Monday, February 11, 2008


Remember when we were young and we signed notes to our friends with "LYLAS"? For you men, LYLAS stands for "Love ya like a sister," and it was the cool thing to put in yearbook signatures around 1987.

I haven't used LYLAS as a sign-off in years, but it fits today. Today one of my BFFs, frequent reader and commenter "Wanda Y", turns 34. This one's for her.

It totally fits that she's one day older than me. For most of my adolescence I was content to follow her lead. I know this got annoying for her; there were probably times in our friendship that I was more her little sister than her own little sister was. But when someone is that cool, you just gotta be a little bit of a follower.

You wouldn't think that two kids like us would have stayed as close as we did. On the surface, we didn't seem too much alike. She was uber athletic; I got rejected for every basketball and volleyball team I ever tried out for. She was confident, pretty, and popular; I was the buck-toothed nerd who got picked last for every game at recess. But we were alike in a lot of ways that you couldn't see.

We grew up with an alley separating our houses and I first remember meeting her on my neighbor's swingset. We kept the grass in the alley mowed down in the summer; one or the other of us was always making the trip to see what the other one was up to. Alone, we were well-behaved; together, we found trouble. But we looked out for each other, and she could as well be the voice of reason among our little group of neighborhood hoodlums as she could be the instigator. I'll never forget the summer day we worked together to bail a third party out of an ill-advised "Let's drink and have boys over while the parents are at work" experiment. We didn't participate in the fun, but we jumped in to save a friend's butt when things went wrong. When our friend started to throw up, Wanda ran up behind her and caught her alcohol-reeking vomit in her hands to keep it from getting on the couch, since alcohol-scented-puke is a pretty undeniable clue for parents that your kid's been up to no good. I'll never forget the look of absolute disgust Wanda shot me as the drunkest teenager I've ever seen hurled bile and Scotch into her saving hands. We ended up ruining the couch cushion anyway (we cleaned a quarter-size splatter of puke with a quarter cup of dish detergent and a sink sprayer; I'm pretty sure there are still some suds in that couch to this day), but Wanda saved the day. At least for a few hours; later that same day she and I walked around 5 miles (each way) to check out some guy she had been flirting with on the phone. Who was not nearly as cute as he sounded over the phone. After telling my mom that we were going on "a little walk."

But all I've ever had to tell my mom is, "I'm going to be out with Wanda," and she knows I'm in good hands. Notice I'm using the present tense there. As recently as last summer at our high-school reunion, when I wanted to go to the after-party, I left the permission-asking to Wanda. She called my mom, who was our babysitter for the evening, to ask if I could stay out and "play" a little longer. Of course my mom told her it was OK. Of all the childhood friends I ever had, Wanda is the only one my mom has ever told me she fully trusts. If Wanda says she's in charge of the situation and is looking out for me, well, that's all my mom has ever needed to hear. I think to this day Wanda could call my mom and say, "Joan, Cranky and I are going to hold up a liquor store, and maybe rob a bank, and on the way home we might hit some riverboat casinos and blow our life savings on the slots, and if we're lucky pick up some sleazy men while we're at it," and my mother would say, "Well, as long as she's with you..."

Our last couple of years in high school, we started moving in different circles and we didn't see each other as much anymore. One of the last days of high school, while our government teacher popped in a movie and turned the other way while everyone passed around their memory books to get pored over and signed, a hand-written note fell across my desk. I'd been a cheapskate and hadn't bought an official memory book, and the note was from Wanda, who started off by saying she wanted to write something since I was a loser and didn't have a book. Wanda has quite a talent for writing, and by the time she had chronicled all our childhood exloits and talked sincerely about our friendship, I was in tears (it wasn't helping that the movie our teacher was showing was To Kill a Mockingbird.) I still have that note tucked inside a scrapbook I finally put together of childhood memories. She ended that note by very succinctly and accurately summing us up: "We were hellions, in a quiet sort of way." I can't say it any better than that.

We met up again while I was in grad school at UK, and she was finishing her degree. And when she called to tell me she had gotten a teaching job at a northern Kentucky high school, and that their librarian was leaving...could I really pass up the opportunity to work with her every day? She kept me sane while she was here, and I miss her now that she's gone to another school. I worry because we don't see each other as much as we used; will we drift again like we did in high school? I shouldn't worry, because even when I don't plan on seeing her somewhere, we have a way of running into each other (who knew she'd see me unable to hold myself up at the Taste of the World in November?). And we'll always have our (almost) mutual birthdays.

Five years ago when my doctor called to say he thought I had cancer, she was one of the last people I wanted to look in the eye and tell. A few years later when my dad passed away in the middle of the night, after I had made all the phone calls to the family, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home in the pre-dawn hour was to pick up the phone. But there was one voice I wanted to hear, who I knew would understand the long road I'd travelled with my dad, who wouldn't be upset at me calling so early, who would have my back and help me in any way I needed her to. That person was Wanda, who also sat behind me at my dad's funeral, who shared my tears and grief. We've been kinda adopted by each other's families, so it only makes sense that she would be there and be such a comfort during that time.

So, to my "sister" and my friend, happy birthday. May you be blessed with many more. May you keep kicking it as a Cincinnati Rollergirl, and may you keep partying hard.


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