Les meilleures du monde

Five years ago next week, I opened the door of my house to one of my oldest and dearest friends, in town for Whit’s christening (where she became his godmother), and realized that I had forgotten her birthday. I didn’t even say “I’m glad you are here!” – I was too busy with my full-on Macauley Culkin in Home Alone hands-over-open-mouth moment. Later that day, after the baptism ceremony, we put candles in a big brie my mother had and Gloria blew those out. I will never forget the wide-open eyes of all of the children, staring at the blazing birthday candles, and somebody joking, “those kids are in for all kinds of disappointment when they realize that is stinky french cheese.”
We met in the fall of 1990 in Exeter, New Hampshire, in Ms. Iwakuni’s French class. We were fast friends, and I was very grateful to Gloria for her warmth and welcome, in a place where I was brand-new, awkward, and incredibly far from home. I’ve written about how few specific memories I have of boarding school, but one very vivid one is from the spring of 1992. Gloria and I had both applied early to Princeton. She got in (no surprise: she is a superstar) and I got deferred. The day that the regular admission answers arrived, finding many of us crouched in the post office waiting for letters to be slid into our little glass-fronted mailboxes. Mine arrived. It said, in bold all-caps at the top: “YES!” I skipped out of the post office, elated, thrilled, and a little bit shocked. I walked out into the bright early-spring New Hampshire sun and saw Gloria across the school’s main quad. She saw me and I smiled broadly at her. “I got in!” I said, loudly enough for her to hear, and sprinted towards her across the quad. We hugged. I’ve never forgotten that moment. She was the first person I told the news that in many ways shaped my adult life.

That early French class has always been a trope of our friendship. We got into the habit of saying to each other, “nous sommes les meilleures du monde!” (we are the best in the world – she is, me, I’m not so sure). She wrote that in my yearbook. And she RSVPed to my wedding in French and in English: Glo has always had an eye for touching detail, for flourish.

At Princeton we were friends the same way we were at Exeter: good friends with a strong individual friendship, though not in the same tight group. This was always, for me, a lovely way to have a close friend. Gloria was a sturdy and consistent part of my life, yet had the perspective of not being totally enmeshed in the people I spent every single moment with.

Gloria was at my wedding, and I was at hers. We started getting closer again after 2002. She was one of the few people who was aware of how deeply sad I was after Grace was born, and she came up for a night to Boston with the express purpose of seeing me and, I realized after the fact, supporting me. I remember that dinner, my first out after becoming a mother, well. There were other Boston weekends. Somehow, gradually, the paths of our lives converged again and brought us into closer touch.

She came up, on the day I realized I’d forgotten her birthday, to be at Whit’s christening as his godmother. The photograph above is the evening, post-ceremony, in my kitchen. Since that day we’ve been in much closer touch. It has been a particular joy to watch her very real relationship with Grace and Whit. They both adore her, and I feel like she’s especially able to relate to Grace because she, too, has a brother who is 27 months younger. I am consistently touched by the significant effort she makes to see them (and me) as much as possible, even across an ocean. Grace and Whit walked down the aisle in her wedding to her wonderful husband Jim, a gesture that meant an enormous amount to me (and to them).

We have shared much, Gloria and I: deciding what we want to be when we grow up, the headiness of early romance and heartbreak, a love of words, yoga, and running, international experiences, and the profound, life-changing intensity of umedicated childbirth. Motherhood has been fertile territory for us: together we’ve shared some of the intense highs and surprising lows that come with having a baby. We’ve only just begun to explore what it means to be individual women and mothers (not to mention professionals – her job far more legitimate than mine): I know there are years of conversation ahead as we both find our way in this complicated terrain.

Gloria is one of my truest and dearest friends. She is one of the few friends that I have from those dark days in New Hampshire. I’m impressed over and over again with the confidence and honesty with which she approaches all the various aspects of life, thinking carefully about what she wants, setting her mind to it, and going forth to achieve it. She is determined and strong, intelligent and wise, loving and firm. Gloria has a true adventurer’s spirit, too, and her gift to Whit on his christening was the promise of future trips with him. Lucky man!

Even when we are not in day-to-day touch, Gloria is able to see into the very heart of anything I’m wrestling with. This startles me every time with the deep truth of it: this is intimacy, this is closeness, this is friendship. She intuitively knows what I most care about and value, and is thus able to understand the core of whatever any dilemma or issue is for me. This happened just yesterday. I’m also grateful for a friendship steadfast enough that we can be direct with each other when something bothers us. I feel sure we will be friends for life, and within this certainty there is room to be hurt, room to speak honestly, room to nudge if necessary.

Glo, happy, happy birthday. I won’t forget again. It amazes me that we’ve known each other more than half of our lives. I am grateful every single day for your friendship, and for your warm affection for my children. I know you are already influential to them, and I am glad that they will grow up in the glow of your sheer love of life, your ability to throw yourself into experience with abandon, and your generous heart.

11 thoughts on “Les meilleures du monde”

  1. What a sweet birthday tribute.
    I grew up in Hampton, and had fantasies of going to Phillips, (I’m assuming that’s where you went) I went to a few open speaker type things there, and was always in awe of the magnitude of the buildings, the feel.
    So glad you had a friend through those days, and that you’ve carried each other through adulthood 🙂

  2. Obviously, I love this. Though I am searching for a local BFF, the “what are you doing right now? Let’s go on an adventure!” kind, I will never forget or underestimate the importance of my lifers–my BFFs who live 800 miles away, but who know me almost too well, who can pick up on what will make me happy, or sad, before even I do. My oldest and bestest friend forgot my birthday two years ago. Honestly, I couldn’t have cared less. After everything she has done for me –and I’m talking meaningful, sit-next-to-you-in-the-hospital-while-your-father-is-dying, this-is-what-friendship-is kind of things–that she didnt notice the date on the calendar one year wasn’t such a big deal. It’s not like she didn’t know when my birthday was, I knew, it was just that she probably didnt know what day it was that day (this is very much like her). So I called her, two days later, and told her. I was laughing, “um excuse me but you forgot my birthday” and she laughed too, though apologized profusely. When you have kids, or a job, or just life keeping you busy, I don’t think forgetting a bday once in a while is all that big a deal (though I know as the forgetter you felt horrible). It’s the things you do when it MATTERS that count so much more. True friends prove themselves in the more important ways. And then, when you do remember the date, you celebrate them to the world in, for example, a blog post. And everybody’s happy.

  3. Thank you. You madem e cry at work. But I don’t mind. I feel undeserving (but you would tell me that I need to grasp gratitude with both hands and take it in sincerity) so I will keep it to thank you. How amazing it is that friendships born at 15 grow, change, evolve, are tested and survive just as much as everything else we hold dear, vital and sacred. I love you!

  4. Happy birthday, Gloria!

    If only we could all have one simply beautiful friendship like this, that spans time and distance. It is difficult not to stray from friends as life circumstances and perhaps values change.

    This makes me want to reconnect with some of my high school friends.

  5. What a blessing true friendship is, and what a gift you have given Gloria – and yourself, and us – by taking time to write down some of your most special shared memories.

    Happy birthday, Gloria! Happy baptismal anniversary, Whit!

  6. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. And, to tag onto Rachel’s comment, forgotten birthdays do not mean you don’t care. I’m sure Gloria didn’t think about it too hard–she knew you had a lot on your mind. I am one of those people who is aware of every person’s birthday, but does not remember what day it is today. I am hoping my calendar changes that. : )

  7. What a beautiful tribute to friendship. I have a version of Gloria in my life too – I think I need to give her a call.
    I’ve missed your writing – haven’t had a chance to read much. I’ll be back soon 🙂

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