a very tough, but as we would discover later, very wonderful writing teacher. We hung in the same crowd, kids who studied and chose activities like newspaper and yearbook, language clubs and honor society.

We packed off to Miami together. I lived on one end of campus and Ruth, on the other. We had our own friends and connected frequently. She was in international studies, while I took journalism/political science. Junior year, she traipsed off to Europe and that’s when I realized how much I missed her. She wrote terrific reports of her studies and travels on those light-blue, thin airmail sheets. When one arrived, I savored every morsel. Early that summer, she returned home with a souvenir for me: an oversized glass from the Hofbrau Haus. As in from Munich, Germany. Not across the river in Covington. She’d stuffed it in her down jacket ... the things we for for friends. I’m sure she’d more than paid for it by the beverages she had consumed.

We talked about the stein and her counterpart last weekend as we collected our families together at Findlay Market and a jaunt to Rhinegeist Brewery, which resembles an old, German beer hall. We meet every other Thanksgiving weekend, when she journeys to Cincinnati from her home in Chicago. We’ve watched our kids grow from toddlers to high schoolers and always pick up where they left off , usually over something goofy. Our spouses get on well, too.

When Ruth returned between junior and senior years in college, I asked if she’d be my roommate in the apartment I had shared with two other women, who were moving on. She was the best roomie, open to doing anything and clear about when it was time for me to clean the bathroom when I had slacked off. No nonsense and no drama. We had a lot of fun that year, highlighted by our third roommate, Didge, whom Ruth met freshman by the luck of the draw. I’ve got some ridiculous pictures of the three of us in shorts and antique, black hats left behind in the closet. I loved our cooking arrangement: I prepped and they cleaned up. We’d have grand Sunday feasts of roast chicken that made our friends envious and I could walk away from the dishes.
I convinced Ruth to become a little sis at the fraternity I had joined freshman year. After all, she already felt like a sister. We were together a lot senior year. I remember her parents retrieving us after graduation with a full-sized U-haul to schlep our belongings home. I located a reporting job in a tough market just north of Cincinnati, she headed to Philadelphia for paralegal school.

Then life got a little busy, though we stayed loosely connected. She ended up in Chicago and I got married. We visited her in her Mary-Tyler-Moore apartment on top of an old Victorian, then wondered if our new diesel would start in frigid Chicago temperatures one winter when she lived in a sophisticated flat. When she snagged a great guy, we attended a wonderful Windy City weekend. I am still somewhat resentful that we were prevented from celebrating their Elvis party one winter due to an ice storm. We almost made it to Indianapolis with our life-sized Elvis cutout in tow.

She had a son and a year later, I had a daughter. Two years later, one of us called the other to discover that, at 40, we were both pregnant. It was so affirming not to be the only older mother!

A few years ago, Ruth was dealt the blow of breast cancer. She hung tough and came through with flying colors. I am still amazed at her strength and ability to take so much in stride. More recently, her mother and I have bonded over our fibromyalgia, another link in our relationship.

I’d have to say she’s my oldest and dearest friend. When we were parting last Saturday and giving each other a final hug, Ruth said “How many people can you see every few years and pick up right where you left off?”

Ruth and I can and for that I am eternally grateful!

• Who is my oldest and dearest friend?
• How do I honor that relationship?
• What makes that shared history so special?
• How do some, special friends become the family we choose?
• How do I treasure and maintain my friendships?

she whirled in
from St. Louis
senior year

I’d already
made my friends
since we’d transplanted
nine years earlier

yet we were
drawn together
English class,
as room mates,
by travels,
and relocation,
and time

so grateful
she landed
in that seat
next to me
in Ms. Davis’

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