I had a group of girlfriends once, and we were close. We did all kinds of things together and talked for hours on the telephone. We also wrote notes to each other during class and were in the same Girl Scout Troop. It was a while back.
That didn’t happen again until I was 50 years old, and I have to say, there’s nothing like it. It started rather benignly. At an auction in 2004 to raise money for our multi-state alpaca organization, Laura bid on and won a week at a condo in the Caymans. She had recently suffered a personal tragedy and needed some “girl time,” so she invited some of her alpaca rancher girlfriends to join her for the week. The trip that was only intended to be a one-time thing turned into a tradition. No, wait. It’s more than that. Getting together with my girlfriends is one of those need-to-do kinds of things.
Ok, ok. It’s a nice-to-do kind of thing, too, but it goes way beyond that – and I’m not sure there’s a word for it.
The Caymans trip was nothing less than fantastic. We snorkeled with tropical fish and played with stingrays at Stingray City. We took grocery stores by storm and en masse, then traded turns cooking for each other. One day, we amused ourselves by walking to the nearby town of Hell where we snapped pictures of each other under the “You are Entering Hell” sign, giggling like schoolgirls. Most nights we stayed home and played hours and hours of card games while enjoying some of the island’s rum offerings as well as other delicious libations. We still laugh about the night Laura and Ann each insisted her rules were the right and true rules for a particular card game. The discussion got pretty lively and the rest of us resorted to applying whichever rule was most expedient at the time, declaring undying allegiance to the one whose rule benefited us at the moment. Until we needed the other rule, of course.
One night, we had dinner aboard a pirate ship. Now, whether it had been a real pirate ship or is an old ship in the same style as one or whether it’s a replica, I don’t know. It was small, though, and cramped and subject to being tossed around. An urban legend grew out of this night, so if Debbie ever mentions that I once pole danced (and there’s a good chance she might), let me clarify a few things first. I was in heels for dinner that night – not one of my better decisions, I admit, but it is key to the story. Just as I made my way from the deck to the spiral staircase that led to the women’s room below, the ship began bucking like a bronco. I grabbed the center pole of the staircase, and this is where the story spiraled as surely as the stairs. The tall tale was born of my attempts to remain upright with my dress hanging in the proper direction while the boat danced all over the open waters of the ocean and my be-heeled feet slipped and slid all over the narrow pie-shaped steps. So, if Debbie mentions this incident, the visual in your head should resemble something more akin to an “I Love Lucy” episode than anything else. This visual will both lead you to the true picture of what happened and also protect you from any psychological damage that could occur from another less-than-accurate picture of me in your head. On a related note, allow me enter a plea on Kevin’s behalf: Upon hearing of this experience back in 2004, he immediately expressed the desire to never have the phrases “your mom” and “pole dance” ever used in the same sentence in his presence again. I’m sure your attention to this detail would be much appreciated by him.
We had so much fun playing, but a lot of the time we just sat and talked. The only topic that was off-limits was alpacas. When we were together, we were just friends -not business women or competitors. Friends. We didn’t always talk. Sometimes we sat together and read. Or we sat together and stared at the ocean in silence. In that week, five women from three states and two countries forged a bond that proved to be stronger than any of us would have imagined. We didn’t just want to get together again; we needed to do it. So, we did. In San Francisco, we shared a condo and a week of exploring the city and its outlying areas. We hired a limo to take us around Sonoma to the wineries, and we walked in near silence through a redwood forest. We spent a week together in an amazing casita in San Miguel, Mexico when Linda lived there, shopping and touring and talking until the wee hours of the morning. We also spent many weekends in between meeting up at alpaca shows where we would squeal and run into each others arms like we hadn’t seen each other in years. When we were together, the rest of the world didn’t exist, and I know this was difficult for others at times when we were in an alpaca crowd. It’s hard to explain why we never invited others – no family, no friends – to join us on our adventures. There is an energy that flows among us. It’s there when there are three or four of us, but it’s strongest when we’re all together. There couldn’t be five more different people, but it works for us, and we never wanted to upset the flow that we all know is there. It’s different. It’s special. Like any group, we can sit and solve the problems of the world in our conversations and declare finally, “but they didn’t ask us.” One thing that separates this group from others, though, is this: we can solve ourselves for real. If there is something going on with one of us, there is a balance of “good cop/bad cop” in our interactions that ferrets out the truth in a spirit of love and true desire for what is best for the person.
My son, Keith, died in 2005 while Hurricane Rita was ripping up the Gulf Coast and people were trampling each other to get out of Houston. That was just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina tried to take down New Orleans, and people here did not want to find themselves in the same situation, so they fled the city. I was shocked and amazed and humbled that people came to us during all this. In the midst of the chaos when others wanted to be out of the storm, my girlfriends came directly toward it from other parts of Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico to support me. They walked through my front door together, and it meant the world to me. In the weeks and months following his death, people wanted to know how I was doing. The best answer I came up with was, “I’m all of it every day,” and it was the truth. Every day I laughed, cried, felt hopeful and helpless and did the best I could. I owed my son that. Most people accepted that answer, but not my girlfriends. The next summer when we were together, they held a come-to-Jesus meeting with me and made me dig deeper into my hurt than anyone else could have. First of all, I wouldn’t have accepted it from anyone else – neither my husband nor I were interested in support groups – but with this group of women, my usual diversion tactics did not fly. They would not be satisfied until I put it all out there on the table, so I did. No one else would dare torture me like that, but my girlfriends did, and I will be forever grateful for it.
A few weeks ago, we met up again for a weekend at Debbie’s lake house. It has been too long since we were all together, and it was like getting a long, deep breath of much-needed fresh air. A photograph I often use to represent us is a stock photo of the backs of five little girls holding hands and looking out at the ocean. My favorite time of the weekend now replaces that picture in my head, and I think it symbolizes why we need our girlfriends and why our husbands should encourage us to have them. The five of us were out on the lake in a circle, each one of us on some kind of floating device, and we were joined by a rope tied to the dock that we looped around our feet or arms. Occasionally, one of us found ourselves adrift or in danger of being tipped over by the waves or wakes coming at us, but each time we were pulled back in and steadied by the others. That’s what we do.
A personal note to my alpaca girlfriends Ann, Debbie, Laura, and Linda: I love you more than I can say. You own a corner of my heart that is just yours, and although I don’t see you as often as I would like, I can always visit that corner of my heart, and doing so makes me smile.