Friday, November 16, 2012

In every way but blood

November 5 was the third anniversary of the death of my dear friend Dedi from metastatic breast cancer. The next day was election day, the culmination of weeks, months of our country trying to insist we all come in just two varieties: red and blue. The juxtaposition had me thinking back over our unlikely friendship.

Dedi and I at my wedding.
Boy, were we younger then...
Dedi and I met 25 years ago, when we were both 25 years old. On the surface, we had nothing in common. I am an introvert and a nerd, born and raised outside Boston, as a Catholic. I am (and was) a very liberal Democrat. When we met, I was pursing a PhD (which I later punted when I finished my masters). By contrast, Dedi was a flaming extrovert who never met a stranger (seriously, she could have carried on an animated conversation with a brick wall), born and raised in small-town North Carolina, as a Presbyterian. She was a moderate Republican. She never went to college.

Not only were we different in personality, temperament, upbringing, and education, we were also at totally different points in our lives when we met. I was a single, not-even-dating graduate student, who figured I would never get married or have kids. She managed my apartment complex, had married at 19, and had a 4 year old.

Not a likely pairing for a friendship, right? And yet. However unlikely it was, we hit it off from the moment we met. Whatever the differences between us, whatever way you want to carve the world into two kinds of people, that I fell on one side and she on the other, we just got each other.We could talk for hours, about everything and nothing. She was in awe of my education, I was in awe of her social poise. It was some years later that I confessed to her I had never understood why she, so confident, so outgoing, so personable, would want to be friends with awkward me. Which is when she confessed she'd often wondered why someone as educated as I was would want to be friends with her... We laughed about that many times in the years that followed.

Many times over the years, our other friends scratched their heads over our friendship. Interestingly, both sets mostly focused on the disparity in our education. I know a lot of PhDs who have no sense, no compassion, no people skills. I wouldn't have traded Dedi and her high school education for a truckload of them. I didn't give a fig for her education: she was funny, smart, curious, compassionate, and fiercely loyal. No one ever had a truer friend, or one with a bigger heart, or a greater knack for saying exactly the right thing at the right time, even if it didn't seem like the obvious right thing. (I once shared an epiphany about my family with her, something I felt I would have to defend and explain, and her immediate response was "Well, duh!" It was perfect... One thing we did share was a snarky and sarcastic sense of humor...) Sometimes she leaned on me, and sometimes I leaned on her, and neither of us kept score.

I learned an enormous amount from her about parenting, about interacting with the world, about self confidence, about life in general. Our friendship transformed me. I still reach for the phone when I have a thorny how-should-I-deal-with-this problem, only now, I can no longer ask her, I can only think "What would Dedi do?"

I am so grateful for the 22 years of our friendship. We shared countless meals, trips to the beach, movies, everything. She was my matron of honor when I got married, my unofficial doula at the births of both Rapunzel and The Nerd, and The Nerd's godmother. And it was not enough: I wanted to lunch with her in our retirement, admire her grandbabies and brag on mine. I would love to have chewed on the issues that vex me and vex our world with her. But  that was not to be, and I still mourn the loss of that.

She herself summed up our relationship when Rapunzel was born. One of the labor and delivery nurses asked her if we were sisters. Her response? "In every way but blood." Rest in peace my sister. I miss you still.

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