Lila & Fran

Lila & Fran

“Are you worried I’m not going short enough?”

“Huh?” I say, surprised to find my friend leaning in beside me with scissors in her hand.

I look down to the inches in my lap and to those on the floor around me. I rarely come to her chair with much of an agenda. I rely on her sense of style and more importantly on her sense–of me. “I’m not worried.”

We had already decided that this would be my “winter hat haircut” so I’d been daydreaming. It was the day before my birthday and I often come that week or even on the day itself, and then again at the turning point of each season.

“You’re the most spiritual person I know,” my friend once said. “Every day is a ritual for you.”

I would have never guessed that she was religious. “You say evangelical like it’s a bad word,” she told me.

I thanked her for letting me know.

“I feel safe with you,” she said, and I felt safer with her for taking the risk that so few women do.

Female friendships don’t come easy to me or they come easy but I’m not easy in them. This may be because I have seven sisters, and I am the oldest. And an introvert. There are already so many ways not to be enough.

Friends who go the distance let it be easy.

This friend and I are beach friends. We often meet up at the pond–by chance–with our picnic baskets and wine or margaritas or cold beers. We share a devotion to the water, to the greenery beside it, to sipping spirits as the sun sets on the gift of another day.

After the summer, we part ways. I go into hibernation and she continues to socialize–seeing more friends in some weeks than I could manage in a year.

We met back when our kids were preschoolers. That winter we were assigned to the same committee for a fundraising event. We discovered that we both gave our all to the job. But it was the evening of the event when she stole my heart, and not for her talents with the table, but for her offer to pour me something stronger in my tea cup.

That gave me the nerve to ask: “What do you do?”

I had been wondering this all year. While the rest of us looked like we were practically dressed in our pajamas (and Birkenstocks) when we dropped our kids off to school, she always looked like she was heading to a party.

One afternoon when we arrived to pick up  our kids she asked “Do you want to come over for lunch?” Instead of their crust, she fixed us up a grownup meal while the kids went off to play. There were grapes on my plate, and a salad!, and something new–a sandwich that she pressed on a grill. She called it a panini.

“Would you like a glass of wine,” she asked, and I almost swooned as she opened a bottle and took down two stemmed glasses instead of plastic ones or canning jars.

But things got serious after that.

“Do you play golf?” she asked, as she sat down beside me. My heart sank.

I didn’t know then that I hated golf or I suppose I knew but I didn’t know why.

“I’m going to put the dryer over your head,” she says, leaning in beside me again.

I watch as she puts the scissors down on the tray, and pulls the portable dryer over to my chair, lowering it over my head. The sound of the dryer takes me back, not just to when our highschoolers were preschoolers, but futher still.

She hands me a glass of sparkling water, and I arrive in my grandmother’s bedroom.

The ocean air streams through a set of tall windows, the last of which stands beside her own beauty salon recliner with an overhead hair dryer. The dryer means that we don’t have to wear wirey curlers to bed.

She was the age I am now, when my youngest uncle married a woman who was a hair dresser, and to my surprise she let her new daughter in law cut her hair.

My grandmother received a feathery soft layered cut with bangs. I thought she looked beautiful. And cool!

The thing was, her new hair style required a blow dryer and a round brush which my immensely competent grandmother never used before.

“Would you like to do it for me?” she asked, after washing her hair for the first time since the cut.

I looked at her sitting there beside her bedroom vanity sink and I felt as if I was about to be knighted by the Queen.

She had bestowed other privileges on me in the months since I had become a teen. One evening after a large extended family dinner, she told her grandchildren that it was time for us to head down to the gameroom, but then she added: “Kelly Ann can stay.”

Breathless, I remained still, and attempted to remain proud even when I realized that staying meant helping the grown women with  the dishes.

More recently, I had been invited to participate in the preparations for an event she was hosting for my father to re-introduce him to the community as a partner in my grandfather’s practice. Though I still had to return to New York to finish my highschool exams, the rest of my family had relocated to the shore ahead of me so that my father could begin work.

Shish ke-babs were on the menu and I had been assigned the green peppers. With a sharp knife in hand, my pride faltered once again when I took in the mound of them on the table.

I am only just realizing my ambivalence toward green peppers as akin to my feelings for golf, coming as they did together around the accident.

“Do you need more sparkling water,” my friend asks as she lifts the dryer and checks my curls, then lowers it back over my head again.

I take my place behind my nana, facing the gilded mirror, beneath which sits the ceramic swan that was once a wedding favor filled with jordan almonds and was now employed as a cutip holder.

I do not remember if I did a good job with the blow dryer and the round brush, or if it got stuck in her hair like it often got stuck in mine. I’d never been very good with hair. Pictures of me at 14 are painful.

But the thrill I felt to stand behind her is what remains, as was the thrill I felt about finally taking my place beside her in the very same town in less than a month’s time after such a long wait–a decade that brought me to Philadelphia for my father’s medical degree to his internship in New Port News, to his residency in Denver and finally his service at West Point.

I had literally dreamed of this return for the entirety of my young life.

I looked down to see my hair, swept up in a silver pile.

I can’t blame the accident for my feelings about golf, not entirely. I had taken lessons the year before, and I had found it terribly boring.

“I don’t play,” I told my friend, as I took a sip of wine, but I didn’t tell her about the accident. It had been twenty-five years, and it would be another ten before I began to write back into the pain that I had frozen inside.

The thing is my friend reminds me of my grandmother. They share the same joie de vivre and a love of French things. And something else. My friend has another friend who reminds me of my Auntie Fran, who was my nana’s very best friend. These two friends are giddy together like Lila and Fran were, ike the way they must have been as they set out on that trip, crossing that bridge on their way to the golf match where they were to serve as the first women officials.

My father flew back to the base in a friend’s tiny plane to give me the news.

We flew back together for the funerals.

“Do you want to take a look,” my friend asks, as she lifts the dryer from my head and hands me a mirror.

“No thanks,” I say, “I trust you.”

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