It was the late 1970s and I was 17. The high Summer heat was just beginning to subside but this being Florida we would still have barely been dressed. I was waiting for the bus to take me to school. Already the humidity was making its mark on my damp skin.
I had moved away from my hometown further south, away from my parents’ divorce, away from high jinx, from trouble. I had big plans. I was in transit, on my way to fashion college in New York City and this was just about finishing my last year of high school without getting into too much trouble.
It was meant to be a sort of drying-out time – like that temperature controlled room in Padua you are directed through before being allowed into Giotto’s Chapel to see the famous frescos, the actual thing. A cleaning up time, a time to go straight. A decompression chamber.
So there I was - at this bus stop waiting. At 17 I was waiting for life to begin. Up until now it had all been a dress rehearsal, or so I thought. Next year, in the big city, it would be real.
Now, if you are an Instagram user, put your ‘early bird’ filter on. The one that washes everything with the beam of daybreak. Here comes Lacy – that’s her – my new best friend. Everything sort of slows down when I think of it. Maybe I just go into Southern time. The girl standing next to me at the bus stop straightens herself up, arches her back, and with a swish of the hips, a bat of her lashes and the softest drawl asks, ‘Hey, aren’t you in my class?’
The Spanish Moss, hanging like a veil, begins to sway in the breeze, almost in rhythm with Lacy’s hips. And that was it. That year I was never going to be alone at a bus stop again.
Well, that’s how I remember it. Oh and the crickets – there would have been crickets – the soundtrack to my childhood.
Later I would learn that Lacy is just a natural born flirt – she flirts with everyone and everything; my mom, the guy at the grocery store, even the rocks and plants she now works with as a landscape architect. And we all react to her energy.
So she took me under her wing. She was a local and I was just passing through. Only it turned out that instead of a stop-gap year best friends fling, this friendship and this place would be a place I returned to again and again. It was a touchstone time and place and Lacy had helped guide me to it. She took my broken lost débutante soul and lead me to the swamp – to the earth. She has ever since been my guide to nature, to touching the soil. Sometimes it’s only by getting dirty that we begin to get clean, to heal.
We have now lived thirty three autumns from that first bus ride. There were other trips. The following autumn, with my Mom, we drove together the 1100 miles to New York City. We showed up at Studio 54 together in our crochet tops and gauze skirts – disco heels from the thrift shop (Lace) and Burdines (I was always the big spender). Lace leaned to me as the bouncer gave us the once over and whispered ‘I think we look like a couple of Florida girls’. He still let us in.
Life had begun.
I returned to the swamp the next summer and her dad’s homegrown music studio was our cabin. We lived off the land like a couple of pioneers. No bathroom, we showered in the open, stole corn from the fields, made blueberry honey sandwiches. Maybe now I can be in the city, I can tolerate the grey and the cold, because I know Lacy is living my alternative life, back in the Florida swamp. On a cold grey London day when the sky looks like slate I know she is there, digging in the sun, getting dirty, flirting with the alligators.
Best friends, they change everything. I hope that I will still know some of the women I am meeting now in thirty years time. But will our friendship have the patina of how I feel about that year – that girl – my new best friend? That all consuming, no holding back, first-date thrill? Like a sister without the blood, like a lover without the bed?
And it has got me thinking about friends and about this blog and what it has to do with being 50? Maybe that is part of what I’m seeking – new best friends! Mine are now scattered – SF, NYC, FLA. And I’m wondering: whom of the women I now know will I still be friends with at 80? Or is it about standing at the bus stop waiting to set out on the long journey of life? My husband feels like a best friend at times. He certainly is my ‘go to’ guy – but with all the complications of, well, just that: he is a man. But were those early friendships a sort of dress rehearsal for marriage? A rough draft for intimacy? A first unlocking of our deep longings for connection?
The thing is I still want that, at 50. Does one ever grow out of it?