At a glance, our lives looked quite different. Joan knew how to play piano. I envied that about her until I saw how she was required to practice for 30 minutes everyday after school. She also had to rotate the sheets on her twin bed weekly – i.e. take the top sheet and move it to the bottom of her bed … and then … the bottom sheet went into the laundry. On Fridays, if memory serves. And, when I slept over, I learned that her mom checked her toothbrush to ensure it was wet. I don’t remember clean teeth ever being an issue at my house. But then again, I am only presuming that my sheets got washed … at least occasionally … and a mouthful of silver fillings would suggest that the relative lack of scrutiny and discipline in my home was probably not the best thing either.
She wasn’t even allowed to open her Christmas presents until they had finished a full sit-down breakfast … and … the dishes were all washed, dried and put away. I couldn’t tell you what dish soap was squirted into the sink at our house, but I distinctly recall that at Joan’s house, they used Ivory Snow … a powder detergent. It made the dishes REALLY slippery … and therefore … decidedly dangerous for the dish ‘dryer’. The dish ‘washer’ needed rubber gloves with little white cotton liners to tolerate the scalding hot water that filled both the wash sink and a rinse sink. In contrast to that, their house looked like an ice cube shaped igloo … it had a flat roof and was constructed out of painted white cinder blocks. Although I remember a marble and metal elegance about it on the inside … it felt a bit cold to me … somehow. Not that Joan and I ever discussed it back then.
Joan’s mom had a different last name and she seemed somewhat stiff and properly proper. Or, maybe even terse. Nonetheless, she annually made a really impressive chocolate log cake on June 9th … Joan’s birthday. Unlike most moms back then, she owned a business and worked outside the home. Joan had three siblings that I don’t recall seeing very much. I do remember her step father though. He was around more than her mother. He drank a lot. I knew tipsy when I saw it. I never felt as though they liked me much. Of course, I assumed it was because of my less than Hallmark family life. I was always praying people wouldn’t notice that …
Yes, there were some visible differences in our orbits. But upon closer inspection, there were striking similarities. We looked a lot alike … we were both fair-skinned, fair-haired, very shy and easily embarrassed. We both did really well in school and were ‘accelerated’ along with five other kids in elementary school. One year, for ‘back-to-school’, we unwittingly arrived at school in the exact same off-white fisherman knit sweater from Sears and a teacher mistook me for Joan. And, I’ll never forget that in grade five, we two got picked to go with Mr. Moyer to the art gallery on a Saturday morning. I learned Joan was allergic to Brazil nuts that day. And, as I recall, neither of us were particularly interested in athletics.
It’s been over five decades since our friendship blossomed … perhaps cultivated by an unspoken, intrinsic knowing that we were more alike than we were different. When the family is precarious … uncertain or undesirable … friendship assumes a more central role in our feelings of security. At least it did for me. Our friendship held such deep and abiding space in my heart. I am not sure Joan ever knew how integral she was to my sense of self-worth and well-being back then. Or … how often I feel grateful now for her encouraging energy and inspiring presence in my circle.
A couple of years ago, while I was working through some of the bumpiest parts of my own path, I disclosed a painful ‘aha’ that was deeply personal and not particularly flattering on my blog. You may want to follow the link and read that posting first in order to better understand the loving, empathetic and heart-aching response Joan shared in the comments section of that blog:
“I sobbed big crocodile tears as [I] read this blog. I hurt deeply for two girls who grew up together who both came from dysfunction and who both felt that they were unworthy. We have been friends for half a century and in many ways we walked such similar paths and in many ways kept much of it hidden. Although you knew my step father was an alcoholic what you didn’t know was my mother was also diagnosed with mental illness. My mother was not diagnosed until much later in life after I had been diagnosed with a brain injury from her repeated beatings. My mother was diagnosed as a fairly severe sociopath and I was her target. So please let me share this with you my friend. I too took that cape off. I took it off a few years ago, and looking back I ask myself why I carried that heavy thing around for so long??? I am in a place now where I can look at the part of my life and say “thank you”. I believe that the universe brings us all things, including our challenges, for a reason. I know that those experiences in my childhood made me a much better parent and a much better counselor. The experiences of my childhood followed up by 2 abusive marriages have allowed me to relate to and help 100’s of people. I promise you, it will be easier and easier to leave that cape off and let people see the “messy” you, the “real” you. With each day you will feel lighter and lighter because that cape was getting heavier and heavier with each passing year. Welcome to this wonderful new world my friend! You are going to love it! Love Joan xoxo”
I was so deeply touched when I received her compassionate, candid and completely transparent response. My friend has been through so much, but … you wouldn’t sense that when you meet her. She has done her own healing work and has adamantly refused to be reduced by the unfortunate circumstances in which she landed. And, she has generously taken all that she has learned and created a career which allows her to counsel and assist others in rising above the pains of their past. She is an amazing example of how we can turn our wounds into wisdom and how we can use our adverse experiences to serve the greater good.
Joan, despite the geographical distance that has existed between us over the last 40 years … our friendship has thrived. And, although I wish we could sip a little red wine together more often, I feel indebted to Facebook for very effectively bridging the physical space between us. I am so darn grateful to Mark Zuckerberg for that! I can feel your energetic alignment with the divine every time I ‘see’ you on your Facebook Business Page … Inspired Wellness & Hypnotherapy. I want you to know how much I look forward to nourishing myself with the wealth of compassion, inspiration and hope conveyed on your page. I’m not sure there has ever been a post that I didn’t ‘like’ and/or share. You speak clear through to my heart … in so many ways!
My wise and wonderful friend, I marvel at your unwavering commitment to inspire others and support them in unwrapping the gifts that are tucked into the trials and tribulations in their own lives. In fact, I immediately thought of you when I recently came across a beautiful affirmation written by my mentor Debbie Ford. It occurred to me that it so aptly mirrors your beautiful beingness …
And so, with this tribute, I thank you for the brilliant, bright glow you cast upon this planet! I want you to know that I am so much better because of your presence in my life … both then and now. You are such a beautiful person … in the most meaningful sense of that word. I know that you are a gift of grace to so many people … and … I really do hope that you receive as much light and love as you so generously offer to the rest of us! ❤
With deepest appreciation for all the beautiful ways that you and our life long friendship has inspired me, Love Karen xoxo
P.S. It strikes me that we still look a lot alike … even without the off-white fisherman knit! 🙂