April 2010

Getting by with a little help from my friend

By Suzanne Strazza

I am 15 years old, sitting at a table on the expansive front porch of the Colonial Inn, the table is covered with Marlboro Lights and Long Island Iced Teas. I would never have gotten in on my own, but fortunately, I am with M (14) who, being who she is, has just convinced the 250-pound bouncer that it is imperative that not only do we gain access to the coolest bar in town, but that we also get the best table and an endless supply of cocktails.

Thank God for M.

With our view of the harbor and the yachts within, a little loopy although never admitting it, we do not solve the problems of the world. But we do try to solve the problems of our very important, central-to-the-happiness-of-all-mankind, love lives.

We talk about the boys we like and those who should like us. We complain bitterly about our bosses (they want us to both show up on time and actually work) and then we spend a fair amount of time talking about the varied flaws of all of our other friends.

Who would have guessed, during those idyllic summer evenings, that 30 years later, and across the country, we would be racing off into the sunset together (drinking coffee, not Iced Teas) towards the court-appointed parenting class that is required for finalizing our divorces?

We are carpooling to Cortez. I am driving. Out of the kindness of my heart, I decide to get a latte for each of us. Unfortunately, this takes longer than we have time for and suddenly, we are late. M informs me that they will lock the door promptly at 5:30 and it is clearly not an option to be on the outside of that locked door.

Bigger than the fear of missing the class is my fear of pissing off M – she is my biggest crutch through this whole thing and I cannot afford to alienate her over a cup of coffee.

So I must do my part to make sure that we are on time. I race to her house and fling open the car door for Q, her son whom we have to drop off at Summit “on the way” to Cortez from Mancos. I yell at him to get in the car, screech at her to drink her damn latte and head north.

Driving up 184, I begin to race the car to keep pace with my heart. Faster and faster, wired on caffeine we repeat over and over, “Okay, it’s 5:00, 10 minutes to Summit, then do you think we can make it to Cortez in 15 from there?” I turn to the backseat, where her sweet 8-year-old looks at me and says, “Suzanne, we should have left earlier.”

Thanks, Q.

So I tell him that it’s time for him to practice his duck and roll because I don’t have time to actually stop when we get to his friend’s house so I am going to slow down and he can just leap from the car.

M calls the friend. “Can you meet us at the bottom of your road – we don’t have time to drive the 1/8 mile to your house.” We have now dragged yet another person into our drama, just like we did at 15.

The friend, bless her heart, is at the end of the road and needs no direction. We stop, throw Q out of the car, dump his skis and backpack in the middle of the road and tear off.

Suddenly, the person who hyperventilates at the thought of going 2 mph over the speed limit, is now going 84 mph on 184.

M, who, of course, knows the parenting teacher (because she knows everyone), calls the woman and leaves a message begging the poor thing not to lock us out.

I pass a cop.

F#$%.

I slam on the brakes, coffee spraying across the dashboard, as we began to bite each others’ heads off. I say, “I am so sorry – I just wanted to do something nice for you (and me).”

M replies, “I won’t hate you. But, if I have to do this all over again next month after I arranged child care and all THIS month, I’m going to be pissed.”

F#$%.

I speed back up from my post-cop crawl of 37 mph, back to the low 80s. We manage to pass three more sheriff's deputies, none of whom decide to chase us, thank GOD. They must have sensed that stopping us, in the state we were in, would only make their lives more difficult.

We get caught behind another Subaru going a mere 68 mph. I tailgate. I get flipped off.

Caffeine and anxiety coursing through our bloodstreams, sweat pouring down between my shoulder blades, we laugh hysterically at ourselves and the fact that after 30 years, this is where we have ended up.

But at least we are still friends and sniping at each other as only friends like us can do.

We screech into the parking lot with exactly 2 minutes to spare. By now, our bond is even tighter than before, due to yet another shared, harrowing experience. I park while M pulls my notebook, checkbook and Clif Bar out of my bag. We leap out of the car like Starsky and Hutch and race to the front door where there is a sign that reads…

“Due to illness, the parenting class is cancelled and has been rescheduled for…”

Seriously?

I would cry except I begin to become unhinged instead. So M and I begin to giggle, a bit maniacally. My neighbor, who is also attending the class and a fourth gal, whom we decide we would like to be friends with, both pull into the parking lot. They panic, taking our outside presence as a sign that the door is locked. They stare, in disbelief, at the front door’s sign, thinking about all that they, too, have gone through to make it possible to be here at 5:30 without children.

Then M decides that since we have no young ones, we should go to her house.

By the time we get back to Mancos, we are calm, there is no longer coffee oozing out of our pores and we have apologized for biting off and chewing each others’ heads. We pass two more sheriff's cars and I silently thank the heavens above that even though nothing else seems to have changed in the last 30 years, at least I am not still driving drunk.

Having circumnavigated the county, we end up sitting around a table that is littered with goat cheese and bread crumbs, not Marlboro Lights. We sip wine and try to remember what is even in a Long Island Iced Tea. We talk about the boys we like and those that used to like us. We complain about having to work to support ourselves, children, pets. Then we pick apart our friends, their greatest crime being happily married when we no longer are.

If someone had walked up to our table in the Colonial 30 years ago and told us that we would still be friends, living in Mancos, getting divorced and going to court together, we would have laughed.

Although we might have believed the part about having to go to court.

But thanks to my childhood friend, we are laughing through most of this too.

Thank God for M.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo.