With your best friend, it’s impossible to know where to begin. In the beginning, I suppose.
Brigitte and I entered the third grade at A.G. Bell Elementary in 1987. We were both new students, and she complained bitterly about how much she hated the school, Kirkland, and everything about that part of the world. She, her brother, and her dad had just moved from Utah. She would say shocking, withering things about A.G. Bell and its students while kicking rocks or tearing branches off trees. I would nod silently and listen, amazed at the fearlessness I saw in another child. When she found out that I was new too, she gave me a surprised, sideways look, and never said bad things about the school again. We only spent one year together before her dad moved she and her brother Ben to Redmond, a suburb twenty minutes away. It still rather amazes me that two nine-year old girls would keep in contact with such a formidable distance between them. Childhood friendships so easily coalesce and dissolve, even when kids are neighbors. But we made a mighty effort to stay friends, planning regular sleepovers with thrilling anticipation.
She lived on a farm growing up, or that’s what it felt like. They had a horse named Star who used to flatten garden beds by lying down on the fence between the vegetables and the lawn to take an impromptu nap. Cats were everywhere, and so were dogs. We used to feed Gumba, Brigitte’s favorite puppy, spaghetti noodles and sauce. I remember her holding him up to her face after that and breathing in his smell. “I love puppy breath,” she would say. “I love it when it smells like spaghetti.” She also had an admirable strategy for getting out of school- she would chew a piece of gum when she was sick, and then wrap it in foil and stick it in the freezer. “That way, any time I don’t want to go to school, I just take the gum out of the freezer, chew it again, and it makes me sick,” she explained breezily. I thought it was a brilliant idea.
On the carpeted stairs of their rickety house, we used to lie down side by side. Looking up, we would see the step-shaped ceiling unfolding towards the sky. The bit of ceiling just above our heads looked like a huge, inverted chair. If you could float up there, you would turn around and plant yourself in the seat, looking back down at the two little girls who stared up with longing eyes. We called this impossible bit of ceiling the King’s Chair, and we were always trying to devise ways of getting up there and sitting on it, like upside down royalty. Of course, it was impossible. Gravity wouldn’t allow it. But I don’t know how many hours we spent on our backs, staring up and concocting ideas that would allow us to sit there, inverted, and stay. We could never figure out how to get up there though, and even if we did, we weren’t sure how we’d stay. Glue on our butts? Really strong arms that held us pinned between the two walls? It was a conundrum that puzzled us for years.
As we grew into young ladies, our friendship changed. For one thing, Brigitte became nicer ;) I was no longer her punching bag, but someone she clearly held dear. As children, she used to fuck with me ruthlessly, telling me I looked like an alien because my teeth weren’t straight, dressing me up in any costume that caught her fancy and making me pose for pictures, or strolling up to a calendar and casually noting that “On the sixteenth of this month, I have a modeling shoot with Pierre…” I believed every word she said, though looking back, I can see that I was the canvas that she projected her wildest imaginings onto. As young women, we shared stories of lost virginity, career aspirations (at twenty, I was scooping ice cream, and she was a maid), and any other fantasy that sparked our imaginations. She was usually the one that came up with crazy schemes. One night before we went out on the town, she said, “Tonight, let’s pretend we’re high class hookers.” I agreed. She had great success, charming men and appealing to their most base desires. I got stuck talking to a midgety New Yorker who became enraged at the end of the night when I told him I’d only go with him for a price. I can’t say that was a great loss.
Since then, Brigitte has been everything to me: best friend, sister, mother, counselor. I’ve called her at my lowest of times, sobbing so hard I couldn’t get the words out, and she soothed me, soothed me until I was calm enough to speak. She always has thoughtful advice, and by that, I don’t mean it is simply kind. She slowly thinks out her words, and I can hear and see the wheels turning in her mind as she carefully selects the best advice to give. She told me once that after a period of meditating for several weeks, she woke in the morning from a dream that revealed to her she had been my mother in a past life. That didn’t surprise me at all. There is a protective quality to her friendship that is unique to any other relationship I have. She once accosted a naughty ex-boyfriend of mine in a public place, decrying him for hurting me, and causing the entire bar to sit up and watch. She’d been drinking a bit, so I imagine she let the tirade flow without any restraint. Then the wine and emotion got the best of her, and she collapsed into tears. She can only be a cold-hearted bitch for so long. Then the sun comes out.
Brigitte is stunningly gorgeous. She has Italian and French heritage, and anywhere we go, men stare. I’m not being modest when I say they are generally looking at her. Several years ago, she bought us tickets to Italy, and we spent several weeks in Rome and Tuscany. Men fell all over themselves for her. She charmed them old and young, practicing her Italian, and laughing in that deep, throaty way that makes men think they are the funniest, most clever creatures in the world. She had them eating out of her hand. It was a phenomenon to behold. At the end of that trip, being the generous soul that she is, she took me to an Italian boot shop, and told me to pick out my favorite pair. I still wear my Italian leather boots with pride, strolling through the city and feeling rather chic.
Brigitte has more or less refined her wild child ways, but she still loves a glass of red wine and an occasional slim cigarette. It’s terrible to say, but she does look divinely elegant smoking cigarettes. At one point when she had quit smoking, I remember her leaning back in her chair, a whiskey and coke in her hand, and saying, “I would skin a small child for a cigarette right now.” I don’t know where she gets her expressions, but they are hilarious.
In the months before I went away, we spent much of our time together in her hot tub, lounging in bikinis and sipping red wine. We talk endlessly of everything, and I come away from our encounters feeling refreshed and in love, in a best friend sort of way. She is deeper than my breath, and closer than my heart. I have a feeling that I have known her for a long, long time, and I hope I will go on knowing her forever. The last letter she sent me was signed, ‘I love you madly…’
I feel the same way.