I moved to Boston from NY in the eighties, alone, after deciding I wanted to live there. I found a job, and looked for lodging that was near a train line so I could commute to work. Luckily, I found a room available at a local inn. I went to meet the manager, Barbara, who was a woman about my age. I felt a warm flood of relief fill my body slowly as she showed me my room. I felt like I had a safe, temporary home for as long as I wanted to stay.
That night, after I had settled in, there was a knock on my door while I was unpacking in my room. It was Barbara, “Hi,” she said with her sparkling eyes and her open, deep, friendly voice “I’m making dinner for a bunch of my friends, wanna come?” I couldn’t even start to get shy and make excuses because she took me by the arm and led me down the stairs. Without her, I would have likely stayed in my room the entire time. I was invited to an impromptu home-cooked dinner: I met Teddy, Barbara’s dog, Rami-Pastrami, a girl named Nancy, a guy named Steven/Stella and others. Within ten minutes even I had a new name. Teddy, could not remember my name; he called me Lisa, he called me Laurie, he called me Lisa-Laurie, shortened that night to LL. I didn’t know that Barbara was an amazing chef; the smells from the kitchen were tantalizing. We had home-made tomato sauce, pasta, carmelized chicken, so sweet and tender it fell off the bone.
On my second day there I knocked on her door after work to give her a check and I read sadness in her face. “Are you okay?” I asked. She said “yes” but it was not convincing. “Really?” I asked “Do you want me to come in so we can talk” She pulled me in her apartment and the façade of her happy face started to crumble. She told me about her upcoming divorce from Teddy, pain etched on her face, like a pear, getting riper with each word. She allowed me to see how she really felt, something that did not come easily for her. I stayed a long time, by the end of the night we were best friends.
After a few months I moved to a studio apartment down the street. She came over once and all I had to eat were Ritz crackers and peanut butter and jelly and she proclaimed the meal “the best peanut butter and jelly with Ritz crackers” she ever ate. That was Barbara. We went on adventures every weekend, sometimes to Parker’s Maple Barn in New Hampshire for blueberry or banana pancakes, or to look at discounted antique furniture. Ba, as I called her, came to my wedding in 1988, when my husband and I still lived in Boston.
Barbara had moved around so much I no longer had room in my address book to keep up with her; I had at least eight addresses that were no longer current. We kept in touch occasionally, two Libras always exchanging birthday wishes, wherever we were. My husband and I moved to a house in the suburbs of Boston which Barbara visited once. Years later, after having children, and elderly parents, we moved back to New York. Barbara was on her own journeys to Florida, North Carolina and back.
Our children are seventeen and nineteen now. Our son is in his first year of college, our daughter graduates high school this June. My husband had three vacation days that he needed to use in March or he would lose them, we also had five nights free in a hotel. Our beloved dog had passed away unexpectedly; when the time felt right, we decided to go.
I called Barbara and she talked us into staying at a hotel in her town, not the one we had looked up in a book. It just felt right so that is where we went. It was delightful to spend time with my husband. The ocean, sand and seashells are my favorite things and I could heal here, physically and emotionally. The weather was good for my Fibromyalgia; we took long walks, we picked up seashells and swam in the ocean. We still grieved the death of our dog but we were no longer in shock.
We saw Barbara the next day when she burst into the hotel room, cradled my face between her two hands and in excitement, burst into tears. We hugged and she didn’t let go. We saw her again at her house when we were supposed to go out to dinner and I got to meet her famous mother, Lucille, and her dog, Daisy. I thought seeing Daisy would make me sad, but Daisy opened my heart, instead of clamping it shut. I think my dog Callie was telling me it was okay to love another dog and when we are ready, I know we will. I had teasingly asked her if she would “cook for me” like the old days but her health and strength was not very good either. When we got there she surprised me and served her famous pasta sauce with carmelized chicken that I remembered from the past. I was so grateful, so honored and so touched. I still am.
It was so easy and relaxed with Barbara that it didn’t seem like twenty years had passed; it was if we had been in touch every day consistently. How could I have forgotten that feeling? I felt like I had a new, old, best friend. Someone to share memories with, someone to confide in, the one person I could always trust completely; I could ask her anything, tell her anything. She would never judge me nor I her.
We came on vacation to get away, we stayed on vacation for pure joy, we left the vacation begrudgingly. I left crying, not over my dog’s death but saying “good-bye” again to Barbara. Tears dripped down my face as I sobbed. How much time had we wasted or had we? Maybe we weren’t meant to reconnect before this, I have to believe in that.
We’re home now, back with both kids home for spring break. I woke up this morning and started to write a note to Ba, only to find there was one from her already waiting. Everything makes sense if you pay attention to the details: A knock on your door, watching someone’s sad eyes, holding hands with your best friend, every detail in life is important. Trust yourself to pay attention. Be someone’s best friend. For life.
This is dedicated to Ba from her best friend, LL.