By Rosalie Tirella
So here we all are: Me, Rose, and all those familiar GIRLY feelings – Together! Again! Just like in Burncoat Senior High School! Just the way it felt back then, with my BFF gal pals in Mr. Labelle’s sophomore biology classroom or in homeroom, right before first period. During cafeteria break, too … during gym class, smelling of SECRET deodorant and B.O. Me and my GAL PALS!!! Fun times, sharing secrets, helping each other, caring, laughing, admiring … shoring up each other … being competitive, too. THE AWFUL GIRLY GIRL FIGHTS – THE EMOTIONAL SLUGFESTS. Girls being girls. Only now it is 40 years later. And just as painful.
Things have not really changed in the world of female friendships. I’m not talking about the breezy, easy text-you-when-I-am-free “friendship”s, or the slick Instagram pictures posted more for the world than gal friends. No, I mean real world real female friendships: the I-wanna-know-you, I-am-sorta-fascinated-by you!…see-your-specialness friendships. YOU have a lot to offer friendships. Non-sexual … yet your souls are smitten!
My new friendships with my two new gal pals rushed up to me – embraced me and my troubles. Two 58-year-old Worcester women … all this empathy, so willing to help … a stranger. They were sent to me by God! Guardian angels – one on the Pill! One a power walker who makes her own power smoothies every morning. They came to help me move out of my old apartment and into a new one – AT 59. NOT 29. OR 39. OR EVEN 49 years old. Me. 59 years old. To move as a senior, during a global pandemic, is to look mortality in the saggy face … and wince. My gal pals were sent to me to keep me strong … to pack up my books, sweaters and boots and Dollar Store dinner plates … to smile and kid me with: Rose! You really are a clothes horse! To be at my door, with a bag of pretzels or a pretty new cat carrier from Walmart for Cece – to look serious because they know the seriousness of my situation. To see the strained look on one friend’s slim face, knowing – and loving – that she is feeling my pain, my loss, my harried-ness, too. To see her throw stuff willy nilly, last minute into contractor bags. For me. When she has got two sons and a boyfriend – the good life – waiting for her across town. That’s love. I look at her face. It says: THIS SUCKS. I concur …
And there they are, still, being wonderful. Helping me over and over again. Me. Rose. The writer. The newspaper gal. Poor. Idealistic. So on the lam, again; on the road, again. Nomadic, but too old to be nomadic.
We are all in our late 50s, with decades of life experience behind us. Behind the not so beautiful smiles (wrinkles etched around our lips), we are jaded! I say to one: REMEMBER WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND WE REALLY LOVED A BOY AND WE’D WRITE HIM A POEM? A POEM! I say, dumbstruck.
Our lithe bodies (one on Estrogen Therapy “to keep the juices flowing”) and one chubby (me) getting some sun in the dog park as Jett and Lilac lope over the April grass. Happy.
My gal pals “Gretchen” and “Jen” – two Type As with great jobs/careers … super smart, super cute women who went to college, grad school and still read books. They do not act old the way our mothers did at our age. Nor do they look old like our moms used to look in their 60s, with their tight, curly perms and five and ten dusters. My friends are out before their jobs running the track or they are taking weekend trips to Florida with a sexy boyfriend or they are chasing big dogs that dug up their yards. Bikini-ready moms – and future grandma! Family deaths, husbands long gone … water under the bridge. New marriages, foreclosed homes, eviction notices, dogs loved and lost, boyfriends, too … the backdrops to our friendships. So, no, it’s not the junior prom at Burncoat, the most popular/coolest girl contest, the cute boys and who wins them contest … BUT IT IS! Still! Sometimes! Four decades later!
The fight: The looking-at-a-car-for-me afternoon. THEN IT IS ME SCREAMING TO Jen: Great! That opportunity blown BECAUSE YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO BE THE BELLE OF THE BALL!
Jen: I DON’T NEED TO BE THE FU*KING BELLE OF THE BALL, ROSE! I WAS TRYING TO BE FRIENDLY TO MAKE THINGS GO BETTER FOR YOU!
Rose: BULL S*IT! YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO BE THE BELLE OF THE BALL!
Jen: YOU’RE NEVER NICE! YOU CAN GET MORE WITH HONEY THAN WITH VINEGAR!
Rose: MY MOTHER USED TO SAY THAT ALL THE TIME AND LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO HER!
Jen: SHE GAVE UP HER POWER. PEOPLE WALK OVER YOU IF YOU ALLOW THEM TO!
Now I am REALLY screaming at Jen and she is REALLY screaming at me, in her vehicle, zipping down the street, Jett and Lilac still hoping for that drive to the dog park, still wagging their tails and Lilac still trying to lick Jen’s face.
Then, out of nowhere, knowing her daughter died young – either of a drug overdose or suicide – and her husband died of drugs, I say: SOME PEOPLE JUST KILL ALL THE HUMANS AROUND THEM!
Jen: ROSE! ROSE! YOU DO NOT KNOW PEOPLE’S STORIES! IT’S NOT JUST YOU! EVERYBODY HAS THEIR STORY!
Everybody has their story.
One big ugly heart-rending girly fight continues, on the road: YOU’RE BOHEMIAN! … YOU HAVE A BIG NOSE! … YOU DON’T PLAN! … YOUR FACE IS ALL WRINKLY! … I get out of my pal’s car feeling pummeled; she is small and wiry and tough. She seems primed for more girly combat. I think: This has to end. Why did she ever want to get tangled up in my life anyways?
I say to her as I get out of her car to put the leads on Jett and Lilac: Well, once I am settled, I’ll make sure to send you a Christmas card! Every Christmas! Code for: We both know we can never recover from this fight.
Later I think: I destroyed a terrific friendship over competition for some old fart guy I don’t even like! TO BE THE BELLE OF THE BALL! I lost the who’s prettiest girly girl battle. Just like in high school. WHO CARES?! We are 60! … Why did Jen want to win so badly? Being so flirty! Hugging him for minutes on end! … Why did I want to win so badly, too?
Welcome to Girlsville.
My BUILD ROSE UP AGAIN gal pals – helping me, sharing with me. Maybe gone. Rose. Disaster City. I’ve always been a bit of a calamity – and always had great female friends who put up with me. For years. For decades! I could never figure out why. But eventually they leave. After 20 years … 30 years of Roseville.
So now my heart is broken. I am crying over the destiny that is MINE ALONE. And eating a big slice of plain cheesecake. I am reading O – Oprah’s magazine: perusing all the self-help articles, skipping over the best-bathing-suit-for-your-body-type stories I typically glom onto, looking for answers from OPRAH: Treat your fears like lions crouched in Africa’s high grass, says one article! Reach out and touch your lion, tame your fear! Write your future – DREAM BIG! WRITE A HAPPY ENDING TO YOUR STORY. Your stress hormones will ebb immediately! Be good to yourself: take a walk, drink calming teas…take a warm bath. Face your angst. All that figuring and self-flagellating. A man would just find a woman to f*ck.
Will I lose my gal pals? The ones bringing me groceries, giving me books written by cool female Polish authors?
The ones complimenting my skin, offering advice, driving me to see apartments, picking up my dogs and me for playtime at the dog park? The long talks in the car – real, open, honest. The sharing of hopes and dreams – and regrets. Bathing in the glow of each other’s cool personalities: Rose, the bohemian writer. Gretchen, the good Catholic girl/jock.
Jen, the Queen.