Friday, August 07, 2009

'and as we're crossing border after border we realize that difference is none...'

Almost a year ago, after visiting her over Labor Day weekend, I tried to write something about Arielle, or Ari, as she used to be known. She's been trying to wean people off of calling her that for over fifteen years now but I claim certain privileges, certain rights, in that our friendship goes back much further even than that. Or maybe it's just that I'm stubborn, I don't know.

My Arielle, my Ari, my Ari-love, has been around a long time. We met in first grade, in Mrs. Barker the one-armed teacher's class, when my family first moved to Westchester and I had to start a brand new school in May. I don't think we became friends right away -- it took at least that summer and then Mrs. Ryan's second grade class. But we've pretty much been stuck with each other ever since.

Arielle and I, along with our friend Amy Crow, made up a whole planet together. We named it Ten Stars, and played it and wrote about it and fought over it. Who knew that nine-year-old girls could fight so bitterly over intellectual property rights and vindictively lay claim to entire worlds? Yet in that world nine-year-old girls were kings, garbed in chain mail and gowns of spun diamond (and sometimes asbestos, after having read somewhere that asbestos withstands fire -- dragon slayers must be prepared, after all! It wasn't until years later that we learned of the dangers of asbestos, and that wearing it might not be such a great idea despite its fire-breathing-dragon defense capabilities).

We remained friends through high school despite running more often than not with different crowds. She and her mother decorated at least one Christmas tree with us, and partook in our traditional clam chowder afterward. She and her father took me to the last CPR class I needed for my life-guarding certification two days after my father's death. She still talks with trepidation about the one time my mother gave her (as she puts it) the evil eye: the day my mother walked in on us dying my hair pitch black the summer after 11th grade. I still talk every once in awhile about a particularly awkward evening at the dinner table our senior year, when my mother asked me if we were lovers (and, perhaps more pressingly, if those Marlboro Reds in my bag were hers or mine).

We remained friends through college, though she headed north to Bard and I fled south to Barnard (all of 101.78 miles apart, at least as the crow flies, but it felt sometimes much further than that). We spoke with each other every so often, saw each other even less. But I still have a letter she wrote to me during those years, after having come clean to her about my own college-aged misery. She wrote, and I quote, "Please call me. Even if you don't want to talk about what's going on, we can sit in silence, we can talk about the mating habits of ruby-throated hummingbirds, whatever." (Even then, I wasn't much of one for phones.)

We've remained friends all these years since, sharing our joy in new loves, dismay in bad habits, early attempts at haute cuisine (by which I mean strange late-night concoctions and gallons and gallons of coffee and hours spent in intense and/or inane conversation over bagel sandwiches in the various towns in which we've lived over the years, from Mohegan Lake to Manhattan to Annandale-on-Hudson to Philadelphia to New Paltz to Brooklyn to Anacortes to Kingston to Catskill and back again), and a certain mutual affection for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And that's kind of the friendship we have: this ability to hold everything, to carry everything, that the other has to offer, whether it is beautiful or joyful or horrifying or ridiculous or worrying or merely mundane.

Jenna and I were talking the other evening about names. She seems not to have too many nicknames, at least that I know of, but she was wondering about mine. I've had a lot of nicknames over the years, from Loutche Dan (courtesy of my mother, as mutated from Emily to Emmy-lou to Loutche (pronounced Loo-chie) to Loutche Dan) to Emiyere (courtesy of little Nora for whom I babysat, and for whom the letter "l" just wasn't quite happening) to Snookums (courtesy of Catrin, who claimed I had an affinity for a particularly fuzzy-headed muppet in The Muppets Take Manhattan, I think) to the Dark One (courtesy of Sarah someone in high school, because of my attire of choice) to Emma or Emmy (courtesy of many people, many dear people, Nathan and Cindy and Erik and Chris amongst them) to Emma-Lemma (courtesy of Nathan alone).

But of them all, I think the most beloved, the most dear to me, has been Emma-love, thanks to my Arielle, my Ari, my Ari-love. And for this I am grateful. For its silliness, and its affection, and its endurance.

We spent Labor Day weekend together last year, with her Patrick and my Chris & Andrew, and there was no doubt, given the intensity of these pairs, that I was a fifth wheel. But because of her, and because of this inescapable history we share, I felt anything but left out. We carried on in our normal fashion, cooking and gossiping and arguing and laughing uncontrollably at ourselves and at the menfolk in the other room and at the state of the world at large. We understood and misunderstood each other, skipped and tripped over words and phrases and ideas, had long discussions culminating in things like "But eggs don't fly!," at which point we had to circle around again to the beginning, had to figure out what we were saying and where we'd gone wrong and whether there had ever been any sense in it in the first place, leading to even more laughter that startled the men and scattered the cats and caused us to giggle together all the more.

There's not much more to say about my Ari-love, so I guess I'll leave it at that.

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