There is a cute little meme that goes around Facebook now and then that says, “We all have that one friend who…” It usually refers to someone who is crazy or who can’t be described. There is a picture of a duck or of someone hanging upside down from a tree branch. Sometimes there is a caption that reads, “I am that friend.” Generally, I think everyone agrees that we all have that one friend. When I see this cartoon I always look back and forth over both shoulders. Truth is, all my friends are like that. I saw another one today that said, “You never know how weird your friends are until you try to describe them to someone else.” No, I do. I do know how weird they are. Describing them would be impossible. The quality isn’t always apparent to the untrained eye, but I see them. They are wild flowers handpicked from a garden choked with weeds.
When I was in nursing school my friend Kelly Tuckman told me she was going to get a dog and name it Carbaminohemoglobin. We were studying Anatomy & Physiology, she heard the word, rolled it around on her tongue and liked the sound of it.
“And you’re going to have a nickname?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “No nickname.”
“You can’t expect that people are going to be able to pronounce…”
“Why not? It’s easy as hell when you break it down. Carb-amino-hemo-globin.”
“Yeah,” I said, laughing. “It’s easy for us. We’re studying science. We break down eight-syllable words all damn day. But even you would have to have a pet name…”
Over the years, whenever I was sad or bored or just missing my friends, I would think about Kelly out in her back yard somewhere calling her dog. “CARBAMINOHEMOGLOBIN! CARBAMINOHEMOGLOBIN! CARB…” I could see her welcoming a guest to her home and that person bending down to greet the dog and saying, “Hey Carby! Hey Carb!” and Kelly saying sternly, “That’s not his name. You need to leave.” She has had many fur-babies over the years, but as a critical care nurse she probably got sick of breaking down eight-syllable words for moronic new interns, and decided that Fiona was a lovely name for a dog. Kelly and I shared an apartment while we studied pre-requisite classes for nursing school. One of my fondest memories from that time, besides the Great Housekeeping Standoff of 1990, was the time I tried to wake her from a nightmare and in one swift motion she sprung up out of sleep and grabbed me by the throat. It was one of those things you laugh about later. It’s funny now, yeah, but she did nearly kill me.
Another friend of mine in nursing school, Susan Grimes, cannot be described with human language. I won’t attempt to do so. When we first met I thought she was the whitest woman I had ever seen. Not just because her skin was very white (she never went out into the sun), and her hair was blonde, but everything else about her was also very white: she was wealthy, she was Republican, she was conservative. I called her “White Lady” or “Church Lady” and my first impression of her was that she had no sense of humor at all. There was something about her, though. She was the only one among us who truly wanted to be a nurse and wasn’t going into the field for the promise of making big money. She was already rich. One day she told me about a dog she saw trotting down the street as she was driving into school. “It was a big Rottweiler and he was just running along,” she said. “He was all muscular and proud and his balls were just swinging back and forth and I thought to myself, ‘Ya know, if I was a girl dog, I would think he was really sexy.’” There it was. It was that depravity that snared me. I was happy to find over the years that it would go so much deeper and darker…
I have two friends that stand on the opposite ends of a very colorful spectrum. On one end is Amy Harris. On the other is Donna Melton. They are connected in my mind by the one thing that differentiates them: Amy can and does say anything to me and I can and do say anything to Donna. These words are not buffered by anything—not “promise you won’t tell” or “don’t be mad, but…” I don’t know if Amy is this way with everyone, or if everyone is this way with Donna, but I know that of all my friends, only Amy is this way with me, and Donna is the only one I am this way with. I cannot divulge some of the things Amy has shared with me, and if you’ve ever read our comments to each other on Facebook you’re probably thinking, “Jesus, how could it be any worse?”, but trust me, it is. With Donna, and if you know Donna you are already nodding your head, there is no shock value. You can say whatever the fuck you want to say. You can share the deepest, sickest, darkest fantasy you’ve ever had and she will listen without judgement and then discuss it with you detail by detail while pointing out why it’s really not that twisted at all, if you consider all the psychosocial ramifications and the current day cultural climate.
It was Donna who had the best response when I was first considering my spoken word strike months ago. We were in the basement discussing the obstacles and challenges and I said, “I’m afraid that more than wanting this silence for myself, I just want everyone else to shut the fuck up.”
And she said nothing.
Michelle Stamper has a quality that I noticed the first time I met her. I’m not sure she is even aware of it, and again, I’m not sure if this is expressed with everyone she encounters or if it is reserved only for me. I like to think it is just mine. It is the hug. Michelle has a very distinct edge to her personality. She is a natural cynic, a doubter and questioner, she is a straight-shooter and a stand-up witness. She is incapable of bullshit and she is more than willing to voice her opinion on any subject even if that opinion goes against popular regard. With this in mind, the intensity of feeling expressed in the hug is so contradictory to her overall presentation that when she wraps it around you, you are caught off guard, transported and transcended, and left feeling as if you have been filled with the promise of Zen.
I can say without reservation that my most misunderstood friend is Robin Berrier. The reasons are many and varied, I understand that, but most of those reasons are clouded by rumor and misperception. I will not attempt to explain any of that here. What I can say about my friend Robin, without trying to romanticize this, is that from the very first moment she looked at me, I felt that no one had ever seen me so clearly before. She got me. She knew me. She saw me. She saw through me. She is very complex and has a complicated personality. She can come off as arrogant and entitled, but I’ve always thought much of that had to do with her being an only child (as well as being a Leo). She leads a lifestyle many people don’t agree with, but she is not asking for your permission to live it. She has never hurt me. She has always protected me. She is a deep thinker and has an artistic eye, a quick wit, and yes, a mean streak. But truly, she only uses her powers for good. Well, maybe not all the time. No, she does. Except when… No, really!
If that Facebook meme were written about my friend Debbie Stricklin-Olson it would say, “We all have that one friend who…always shows up.” I met Debbie when I first moved here from Ohio in 2005. She was the first member of my group, Triad Womyn, and met me and my then-partner, Kim, at Buffalo Wild Wings for wings and trivia. We laughed the entire time but I don’t remember why. We laugh all the time and I can never remember why. One of the things she has said that I do remember, (and this memory evokes hysterical laughter whether I’m at the bank or with my boss), was the time she told me she could type “fifty-five miles per hour.” If you are having a gathering, a parade, a BBQ, a poetry slam, a political debate or a brownie bake-off, Debbie will be there. For a long time she had her own room in my house. I suspect there are lots of other houses out there with rooms for Debbie.
I met Shelly Davis at work three years ago and it was love at first sight. You cannot meet Shelly and not immediately fall in love with her. I thought at first it was her face. That’s what immediately draws you in… that angelic innocence, the mischievous sparkle in her eyes, the rosy cheeks and the supple skin framed softly by the shock of red spiked hair meticulously styled and set. But when she starts to speak, her voice is like a melody, like the twinkling of bells, wind chimes. There is that articulation, that enunciation. You quickly realize that she is intelligent. As you are processing the beauty and the brains and the voice and the colors of her face, she hits you with the laugh. It will make your knees buckle. Just when you think you can stand no more, she will say something insightful or witty, she will give you a perceptive slice of life through her unique view of the world, and you will fall to her feet in abject worship. The problem is, you will do this every single time you see her, but trust me, it’ll be worth it.
It is said that jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius. This is very true of me. The funny thing is, I never realized this until I started writing this paragraph. When I met Brooke Nagy, Rebecca Southards, and Beth Butler, I automatically didn’t like any of them. I had the same knee-jerk reaction with all of them—an immediate dislike, a glitch in my matrix, a snap to the face as if from a whip that sprung wildly straight from their brains. None of these women know each other well, but they should, because they have an extremely rare quality in common. They are the most interesting specimens in my showcase. People often like to tell others how smart they are, or that they are deep thinkers, or that they are geniuses. You will never hear these women say that. They don’t have to. There is no need. It is obvious. These bitches are fucking brilliant. I’m talking about steel-trap, logical, calculating, quick-thinking, Einstein-like cerebral endowment. Now I know a lot of smart people. I’m in the medical field and I know people with PhDs and Masters degrees and medical degrees and specialists in various fields who know their shit and are considered authorities in their careers. I’m not talking about knowledge that comes after four to ten years of school with a march across a stage and a degree in a frame that says you can now charge for your services. I’m talking about a natural-born, innate intellectual prowess that shines out like a diamond in a goat’s ass without the degree, without the education. It just is. I’ve known a few other people like this throughout my life and they have this one thing in common: none of them have graduate degrees. It’s almost as if the universe is protecting us from them, like if they got any smarter, they might change the course of history–or maybe it is protecting them from themselves. Van Wyck Brooks said, “Genius and virtue are to be more often found clothed in gray than in peacock bright.” Not for me. These women blind me with their shine.
I have not known Lisa Liza SheWolf (no, that’s not her real name) for very long, but when I look at her, it’s like studying a rare crystal set against crushed black velvet. There is vibrant color in her face, her hair, her words, her laughter, her tears, her pain, but I see her forever cloaked in a dark haze, both unintentional and by design. She lives with horrific pain around the clock. Where most of us are alarmed when we have pain, it stands out to her when she doesn’t. She is no martyr. Pain has taken her down, but she has not stayed down. Whether it is by cane, walker or wheelchair, she is going. She is going to look and feel and be a part of the experience and the pain is something she will take with her, begrudgingly, like an annoying relative who won’t go home. It is as much a part of her as that booming laugh, that caustic wit, that natural skepticism, that icy blue gaze…lurking right there at the surface, behind a disarming smile.
Daniel Harris is like no other person I’ve ever known. He is unabashedly himself, without apology, without buffering, without warning. He is a one-man Broadway play. He is a pin-ball careening wildly off the four corners of the universe in bright, stylish fashion, dancing, screaming, daring, charging, wide open, ten-feet tall and bullet proof. One night he asked TD and me if we could guess what he was obsessed with. We took turns answering. “Fashion? Men? Shoes? Purses? Accessories? Ru Paul’s Drag Race? Project Runway? Madonna?” He shook his head and pointed to Sophie. “That, right there.” It was his care and adoration for Sophie that first made me fall in love with him, but there are so many facets to his character, both good and bad, that I can’t imagine life without him now. Yes, it drives me to distraction when he talks about blow jobs at the dinner table, especially when I can’t speak to tell him to shut up, and the constant singing and dancing and posing and staring at himself in the mirror and twirling and modeling…well, that’s him, and I love every bit of it.
Kim Duncan is not my friend. Let me rephrase that. Kim Duncan is my friend by proxy. She is the number one fan of Team Davis and I am very much aware of this. We all have that one friend who…would drop you in a hot minute if you were no longer friends with the one friend that connected you together in the first place. I don’t judge her for this. I’ve been that friend myself, with someone mentioned in this very blog post. It’s a matter of loyalty, perhaps, or of priority, perhaps devotion or integrity. Whatever it is, I get it. The thing about Kim, and this is something she probably doesn’t know about herself and which I discovered only after watching her with a mother’s eye, is that she doesn’t know her own worth. There is a humility and modesty about her that overwhelms the idea that she deserves to be worshipped, or at the very least, treated with respect and admiration. It is this flaw, this self-perception that she is only good enough, that magnifies the brightness of the other qualities she can’t see…that biting wit, that careful honesty, that unbreakable character. I imagine that if friends were included as parts of divorce settlements, she’d be the battle in a number of custody cases.
I met Tracy Davis on June 5, 2005 on my first day of work at Baptist Hospital on the psych unit. I was in report and she came in late with an obvious attitude. She didn’t even look at me. After report, I sat beside her at the nurses’ station and asked her if she was family. She said, “No.” I said, “Oh, I thought we had more in common than just our names.” She changed her answer. Tracy and I are not a couple now. I will not go into any of the details regarding the changes we’ve gone through over the past year. What I will do is tell you some fun things about her you might not know. She has the brain of a lawyer or private detective. She missed her calling here. She can deduce the truth from as little as two clues, a twitch of an eye, an errant detail or one blurry fact that isn’t adding up…the timing is off by mere minutes or why was the dog barking or how did that person have the information when the other person was already dead? You can’t give her one tiny hint about Christmas presents. Are you hiding something? A secret? A surprise? She will get it out of you. She is a master at prank calls. She cannot pull off an English accent but she can disguise her voice a hundred different ways on the phone. She can’t eat meat off the bone, not chicken or ribs. You must take the meat off for her. She is a very hard worker, my mother says (that is her highest compliment), and she is a deeply, fiercely loyal friend. If she had not been in my life over this past decade, I would not be alive writing this right now.
I thought this was going to be fun to write. I thought it was going to be easy and silly. It was not. My friends are no different than yours. They are not more unique or outlandish or twisted. We all have that one friend…fact is, all our friends are that one friend, we are that one friend, every person you meet is that one friend, whether you see it or not. There is that quality, that flaw, that draws you to them, or repels you, that stops you and makes you take notice. Robin and I have this thing we do when the other is feeling depressed or angry or feeling any other overwhelming emotion not readily transparent to others. I will be posting derogatory memes or she will be posting gut-wrenching songs and we will send a private message to the other that says, “I see you.” Nothing is more validating. We all have that one friend…be that one friend who sees. Look for the flaw, the glitch, the twitch…and love them not in spite of the fault or weakness, but because of it.