Monday, December 8, 2008

::life savers::

I grew up the youngest of four kids; youngest by six years. Until I was 9 we lived in a beautiful little town in central Idaho, Garden Valley, population probably somewhere around 124 at the time. We knew every one and every one knew us. Then when I was 9, my dad, a game warden with the Idaho Fish and Game, got a promotion and we moved away from our wonderful little log cabin in the woods and moved to THE BIG CITY, Boise.

I was incredibly lost and overwhelmed living in a neighborhood, and, as expected, I fell in with the kind of kids that you don't want your children hanging around with. Those are always the kids who will take in a new-comer; they are misfits themselves, so there are no high-standards you must meet in order to become a member of their group. These girls were older than me by a couple of years, and from crazy, seriously dysfunctional families.

One of them, R., had lost her mom to cancer. Her dad was a creepy Jr. High band-teacher who blatently leered at her and her friends as we passed through the kitchen and left his Playboy and Penthouse magazines in the bathroom. Now that I am older I am certain (based on her advanced sexual knowledge and inappropriate behavior) that he was molesting my friend, his daughter.

Another one, L., had, at the age of 10, the body of a very mature teenager; an older man who lived in a house a few blocks from our elementary school took notice and began inviting her in to his house for a coke every day on our walk home from school. No one else was invited or allowed inside.

Another friend, B., lived in a rickety, old, falling-down house with no furniture other than mattresses on the floor. The house was always full mangy dogs, cats with ring-worm, and an endless parade of drug-addicts, carnies and (inexplicably) cross-dressers.

This was back in the day when kids left the house in the morning and our parents really had NO idea where we were, who we were with or what we were doing, as long as we were home by dark. Even then I knew that these were "bad kids", the wrong crowd, and yet it was all I had. I can only imagine the course my life would have taken had I not met my friend Kim.

Kim lived just two blocks from me. We were the same age, but had never had the same teacher. Then one summer I was in Spokane (Washington) with my grandma visiting my uncle. My grandma and I were downtown shopping when I saw a familiar little red-head coming toward us. We shyly said hello, and my grandma and her mother started a conversation, marveling that Kim and I lived in the same neighborhood in Boise and then ran into each other in downtown Spokane. Turns out Kim and her mom were in town visiting her grandma. Meanwhile, Kim and I were staring at each other's shoes: we both had on brand-spanking new identical blue suede Earth Shoes. (Shut up. Earth Shoes were very IN in 1976. And they're back in now, you know.) Before parting ways, we agreed on a play-date the next day at her grandma's house.

Once back in Boise, we began to hang out even though we still didn't have the same 5th grade teacher. By 6th grade we were in the same class and we became inseparable. She was funny as hell and SMART. I was enthralled by her parents, her mom especially. Jennifer had been just SEVENTEEN when Kim was born (it was 1964 after all); so when we were 10, her mother was a very hip 27 year old. Her parents smoked pot, listened to National Public Radio, drove convertible European cars, and discussed politics at the dinner table. Kim and I were as close as sisters all through jr. high and high school. But I could never understand why she was so MORTIFIED when we'd come home and her mom would be mowing the front yard in a teeeny macrame bikini, or when they had dinner parties full of other interesting 30-somethings and we would come downstairs to find them passing around a bong and singing along to the Beatles White Album. Me, I was completely smitten.

Not to discredit my own parents, who were also smart and funny and loved me. But, well, they were OLD. My mom was 33 when she had me; heck, she was practically a GRANDMA (43!!) by the time I was 10. (Hi mom! I love you! I'm sorry I thought you were old. Now I'm almost 44 and my daughter is only 8. Pay back time.) Anyway, I have always felt that Kim's mom had a huge influence on me in terms of style and books and my addiction to NPR.

When Kim and I were 16, my father was murdered. It was beyond horrible; I was in complete shock and denial for the longest time. I couldn't (or wouldn't) allow myself to hurt or to feel anything, really. Kim's mom Jennifer helped me then, too, all but forcing me to come to terms with my father's death. Then, a year or so later, Kim's parents divorced and she was devastated. I was able to be there for her, and we made it through the insanity that is jr. high and high school together.

During our 20s and 30s, Kim and I drifted apart (we were almost TOO close, you know?) and at one point had a falling out over something stupid and did not speak to each other for several years. Her mom Jennifer and I both lived in Oregon at the same time, and kept in very loose touch. When they came to the coast they would stop by, and a couple of times Eric and I visited Jennifer and her new husband in Bend. Then I heard through old friends that Kim's dad died. I contacted her to tell her how sorry I was and how much I'd admired him, and we've been back on ever since.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because guess who called me out of the blue on Saturday? Yes, Jennifer. She was in Spokane (which, in a bizarre twist of fate is where I live now) visiting relatives and asked if they could come by to say hello and to meet David and Anna. (Ironically, Kim and I both married east-coast Jews named David.) Jennifer looks just the same, and we had a WONDERFUL visit, talking about politics and comparing notes on books we've read lately. It felt so good to finally be a grown-up (as opposed to the messed up little punk I was in high-school) and to have her in my house.

And, AND later in the week when my mom and I go to NY, we get to see Kim, too. Both of them in one week? It's almost too good to be true.


Robyn said...

My childhood was full of bongs and Beatles and macrame bikinis - but no NPR or politics. I wonder how differently I would have turned out had that been the case.

This is a great story.

Dee said...

Wow ! I am so glad you and Kim found each other---I had no idea that your "friends" were so screwed up. And I am thankful and grateful to Jennifer for helping you through such a terrible time when I was definately a zombie.
And how sweet it is that Jennifer still keeps in touch with you and wanted to meet your wonderful family.
Next time you talk to her, give her my love and thanks.

jpogue said...

I love your stories sister! It's always fun to find out things you don't know about somebody in your own family!

Fancy Schmancy said...

That is a really amazing story. So very sorry to hear about your father, though. Have you ever written about it so I could go back and find it without asking any stupid and painful questions?