You know the laugh: the stomach aching, hiccuping one. The kind that leaves tears rolling down your cheeks and messes with your makeup. That’s the laugh I laugh whenever my friend Marion and I get going. We reminisce about our childhood and the cast of characters from that twisted tale. Often those stories wouldn’t cause anyone else to even bat an eye, but they trigger something in us, something from our friendship that’s been going strong for over 40 years.
We met on the first day of seventh grade (I was enthralled by her long, shiny hair), and became “besties” very quickly. The sense of humor we shared was typically adolescent–the kind all girls that age possess. If the teacher dropped a piece of chalk or said something “dumb,” we knew to keep our eyes pealed on the front of the room. Had we even glanced at each other, it would have been all we could do to stifle a fit of hysterics. Once the bell rang and we scraped ourselves off our seats and headed out into the hall, all hell broke loose.
Marion and her older sister were latchkey kids even though the goings-on in their apartment were under the watchful eye of their “Nana,” who lived in the apartment next door. They lived on the top floor of a large apartment building and we spent many afternoons there, clunking up the marble flights of stairs, making enough noise so Nana would know when we were home. She would check on us every once in a while, but we were pretty much free to do whatever we wanted. (Making phony phone calls was probably the most perverse thing we did in Junior High while the proverbial cats were away, so Nana didn’t really have much to worry about.)
My mom worked one day a week, but that provided nothing like the luxury of having an apartment to yourself everyday after school. Marion and her sister seemed so independent and self-sufficient–they actually cooked for themselves–that was something I was not wont to do. Before I knew Marion I never knew that burgers could come frozen in a box–and I loved them! (I now shudder to think what kind of meat they were made of, but back then they seemed so “American” to me…so unlike the chopped meat my mom bought and made her own hamburger patties from.)
My family hardly ever ate out in restaurants, and when we did it invariably was at a deli, but every Sunday Marion’s family would head into the city, to Chinatown, with me in tow–I was always in tow–I was their “adopted” child. The dumplings, moo shu, and all the other dishes that were so foreign to me at first became standards after all those years of traipsing along with them. Those moments spent chatting, eating, and laughing (of course) around the formica-topped tables in the restaurants that could only be gotten to by stepping down below street level, were some of the happiest times of my tween years. I realize now that they were my true introduction into the world of gastronomia, but back then it was just fun time with the family. I wonder if her family ever had a second thought about me tagging along so often. If they did, I never felt it. I always part of the group.
Once we were older and phony phone calls were no longer enough to keep us “amused,” we moved on to other forms of distraction…It was in Marion’s house that we girls had our first drink (Harvey’s Bristol Cream–it was the only thing we could find)–our first cigarette–our first hit of marijuana (I daresay someone older, like a big sister might have provided us with the goods, but I am not in the business of defaming someone’s character.) That apartment was also where we first learned “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask,” since her parents had a copy of it that was not-so-neatly hidden in their bedroom.
Years later, still neighbors in Manhattan, we would walk to work together, talking about the future when we would no longer have to toil away at the “salt mines.” Those were our salad days when we were still young and naive enough to not fathom our lives taking the twists and turns that they did. We never thought that we would eventually be separated by thousands of miles, and that new friends–other really good friends, would fill in the gaps.
Life has a way of changing people, and so too the years and experiences. But each time we talk or see one another, we’re back in that apartment in Brooklyn…giggling. My mom would often joke that she was going to pay Marion to call more often so she could hear me laugh more often. (Yes, I was the typical sullen teenager who raced to my bedroom as soon as I entered the house and came out only for meals and the occasional chat.) She would be happy to know that the laughter still resounds when we’re together. And even my boys would turn to each other when they’d hear it and say, “Oh, Mom’s probably talking to Marion.”