Sunday, May 18, 2014

Finding Some Peace After a Rollerblading Jaunt

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"Joy and pain are like sunshine and rain" -- Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock

I'm not sure which photo moves me more. Last night, I photographed the nearly in-bloom peonies in the rain and this afternoon, they were sunbathing in full bloom. I witnessed their sun bath when I returned from rollerblading. I lay down on the lawn and photographed them.

Music Joint-filled Jaunt

I have a semi-secret place I go to rollerblade, where I don't need to wear a helmet and where I can sing along to my iPod with no fear of cars. I'm not a fancy figure-skating type, but I'm highly-proficient, with 45 years of skating experience. After swimming, ice-skating was the first sport I learned -- both at four years old. Today's jaunt featured 30 minutes worth of the "B"'s of my iPod:

  • Baghdad Cafe (Callin' U), A:Xus - At 22, the lyrics, "...a desert road from Vegas to nowhere, someplace better than where you've been" helped me end the first full-fledged relationship I had with another woman, as I figured that a road to nowhere would still be better than where I had been.
  • Be Near Me, ABC - In high school, my friend and her family were new immigrants and lived in a condo, rather than a house, but they had MTV and we didn't. Roxy Music and ABC were featured on it at the time.
  • Beautiful, Bombay Rockers - I cannot relate to the girl to whom they're referring in this song, as they say she's in 7th Grade and everyone's mean to her because they are jealous of her. In 7th Grade, I was just willing myself to develop and be noticed by anyone for something other than being tall.
  • Beautiful, Me'Shell Ndegeocello - Her music is among my favorite for rollerblading; it transports me beyond where the rollerblades can because her voice is lush and she's usually telling a story I relate to, or imagine I could. I can't recall when I first heard Me'Shell Ndegeocello's music -- probably when I lived in Chicago -- but I've loved it ever since.
  • Beautiful Girl, Bombay Rockers - When Pat & I lived in Bangalore for six months in 2007, a helpful Planet M employee recommended the Bombay Rockers when I asked him to suggest an Indian pop group whose music was cheerful with a beat.
  • Beautiful Stranger, Madonna - This album reminds me of being with a couple of IBM colleagues in Madrid, Kris and Miguel. They took me dancing at a lesbian club and Madonna's latest music played then. This song was older, but it still conjured that time for me as I was rollerblading today. "Hung Up", I think, was one of the current hits then, in 2006.
  • Before I Let Go, Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly - The melody was so cheerful, but it belied the singer's reluctance to let go of his beloved, and so when it first came out in '81 and now, I ignored the lyrics and focused on the good mood its melody inspired in me.

As I pulled off my wrist-guards and 'blades, "The Best Is Yet to Come" was playing and I couldn't wait to get home to work on this blog-post. As it has turned out, I could detail only memories triggered by my iPod playlist and then needed to leave the rest of it overnight. It was too challenging to write this next part. But today, a day later, I'm moved to do so:

It's Facebook's Fault

The other night, in my Facebook stream, I saw a picture of my first and former best friend's mom from when she was probably in her early-20s. My former best friend's older brother and only sibling had posted it on Mother's Day as a memorial tribute. She was a beautiful woman whose features were so different from any of the women's in my family; she was blond with a bit of an upturned nose and seemed exotic to me. She died several years ago, but I found out only recently. Even after my friend and I were no longer friends, our mothers remained friends for 35 years, until my former friend's mom moved away. My mother wondered aloud with me recently, "I wonder if she is still alive. I'm afraid she isn't."

"I'll go on Facebook and see if I can find out." And I searched for the brother's name and found him. Yes, their beloved mother had died several years ago. And she was sort of another, early mother to me, too. What was an appropriate amount of grief for someone I had known for only four years, 40 years ago?

A Hot Dog with Every Visit

My former best friend and I met when we were four, in nursery school. I'd get off the bus with her from school nearly daily and then I was there on weekends, too. I took it for granted. It was automatic. My sisters were more than half a decade and nearly a decade older than I, and at my friend's house, the kids -- my former friend and her brother -- were my age or just a few years older. My former friend's brother became as close as I'd ever get to having a brother and their curly, sweet Airedale became a quasi-pet for me. Relatively, their dad wasn't around as often as their mom, and their mom became another mother to me. She fed us, asking what we'd like for lunch and I always asked for a hot dog. At home, my mother made salami and eggs sometimes, but hot dogs were only for dinner and not very commonly.

At school, we learned to ice-skate and my former friend was a better skater than I, learning to skate backwards sooner and she took figure-skating lessons. By contrast, I was steady and confident minus any tricks; that steadiness served me for rollerskating and rollerblading, starting in my early teens. During my jaunt yesterday, I thought of the little rink by our school, where we'd go throughout the winters from ages four to eight. Probably, she kept going there, but I don't know, as our friendship was over by the time her father died, when we were eight.

My former friend's dad was many years older than her mother and still, his death was premature, from a disease. He took us kite-flying once, at the Stamford branch of UCONN. I was impatient and then it was fun when he helped me, so that my kite finally became airborne. Our dads liked each other, too, and at one point, I think they were working on a pie-slicing invention together, but it didn't happen. They hatched a number of ideas that they didn't commercialize. I think they just liked using their imaginations together -- like my former friend and I did, for four years.

My former friend was better at everything than I and I loved going over to her house and doing whatever she initiated. Make Spin Art? Sure. Help put a pair of her flowered, cotton underpants on the dog? Yes. Play with her Barbie camper, and always agree to be Skipper while she was Barbie? Indeed. Sit in their guest cottage at a small table, where she held a glass paperweight and told my fortune? Definitely. Look for arrowheads under an overhanging boulder on their property that my former friend said was an Indian shelter? Yes! Help collect eggs from the chicken-coop? Of course. Hang upside-down off the back of the couch, singing along to the lyrics of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree"? Why not?

Were Differing Degrees of Literacy a Harbinger for the Inevitable End of the Friendship?

My former friend was reading The Wind in the Willows when we were five and I would not learn to read for another year. That same winter, she sent me a postcard from her family's vacation in Barbados. It was in her block-print handwriting and not only couldn't I write yet myself, I had to ask my mother to read it to me.

Maybe my former friend was tired of our differing aptitudes. Maybe she was sick of initiating what we'd do when we played together. Maybe she related to what she read in *The Wind in the Willows*, "Here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing!" I never did read the book. I simply cheated just now and found a quote and imagined her latching onto that sentiment. I didn't need new horizons. I never needed to be anywhere but shuttled back and forth between my family's house and hers. I could have done that for years longer. I wondered why it ended. She stopped calling and I never asked.

Nine Years Later, a Shivah Call

When my father died of cancer at 56, my friendship with my former best friend had been finished for nearly a decade. I was a senior in high school, 17. My former friend's mother paid a shivah call, since she was friends with my mother, but when I saw her, I felt as though she had come to see me even though she had probably come to comfort my mother as much or more than she had come to be kind to me. Her visit was a relief. She offered to take a walk with me and I don't recall our conversation during the walk. I had written her a note, in case she came, and gave it to her at the end of our walk. In the note, I told my former friend's mom that I was less grief-stricken than I might have been, since I felt like I still had two parents, since she had been so motherly to me in my early years.

No One is Perfect

Nearly 20 years ago, I saw my former friend's mother one more time. My eventual wife Pat & I were visiting my mom -- from St. Charles, Illinois, where we lived at the time. I don't recall the context, but my mom suggested we drop by my former friend's mother's home. My memory is that Pat was with me, but she doesn't recall the visit, so perhaps not. My former friend's mother was as beautiful as she had ever been, and seemed the same, just visibly older, and so did I...except that I had also publicly chosen a woman as my future spouse (whenever it would be legal to marry her), whereas when I was a kid and an adolescent, my former friend's mother did not need to acknowledge a romantic relationship I would have with anyone of my own gender.

Some years later, my mother told me that my former friend's mother told my mom that she couldn't accept my lesbianism. My hot-dog-providing-loving-beautiful-kind-other mother was telling my actual mother that she could not reconcile it. Fortunately, she never told me her feelings. She must have loved me too much to want to hurt me by telling me.

Finding Some Peace, and Again, It Was Facebook's Fault

While I had seen my former friend's mom once as an adult, I never saw my former friend again, after her brother's bar mitzvah, when we were nine or 10. And we were practically strangers by then, or at least that's how it felt. Over the years, I've thought, what would my former friend say if I asked her why she ended our friendship? She got bored? Or worse, what if she didn't even recall why? And why did this rejection still hurt me 40 years later? And what would we have had in common if we had remained friends anyhow? Once we no longer went to the same school, what was left? Is that what occurred to her then -- that we had too little in common to stay friends?

Historically, whenever I've thought of this former friend, I've time-traveled back to being eight and sitting across the aisle and behind her at her father's funeral and feeling sad not only about her dad's death, but also at the death of our friendship. The other night, though, something sort of soothing happened: After seeing the memorial photo on my former friend's brother's Facebook wall, I commented on it, describing how lovely their mother had been to me. Later the same night, my former friend's college-aged daughter clicked, "Like" on my comment.

What the heck, I thought: I'm curious if I'll be able to see any photos of the daughter and maybe of my former friend. Why not click on the daughter's profile? I did so. And I got to see both of my former friend's kids -- a teenage boy and college-aged young woman. And then my former friend! I clicked on photo after photo, finding the facial features I recalled from our childhood and was amazed to see them on this grown woman. Being able to at least see what she looked like as an adult was a bit of comfort.

Americans in Paris

Just as I was beginning to feel stalker-ish, a beautiful photo emerged: My former friend and her daughter were standing on a sidewalk in France apparently and my former friend was holding a poster that urged, in French, equality for her daughter, and the daughter was holding a rainbow flag and French poster that declared, I love my mother who accepts me. I don't know the sexual orientation of my former friend's daughter, except that currently, she does not identify as heterosexual.

Maybe my former friend and I had more in common after all, or maybe she had more in common with my mother, and I with her daughter. It reminded me that all of us are more connected than we realize, even as there are vast differences among people. And I thought of the 1995 Pride Parade in Paris; I was in France on business and Pat had to work, so my mom came with me and during the weekend, we marched with the Beth Haverim Juif Homo (Beth Haverim Jewish congregation's gay) delegation.

There we were, nearly two decades apart: two American mothers and two American daughters from three generations, demonstrating ultimate loyalty to each other on the streets of Paris. And if that's the peace I can take from our having been friends, it's enough. I think I feel closer to my former friend now that I've seen that photo than I did when we were friends. Here are some snapshots of my mom's and my experience at the 1995 Paris Pride Parade:

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