Vermont has a very different pace than I’m used to. Whereas I often feel bursting with barely-containable energy and frustrating inability to just sit still, there’s something about Vermont that makes me actually just…breathe. It’s no wonder that Lisa, my oldest friend, has made her home and her life there. We’ve been friends since 10th grade, though we’ve known each other all our lives, having grown up in my Tiny Hometown together where we all are stuck with each other from playpen to graduation cap. We became friends rather by default, when members of our wider group either moved away, or evolved into more popular crowds. We were the Last Ones Standing, and it was very lucky that we finally looked at each other one day and realized, “Hey! I actually really LIKE you!” We went to the same college (mostly by coincidence), and stuck by each other through boyfriends and dramas and my particularly obnoxious college growing pains. We were in each other’s weddings, are godmothers to each other’s children, and even though we live five hours apart, our visits to each other now get to be more like vacations. Well, at least for me.
Lisa has four sons. That fact alone continues to leave me in awe of her. FOUR SONS. How does she do it? How does she manage the brotherly scuffles? The Matchbox cars? The plastic dinosaurs and tiny little hammers and all that sand in their sneakers? That is one tiny piece of her Phenomenal Woman status in my mind. What amazes me most is that she has a very particular way of honoring these four small souls in her care, of recognizing their patterns and their insecurities and their talents and their passions and encouraging them to be, to grow, to become whoever they are destined to be. God is a powerful force in her life, and she relies on her faith to help keep her strong and centered and present for her sons, and for her husband. She moved to Vermont for her husband, because it was his vision to have a home with land and a view. An orchard and a huge garden, a root cellar and a sugar shack. These started as Kevin’s dreams, and she has found them in her heart, too, and has built a life with him based on this shared picture.
We went to visit them for an overnight earlier this week. It was just the girls and me, because it was during the work week, and after a shaky start, we put on Mamma Mia and sang our heads off all the way up to Northern Vermont. The kids got on immediately, running through trails and their wildflower meadow, finding snakes and toads and eating mint and various lettuces from their garden. Lisa and I sat on the front porch looking out at the mountain views, reveling in the sunshine (‘cause there was none in Massachusetts) and loving the sounds of six happy little people adventuring around their yard. Later, we sat in the twilight on her back porch, overlooking the apple tree and the wildflower meadow as the kids all roasted marshmallows in their pajamas. As the night began to deepen and Amelia and the boys became enthralled in Dinotopia, Abby came to join us on the back porch. “Abby, see the fireflies?” Kevin indicated the wildflower meadow behind her. My small curly-headed daughter turned around to look behind her, and the gasp as she turned back to look at us, her eyes alight with pure wonder and delight was the best moment of the entire trip. She was off the porch in an instant, running through the field in her pajamas, hair streaming behind her, off to get a closer look. Lisa went inside to gather the rest of them, and Kevin miraculously produced five covered mason jars, tailor made for catching fireflies on a perfect summer night. Lisa and I sat on the porch and watched all five of them scampering through the yard, and she quietly said, “I am so happy to be able to share this with you.” And I felt just the same way.
Lisa and I will attend our 20th high school reunion next month. Twenty years since we rode together to the prom. Twenty years since we giggled together through “Hava Nagila” in Concert Choir. More than that, even, since we shared details of our first kisses, tried our first cigarette on the way to a high school dance, listened to the fascinating Tiffani Todd, with her New Girl Mystique, explain the specifics of various sexual acts to us in the back of the auditorium during South Pacific rehearsal. (Wealth of knowledge, that girl.) Twenty years since we cried together after saying goodbye to our first loves to head off to UMass. Lisa waited all night in the waiting room while I gave birth to Amelia. She danced me through my pre-wedding jitters to “Don’t Fence Me In” in her basement. She was by my side through my brother’s wake and funeral, and cried with me in only the way that someone who knew him as a freckled ten-year old could. Snickers in church. Margaritas in Provincetown. Ani DeFranco concerts and high-school plays and bridesmaid dresses and wine coolers and late-night poetry readings and ill-advised romances. Family dramas and funerals and weddings and babies…and, most importantly, whatever comes next. I know that whatever comes next will include her, my soul-friend, the one who knew me first and best, who knows exactly where I came from and will celebrate where I’m going, as I will continue to do for and with her. I cherish her, and do not possess enough poetry in my heart to fully capture how essential she is to the balance of my life. I wish many things for my daughters, but second only to my hope that they find a life-mate to make their spirit sing is the hope that they will have a Lisa, a True Blue Friend who will be there to share the journey, start to end. And not just share it, but enhance it, and decorate it with splashy paint and printed scarves and hand-carved jewelry…and fireflies on a summer night.