Sunday, September 10, 2006

"S.E., BABY!"

As women, we know the value of friendship. We have the ability to create extensions of our own family, or “sisters”, whether we are only children or come from a family of twelve. And our sisters see us through life as only they could…they understand what it means to be empathetic, they understand what it means to be thoughtful…and they understand it when life gets so hectic that friendships may wane for a short time, only to come back stronger than ever (and usually with some great gossip to make up for lost time)!

With a heart brimming with pride, I can truly say that I have been blessed with amazing friends from all walks of life, some that I know since childhood, others that I met as an adult, and some who are actually relatives. Friends that I have been able to be vulnerable in front of, friends who have shared my every joy as if it were their own and friends who could be downright outrageous with me to the point where we’re almost causing trouble (…or did we actually cause it? Hmmm, I can’t seem to remember…)!

Although I have so many wonderful women in my life, I would be remiss if I didn’t devote a column to one of my oldest, dearest friends, Maria (or “Tortilla”, as I’ve affectionately called her since we were small. And yep, you guessed it…I’m “Lisa Pizza”). We go all the way back to Kindergarten, and have been friends through more of life’s ups and downs than even I care to remember! We have seen each other through 38 years of friendship, and are so close that we finish each other’s sentences and complete each other’s thoughts on a daily basis. We have many things in common; for example, our moms were older when they gave birth to us; we have brothers who are much older than we are; and we find the same nutty things hysterically funny (“Napolean Dynamite”, anyone?). She is a beautiful, vivacious woman, and one of the strongest people I know. So let me see if I can summarize a lifetime in a few detailed paragraphs:

In grade school, Maria was the little girl with the pink, frilly dress on, her hair always pulled back in a torturous half-ponytail that looked as painfully tight as it must have been. Maria had “stomach issues”—Crohn’s Disease would be the diagnosis in her 30’s—and spent many of her school days down in the nurse’s office, so often that the nurse finally got fed up and put a band-aid on her belly-button! I can recall the time that she told me and another friend that she felt like she was going to throw up. We ran away from her as fast as we could, screaming, “Maria’s gonna throw up!!” the whole way, causing the whole playground to clear her path.

When we were 10, our lives started to take on serious tones of change that would challenge any friendship, as well as our emotional state. I started to realize that my father had a serious drinking problem. And on the first day of school in 5th grade, Maria sat next to me on the swings and told me that her dad had died over the summer. I had never gotten to know her dad, and I felt confused and sad for my friend. We became much closer after that, partly because we were getting older and approaching puberty, and partly because we both had an unspoken agreement that we could trust the intimacies of our family lives with each other without the other one hashing out the details to anyone else. Plus, we knew neither one of us would ever spill the beans about her crush on teen crooner Donny Osmond and my obsession with the plaid-clad Bay City Rollers!

Life takes unexpected turns, and a few short weeks after school let out for the summer in 1974, my family and I were on a plane heading towards Los Angeles, CA…and the pursuit of a new home. I had only known for a short time after school ended that I would be leaving, and I was extremely sad about parting with all of my friends, especially my “Seesta”, Maria. However, as fate would have it, one of her older brothers lived not too far from our Thousand Oaks home, and she would actually come to visit once in a blue moon! We were allowed one phone call a month to each other (long distance cost a lot of money 30+ years ago), which we always took advantage of. We would say, “Okay—one, two, three…BYE” so we could hang up together…only to lift our fingers from the hook to say, “HI!!!” again (you can imagine the chorus of screaming mothers going on in the background)!

One of my best memories happened the weekend after I moved to CA. My uncle was a comedian—the opening act for Frank Sinatra, to be exact—and he was opening for Frank in Las Vegas, a town that would produce a jaw-dropping reaction out of me upon arrival, not just for the lights, hotels and action…but for the fact that the sign on the Tropicana said that the Osmonds were playing there that weekend! Through a little finagling, my uncle got us tickets to see their show, and a backstage pass so that I could meet them in person. I almost fainted when I saw Donny, and when my dad asked him if he would kiss me on my cheek, I DID faint! My dad carried me out, as a few hundred girls waiting outside the backstage entrance all sighed in unison upon witnessing this pitiful sight, each one secretly wishing that it was them.

When I returned home, I found myself some Donny Osmond stationary and promptly wrote Maria a letter explaining that I was sorry, I knew that he belonged to her, but I was now in love with him, and it was “…not a ‘Puppy Love’” (yes…I really did write that…)! Maria continued to nag her mother to take her to see the Osmonds for the next 4 years, and finally met him herself when she was 15. He didn’t kiss her cheek, but he did grab her so she didn’t fall down some looming backstage basement steps.

In the interim, my mom was having a tough time adjusting to CA, and after much deliberation, my parents decided to move back to Long Island. My dad would stay in CA until he found another job in NY, and my mom and I would live with Maria and her mom, Millie, until we found a house. Talk about FUN! Maria and I slept in her brother’s old room in a queen-sized bed, and basically had a laugh-fest every night (yes, sometimes with our faithful companion, the tape recorder)! Since we were now full-fledged teens, we got up at 5:30 in the morning just so we could shower and concoct our Farah Fawcett hairdos and paint on our Glamour magazine faces. Maria would always be dressed to the nines, and one time insisted on wearing her brand-new 7-inch platform shoes to school, even though we had just had a snowstorm. I don’t know if we had ever laughed harder in our lives walking to school that day! She must’ve fallen at least ten times, and we’re very lucky that osteoporosis and leaky bladders were not an issue back then.

Fast forward a few years to high school, and we are now best friends who are dating best friends from another town. These boys were our first loves, and also our first real companions as we experienced all of the experimental wonders of young adulthood; cutting classes, hangovers and…well…you know the deal. I would drive to her house to pick her up for school, and after sitting in her kitchen having a cup of tea, we would decide that it would be much more fun to go to our boyfriends’ school. We were actually so smooth that we could sit in some of their classes without even being noticed!

Our boyfriends were very funny and aside from some crazy pizza parlor antics and silly nicknames, they had a secret code that they would use with each other, which Maria and I tried desperately to understand: If something cost $7.00, they would say, “Reenee Bond”. It took us three years and all of us breaking up to find out that “Reenee Bond” was a woman in the back of a porno magazine that sold her “used” underwear for $7.00 a pair! To this day, if Maria and I are out shopping or in a restaurant, if the price of something is $7.00, we have to say that it costs “Reenee Bond”…and what’s sillier is that we still laugh every time we say it, 25 years later!

She had broken up with her boyfriend about two months before my boyfriend broke up with me and left me for someone else at the beginning of the summer of 1983. I admit; I wasn’t as strong as Maria, and I was so distraught from the breakup that my weight plummeted to 89 lbs. My mother was worried sick, and when she heard that Maria was down in Florida visiting one of her brothers, she called her mother to ask if she could send me down there, too.

Chalk this one up to another experience that was just priceless. Maria’s brother lived on the Gulf of Mexico. Every night, we would go outside on the beach with a huge glass of red wine and watch the sunset. We’d talk about our ex-boyfriends, our futures, and letting go of the past. We’d take wineglass in hand, raise it, and clink it to a great, big “SCREW EVERYTHING!!”, then take a nice, soothing sip. That would become our signature salute every time we drank together from that trip forward, and it would always evoke a sense of “everything’s gonna be alright”, no matter what our circumstances.

Eventually, Maria and I both became dental assistants, although we never had the opportunity to work with each other. She definitely worked at the better office; her clients included Rodney Dangerfield, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley (and for those of you who ever wondered…Maria swears that those are her real teeth, and that she never wore a stitch of makeup when she came in—and she was still amazingly beautiful)! She also worked part time in another office, and was responsible for closing up. Sometimes I would meet her there after work and we’d have a little “nitrous” party with one of the other assistants in the office! Dear God, were we stupid. But we did have fun…

Maria and I had the same, silly sense of humor and the same emotional response to sappy movies. We can recite just about every line from the movie “Arthur”, and we actually went to see “Flashdance” in the theater about 11 times. We were so inspired by the latter movie that we used to dance in the aisles when it was over! But as unimportant as both of those movies may have been to filmmaking history, they contained lines that would be ingrained in our vocabularies forever. Dudley Moore’s character of Arthur insisted that “fun” was “the best thing to have!”, and we have confirmed this sentiment in our best British accents every time we’ve gone out together for the last 25 years. And in Flashdance, the mantra was, “…If you give up your dreams, you die.” Very powerful words for such a fluffy movie…but ones that we’ve lived by and reminded each other of in various ways for over two decades.


For the record, I do need to mention that Maria was married to my cousin for about 5 minutes. They say blood is thicker than water, but my friendship with Maria is bonded by spiritual steel, and needless to say, I haven’t spoken to my cousin since their divorce over 20 years ago. I married shortly thereafter and had two children, a girl and a boy; she married again about 9 years later and had two children, a girl and a boy. Coincidentally, both of our girls are very outgoing and personable; both of our sons have learning disabilities (my son was diagnosed with ADHD, primarily inattentive type, in the first grade; her son was diagnosed with higher-end autism at age 3). Although having children did not stop us from enjoying our occasional glass of wine, our toast definitely needed a politically correct, child-proof overhaul. We decided to shorten “Screw Everything” to “S.E.”, for the sake of not only our children, but those around us who may have assumed upon hearing those two words that we might either be slightly unstable or very promiscuous.

Life goes on, and my marriage started to hit the rocks. My husband had supposedly bought me a Mercedes convertible for Mother’s Day; however, he was the only one who ever got to use it, usually by himself on his day off when he said that he was “cruising around to clear his head”…and I believed him. One Friday night, when he once again didn’t come home from work and was not able to be reached on his cell phone, Maria and I decided to go to a bar and then go to the movies. When she got to my house, she said, “Why don’t we take your Mercedes?”
“NO,” I told her. “He’ll kill me.”
“But isn’t it YOUR Mercedes?”
“Um, yeah…supposedly.”
“So screw him!! It’s YOUR Mercedes!”
I felt so disobedient taking out that car, but damn, if it wasn’t so much fun feeling the wind in our hair as we drove to the bar! Once inside, we were being ogled by several drunken men. I told Maria that I was so glad that we didn’t have to worry about dating anymore. We left the bar and went to the movies to see “The First Wives Club”. That night would turn out to be one of the most ironic of my life. The next night, my husband told me that he didn’t want to be married anymore. When I shared this with Maria, she cried with me and told me she felt as if it were happening to her as well. She supported me through all of the ups and downs of my divorce, and always found a way to make me smile, whether it was in the form of a beautiful card or calling me up to say she was pouring herself a glass of wine and just wanted to say, “S.E.”.

To give you a glimpse of how in tune we still are, the other day we got to meet for breakfast at a diner for the first time in months. Maria affirmed that the Spanish omelet was indeed quite delicious, she was going to order it, and I should stop hesitating and order one for myself. When the waitress arrived at our booth, I asked her tell me what was in a Spanish omelet. Feeling a bit cocky, I guess, she replied, “…A Spaniard.” To which I retorted, “Well, as long as it’s Antonio Banderas, I’ll have that!” Maria slammed the table and shouted, “I was just gonna say that!!! The words were coming out of my mouth, and you said it for me!” Focusing on the waitress, she confirmed, “Do you realize that I know this woman for most of my life, and I know everything she’s gonna say before she says it?!?” As the waitress laughed, Maria added in, “…But I think I’ll take Andy Garcia in mine.” As we all bellowed with laughter, the woman seated by herself across from us shouted over (and I kid you not), “Can I have what they’re having?!?” At that point, they were one step away from calling a rescue squad to resuscitate us. As the men around us looked at us like we had just escaped Creedmore, we realized that this was genuinely one of those great moments that only women could appreciate!

In conclusion, the aforementioned ditties make up but a small fraction of my years of friendship with Maria. We can blend in with anyone, talk to everyone and we have so much fun when we’re together that it’s infectious! Her friendship is precious to me, and we couldn’t be closer if we were actually born from the same mother. Have we had “downtimes” over the years? You bet. But that’s what being a “seesta” is all about…understanding enough to know that we don’t wish anything bad on each other, caring enough to mend whatever is wrong, and having faith enough in each other to know that we will only grow closer as the years go by, no matter what crisis our friendship entails. I know that Maria always accepts me for the person that I am, warts and all, and would never dream of talking negatively behind my back about those warts to anyone else. And she knows that her warts are safe with me as well! That to me is what true friendship is all about.

So with my glass of Cabernet raised and my heart full of gratification, here’s to you, my Tortilla…and for all of those reading who understand and appreciate the value of having a sister, no matter how she came into your life…“S.E., BABY!!”

12 comments:

Summer said...

Lisa, what a wonderful tribute to your best friend!! I enjoyed reading through your post..your writing style is so captioning and amusing..it made me feel like I wanted to be with you two and have the same kind of fun and sincerity that I felt through your article. to tell you the truth since I stumbled into blogs I gave up reading books..seriously, I have not read a book in three months....I feel that reading “real” life experiences are much better than reading many books. Have a wonderful night!

Lisa said...

Summer,

What a sweet comment! If you were in NY, we'd take you out with us, and you'd have a ball! Unfortunately, life being the way it is, we don't get to hang out too much anymore, but we do speak every day on the phone!

I couldn't agree with you more about books. I've only read a select few fiction books in my life--I also find real life to be much more interesting! I do read a lot of magazines and I have several self-improvement books lying around.

Thank you for reading, and I will stop by your blog later tonight when I have more time!

Take good care

Summer said...

Lisa, thanks for coming by my blog. i will write a post on More.com, you will find it addressed to you with steps on how to add the blog roll. i will do it later tonight. take care!

Kacey said...

Oh, my Lisa---Summer was right! Your writing is outstanding. I enjoyed every minute of reading it. Bright, witty, full of fun with a little pathos thrown in for good measure. Your "seesta" sounds like a lifetime of good times, so charge on and S.E. that stands in your way, but not your ex! When you get back to my blog---scroll down and read "The Perfectionist" --- it's the story of my marriage and how I got my mind all goofed up. lol

Lisa said...

Kacey, I think we commented on each other's blogs at the same time!! Thank you so very much for your kind words! I am going to hop back over to your blog to read "The Perfectionist" right now! I'm embarrassed to admit this...I have a test tomorrow, and I should be studying...but this is so much more fun!!

Antique Mommy said...

You are SO lucky to have such a friend! This is a book in the making.

Lisa said...

Honey, I just got through your "Waiting for Dr. Larsen" series, and you are the one who should be writing a book!! Too funny.

Thanks for the comment...I'm not only lucky, I am truly blessed! She's my soul-mate of friends.

Big Dave T said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and your comments there. It's nice to know when your blog touches somebody in a special way.

Wow, that's a vivid character portrait here. Well, well done. I have only one complaint. As a big omelet fan, I really did want to know what went into that Spanish omelet.

Lisa said...

Hi Dave and thank you so much for coming by!

...At this particular diner, the Spanish omelet actually consisted of sauteed peppers, onions, tomatoes and salsa! No Spaniards, but it was quite tasty, anyhow.

Andrew said...

Hi Lisa,
Thanks for the comments over at my site, and for the invitation to read this post. Your mutual rock-ness with Maria Tortilla does indeed sound amazing, and the story is a great read.

But really, actually fainting over a kiss from Donnie Boy? I laughed at that one.

As for the "promiscuous" interpretation of Screw Everything (*great* toast, by the way), I'll extend an invitation for you to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question about Weapons of Mass Seduction, which I just posted.

Have a great weekend!
Andrew ("To Love, Honor and Dismay")

Lisa said...

Hi Andrew!

I really did black out! Don't forget, I was raised Italian-Catholic...I'd feel too guilty if I lied!!

Take good care,
Lisa

Anonymous said...

Oh, Lisa, what a wonderful and beautiful friendship... and what history!

I've had several different 'best friends' over the years, with plenty of memories to go along with them. These days, my very own blood sister is my best friend. No one knows me like she does, and we share the same sense of humor, as well as history, of course! She could never be replaced. Thanks for sharing your wonderful stories!