"I have seen personally what is the only beneficial and appropriate course of action for people: to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward." (Ecclesiastes 5:18, NET)

June 30, 2015

Hall of Friends

Something's always wrong to some degree, right? And sometimes, all you need to make things better is a little time with friends.

After being uplifted recently by a couple of my long-time BFs, Jennifer and Betsy, I began reflecting on all the lovely friends I've been blessed with throughout my life. This inspired my Hall of Friends. So the first ones in are Betsy and Jennifer.

Betsy, me, and Jennifer
at Drew's Pastry Place last week
See how they're tucked in behind me with their bodies at an angle? Maybe they were just trying to fit in the shot. Or maybe they were positioning themselves so they wouldn't look as wide as me. Never mind that they're not as wide. The point is that best friends can do stuff like that and you're totally cool with it. (But either way, girls, one of you have to be in the middle next time, okay?)

The three of us met when we were in the same group at work, and even though that connection ended years ago, our friendship continues and our bond keeps getting tighter. We meet every few months for lunch and make an afternoon of it for our year-end celebration in December. These ladies just fit the bill of what friends should be.

Now for the other inductees to my Hall of Friends.

Keeping this to a blog post instead of a book required that I establish some hard-to-meet criteria. So lest any of my many wonderful friends be disappointed not to see their names here, please note that an inductee must:
  • Be a female without familial connection
  • Think my flaws are endearing
  • Appreciate my sarcasm (realizing it's not a flaw)
  • Share her secrets and keep mine
  • Laugh every time I say something funny
  • Pretend not to hear when my attempts at humor fail
  • Instantly forgive me for the asinine things I say
  • Make me feel better by just being around her
  • Have considered me a best friend for at least 7 years
  • Be totally honest while having my best interests at heart

Examples of the last bullet point include: telling me when I've got food on my face, or better yet, nonchalantly wiping it off (thanks, Betsy); not allowing me to refuse a breath mint if I need one; and telling me right away if a new haircut is unflattering instead of waiting til it grows out.

I could list many more criteria and examples, but don't want to scare off potential BFs, because you're never too old to have new ones.

And before revealing the other honorees, my apologies to best friends from elementary school. For the sake of time and space, I'm starting from junior high, which was 7th–9th grade back in my day.

Something clicked between me and Shelly when we met the first day of school (in spite of her dorky outfit). We were instantly best friends and spent as much time together as possible, even walking several miles to each other's homes, meeting midway along the railroad tracks. It might have been only 2 or 3 miles, but it felt really long, especially during the sweltering summer breaks.

From grades 8–11, Shelly and I had every class together, sat together at lunch, never went to the restroom alone, hung out before and after school, had sleepovers on weekends, went to parties and rock concerts together, and double-dated. Our first job was at the Metropolitan movie theater downtown, and our second job was at the Burger King by Shelly's house.

Our names were always spoken together at school. Paula and Shelly. Shelly and Paula. Never one without the other. Then came the 11th grade when my 16-year-old BF did the unthinkable.

Shelly got married. Moved. Changed schools. And she didn't have to get married—she chose to. I felt demoted, cast aside even. And our dream of riding horseback from Texas to California after graduation? Squashed.

As much as I adored her boyfriend-fiance-husband, I wasn't exactly thrilled. Looking back, I must admit being terribly petulant and selfish about it all. Case in point—when shopping for bridesmaid dresses, I chose a tiara to go with mine.
Shelly (10th grade?), me in the 11th
(the real tiara wasn't nearly this big)

Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

If anyone wears a tiara at a wedding, it's the bride, of course. But this maid of honor wore one. And Shelly was okay with it. That's the kind of crazy, selfless friend she was.

I hung out with Shelly, her husband, and his friends on occasion, our most memorable adventure being spring break of '71 on Padre Island. But I didn't have a BF at school anymore. Just hung out with my guy friends and other girlfriends until I began dating an older man with hair halfway down his back and a Harley. He became my world then, and his friends were my friends.

Dennis Kay
I didn't have a BF again until I was 19 or 20 and my boyfriend's BF started dating Dennis Kay. I couldn't have hand-picked a better friend. Dennis and I laughed like Shelly and I did. We just had the best time together. I absolutely adored her and loved hanging out with her.

Dennis and I went through a lot of changes together. From being the freewheeling hippie-chick girlfriends of older men, to being married ladies, to being young mothers. Through it all, whenever we were together, we had a blast.

Dennis, me, and Shelly (ca. 1980ish)
This photo of me with both Dennis and Shelly is one of a kind. I think the only time the 3 of us hung out together was at my toddlers' birthday parties.

Suddenly it seemed, Dennis divorced her husband and started a new life. I was dumped again. The first time through a marriage. The second time through a divorce.

Marilyn Gay
What kept me from being a tiara-wearing martyr this time was my growing friendship with Marilyn Gay. Having been washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb just a few years prior, I was discovering the incredible joy of a having a BF who is also a sister-in-Christ.

Gay had been a Christian for a long time, so she was a mentor to me as well as a friend. And, like my BFs before her, we had the best time together. It was just different. Deeper.

We not only socialized together, we served together. I was with Gay at least 3 or 4 times every week for church and ministry activities. We also wrote Christian songs together that Gay performed at church. Somewhere between all of that, we would talk for hours. And a better prayer partner I've never had.

Gay in 1997
When I got cancer (lymphoma) in 1986, Gay was there every step of the way. She did whatever she could for me. And during an entire year of body-crushing chemo, not a single day passed that she didn't call to check on me, never hanging up without saying, "I love you."

Life took some twists and turns that resulted in Gay moving, me getting divorced, and both of us joining new churches.

Sherry with James
(who was too close to crop
out of my girls-only post!)
Gay and I had become close friends with Sherry, who became a true and lasting BF to me. She filled the void beautifully after Gay moved.

Sherry and I encouraged each other, but she helped me a lot more than I helped her. The kindness of Sherry and her family, especially during my divorce, is something I'll always be grateful for.

Even though we've been separated by distance and circumstance for a long time now, if I ever need Sherry, I trust that she'll be there for me in whatever way she can. BFs always have your back.

My job brought my next BF forever, Clai, who's like Shelly and Dennis rolled into one. Talk about clicking. We're all about honesty, unwavering trust, and cracking each other up so much it's ridiculous.

A friendship can survive anything if it can survive traveling together. The business trips Clai and I took were some of the best times of my life and only solidified our relationship.

In San Francisco, San Diego, and Washington D.C.
Note the "blind" selfie with a nondigital camera 
(and check out my giant spectacles!)

Even though we gradually drifted apart after I remarried, we're now back to spending time together. It was like rediscovering your favorite robe in a corner of the closet, slipping back into its extraordinary comfort, its perfect fit, and wondering why you ever stopped wearing it. (Yes, Clai, you remind me of an old robe.)

We're again enjoying our time together so much that if other people are around, we have to try really hard not to ignore them. Even through text messages, we can make each other laugh to the point of pain.

Back to Marilyn Gay
It was during the early years of my second marriage that Gay was diagnosed with breast cancer. I'm sorry to say that I wasn't there for her like she had been for me. Sure, things were different. We lived farther apart, weren't involved in each other's lives like before, and I was busy focusing on making marriage work this time.

But that's no excuse. Although I was with Gay at the hospital for her mastectomy, I visited only a few times during the months that she fought tenaciously to get well. And I didn't call nearly often enough.

I was supposed to go see her one Saturday, but something happened and I couldn't make it. When I called to postpone our visit by a week, I heard the disappointment in Gay's voice. What she knew, and I didn't, was that the end was near. She did say that the treatments weren't working anymore, but gave no indication of just how dire the situation was. She still sounded the same, and the last time I had seen her, she still looked great.

We had a good, long conversation, talking of things like timeless eternity and how we'd get to spend it together.

The following Saturday as planned, I went to visit Gay. She had declined so rapidly in that short time that she could barely speak. And I was so shocked by the drastic change in her appearance that I could barely speak, either. But at least we got to say "I love you" one last time.

At her memorial service, the pastor read a letter Gay had written to "leave some 'bouquets' of thanks to some special people," two of whom were Sherry and me. "To Paula Kay," Gay wrote, "my buddy, who is always my friend."

Her last words to me were a testament to what a true friend she was. Gay understood why I wasn't there for her in the same way she had been for me, and there was no blame, no judgment, only gratitude for what we shared. "To Paula Kay ... who is always my friend." Present tense. Without end.

Gay concluded her message by saying, "Each time you see a flower that you enjoy, close your eyes and hear me say, 'Thank you for giving to the Lord.' Because of you, I truly am a life that was changed. I love you all. See you in Paradise."

Back at ya, sweetheart. I miss you so much.

Ladies, let's celebrate our friends. Cherish the old ones. Make new ones. Enjoy them all.

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