My hair had just started growing in after shaving my head bald. I had just done my first real modeling gig where they had dyed it a bright red which was now growing out, showing off my light-brown roots. It was a weekday, late spring or even early summer, and I was wearing something unique to only me, as I usually did at work. There was a sign in the door that I wrote myself using bubble letters and colorful markers. “NOW HIRING” it said, and I would find out soon that it was the purpose of your visit.
(Cling, ring, dingle-ling [the bell on the door] clang, ring)
I looked up from my daily duty of folding shirts so evenly that GAP sales associates would weep with envy.
“Hi,” I said in return, looking at your blue Catholic school uniform and wondering how old you were and if you were here for the job.
“I saw that you were hiring. Can I fill out an application?”
“Sure,” I said, looking first at Maria Elena, then at Sal, as we thought the same thought… “She’s tall, beautiful, and friendly… but is she smart?”
I handed you the application and the pessimist in my twenty-year-old brain decided I’d test you, right there, and right then. Every applicant before you and most who walked in still wearing their St. Maria Goretti school uniforms failed to answer one simple but vital question on the application because depressingly enough, they just didn’t know.
“Let me ask you a question,” I said, looking right at you and paying no attention to the boy who walked in behind you. “Do you know your Social Security number?”
Without batting even one of those seventeen-year-old eyelashes, you quickly replied “Of course. It’s 182-XX-XXXX…”
When we texted earlier in the week as we do often nowadays I was probably as surprised as you were that we both remembered our twentieth anniversary.
“What day do you leave for your trip?”
“Just a few days after my birthday,” I responded. “I can’t believe it’s so close. Forty. It’s blowing my mind.”
“I KNOW!!! I’m so excited. I’m going to send your gift soon, then. This year is special for several reasons.”
“You realize that we’re friends twenty years this year, right?”
“THAT’S WHY I SAID IT WAS SPECIAL!! I can’t believe you picked that out. That’s the theme of your birthday gift this year.”
“You know, I’ve loved you for half my life.”
“It’s for you, Mommy,” Roman said. “It's cursive. It says it’s from ‘America’.”
“Well, I’m sure it’s from America, Roman,” I said, picking up the box to read the return address. “That says ‘Andricola’ honey. It’s from Aunt Nessa.”
As you know, I usually never open gifts earlier than the date they are intended to be opened, but today, knowing it was from you, knowing the significance, I simply couldn’t resist.
What I found inside the box was nothing less than I would find inside my own heart. Images of the two of us – twenty years apart – in a customized frame that reads “Friends 4 Ever. Stoney x 2.” Birthday and anniversary cards with printed clippings of song lyrics… ones that mean something only to us. A beautiful leather journal for me to document my trip to Germany and Austria, also with song lyrics taped to the inside. And a book, entitled “Because of You: Celebrating the Difference You Make.” To say that I feel overjoyed would easily be an understatement. Warmed. Touched. Nostalgic. Grateful. To say that I am all of those things would be accurate, but the extent of each emotion would be impossible to explain. So I will simply say what I am feeling the best way I know how… with writing.
I love you. I have loved you for half my life but if I believed more in fate I would probably say that I started loving you in some previous life somewhere. Maybe Egypt or maybe on some other planet in some other universe, like, Flarnblat or Krolplurg or something. Some world where laughter reigned high and where Depeche Mode still existed. I have loved you just that long and for so many wonderful reasons. I love our similarities; the way that I know you’ll understand what I’m feeling when I say that I always have these morbid dreams about dying. I love our differences; our take on sports or T.V. or travel. I love the fact that no matter what, you will risk my getting angry if it means you need me to know the truth. You’re the only one who takes that risk, and you’re the only one I love because of it. I love that you stuck around even when the shit looked to be heading directly toward the fan. I love that you trust me. I love that you know me. I love that I can be myself with you even when my self is a self I don’t like very much. I love your support. I love giving you mine. I love that I never have to think, or worry, or find fault with our friendship. That after twenty years and almost a thousand miles of distance it’s as regular to me as brushing my teeth. I love looking forward to the next time I get to see you. I love that you consider me a part of your family. I love how much you are a part of mine. I love that I spent your honeymoon with you. I love that you’re the godmother to my daughter. I love that I’m turning forty with you as my best friend. And I love knowing that when I someday move on to the next life, universe or planet, it won’t be long until I see your face again.
When I moved to Atlanta I struggled to make friends those first couple of years. Now that ten years has passed I can’t say that new friendships have come any easier to me, and maybe it’s because I’m not exactly to everyone’s taste, or maybe it’s because folks are different in the South than they are in the North. Or maybe, it’s because my friendship bucket is full, because I have you, and to be frank, you’re really all I need.
I love you, Stoney. I’ve loved you forever and I will continue to. Thank you for the most wonderful birthday gifts any woman – any friend – could ever want. Namely, the gift of you.