Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Original BFFs

Not many people have affected my life the way Michael has. We are, as he likes to call us, the original BFFs.
My life was forever changed when our last names placed us in homeroom together at DuPont Junior High in Belle, WV. No sooner had I placed my Mead Trapper Keeper under my desk and smoothed out my Forenza sweater over my stirrup pants with Chuck T. high tops, when Michael turned to me and said something sarcastic. In that moment something happened.
I’ve heard people talk about love at first sight—but this was more than that. This was humor and wit at first sight: I had found my soul-mate. Michael and I hit it off right away. Immediately, I liked him and the way he could keep up with my sarcastic banter, giving it back as quickly as I could dish it out. Our first order of business was to rename everyone in the class. I still occasionally wonder how “Spiral McPermison” and “Mary Jane Von Stonerton” are doing.
We had fun together. Once, convinced that I should learn to cook after I caught a bag of microwave popcorn on fire, Michael donned an apron and set about my kitchen with my mother’s avocado green mixer. Another time, he hid in my bedroom and scared the bejesus out of me when I got home from school. We spent a lot of time at Taco Bell and TCBY. We may or may not have belted out Taylor Dayne tunes into a hair-brush microphone in his car. One of his shining moments of BFF greatness came on my 18th birthday when he showed up at my grandmother’s house, after our family dinner, with a birthday cake for me, because he knew no one else had a cake for me. I loved him for that. Even if the cake did say, “Happy Bar Mitzvah, Steve.”
We’ve endured some heavy-duty issues in our lives, too. We’re 40 now people—we have jeans older than some of you. So, we have encountered some crazy juju, the most notable of which was a rift between the two of us that lasted the duration of the 1990s and took us all the way past the birth of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.
Alas, the original BFFs hit a major snag somewhere around the early 1990s. About the time Vanilla Ice was hotter than hot, our epic friendship cooled off. As in: frozen. Stone cold. Brrrrrr.
It is a long, complicated story whose details don’t need re-hashing. But during that rift, we missed out on so much: Ross/Rachel, Clinton/Lewinsky, the unfortunate onset of “japris,” my wedding, his coming out, the OJ trial, the SNL Spartan Cheerleaders, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Ace of Base, Titanic, and Y2K. While Will Smith was “Gettin’ Jiggy With It,” we were nowhere near a much-longed-for reconciliation.
During our junior year of high school, Michael and I had the good fortune to end up in the English class of Carol Recco, teacher extraordinaire and all-around fabulous person. She, more than anyone, was privy to the genius of our wit when she poured over those weekly journal entries wherein Michael and I penned, with Pulitzer-like finesse, all the teenage angst and euphoria of (depending on what was being served in the cafeteria) our young lives.
But one big thing wasn’t being written in Michael’s journal: he is gay, but he wasn’t telling anyone. Why, I’ve wondered? But the truth is, it was Belle, WV in the late 1980s and life was not an episode of Glee. (If only!) An adequate safety net did not exist for Michael the way it may today. I think back on that hilarious, attractive, smart, wonderful boy that I loved for all the right reasons and my heart hurts that he couldn’t feel safe telling even one person—even me—that precious part of himself. We were Will and Grace before Will and Grace were cool.
And that is exactly how our reconciliation happened. One blessed day about six years ago, at different times, we both had similar conversations with our beloved Mrs. Recco. She casually mentioned to each of us how much the other would love to reconnect. (Mrs. Recco has always used her super-powers for good instead of evil.)
Finally, we connected in a phone conversation that lasted a few hours. There were tears, there were apologies, and there was story after story in a remarkable reunion that brought us back to that friendship we had so missed.
“This is so Will and Grace,” I said to Michael.
“I’m signing us up for the Amazing Race right now,” said my BFF.
And just like that, we were back, settling into a comfortable banter just in time for me to deliver my third child and Michael to find the love of his life.
Today when I crack open my senior yearbook I see the once and future BFFs, now two grown-up friends.
I see a strong, still-handsome, still-funny, good man unafraid of who he is. He is blessed to be in relationship with an equally good and wonderful man, and it is my great pleasure to know and love them both.
I see a younger version of myself and want to tell her, “Wait until you see the wonderful gifts life is about to hand you. Also, the late 1990s involve knit pants and matching vests. Try to avoid that.”
I’m not sure I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe people are in our lives for a reason and I am so grateful to have Michael in mine.
And thank God for the reunion because there is always so much for us to discuss.  With the fleeting drama of an election year, a divorce for Tomkat and—God, help us—Honey Boo Boo, it’s nice to have a BFF that endures.

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