Sunday, February 20, 2005

My Friend FL

I just returned from visiting my friend FL in Florida and she is truly as AWESOME as ever! She has weathered some serious storms, but her sails are filled and she is on a great course right now.

A little personal history: FL is really FLBB, four names because she comes from a classy family. She is named for her great uncle Frederick (who died in WWI), as was her mother, her daughter, her nephew, and probably a lot of other people in her family. We share the same birthday, as was revealed to me early on by my pediatrician, who happens to be her father. FL and I first met in kindergarten, where we became fast friends. She came from a family of 10, whereas I was an only child. She walked to kindergarten, whereas I got dropped off at the front door. I will always remember that her favorite birthday present that year was a ride to the park on the back of her dad’s bicycle. Her family had real family values; they discussed literature and moral dilemmas at dinnertime, instead of watching the news the way we did. Having 10 children translated into an interesting mix of independence and yet structure: they could only watch television until 5 PM each day and they were in bed by 7 whether they were sleepy or not. They were not forced to go to church each week, but they were obligated to get a bath and lay out their clothes the night before just in case they wanted to go. The deal was sweetened (literally) by an ice cream cone at the Sweedette on the way home for those who went.

Many years went by until FL was seriously back in my circle of friends because we went to different schools and different churches. By 9th grade, however, we were definitely good friends once again. In 10th grade she asked me to be her biology lab partner – I could never figure out why. We went out on double dates occasionally, but mostly just hung out in a group of 6 girls, who were all different, but so compatible. In the 12th grade we established the YVA, Young Virgins of America, with the symbol of the daisy for “Daisies never tell.” I am confident that we were all still virgins at that time, so the name was appropriate. FL’s boyfriend JB, declared that the whole thing “really sucked.” Too bad, we said. We wore our daisy pins on the inside of our graduation robes. Ha! Ha! Ha!

FL went off to Vassar for college. I went to FSU. I coasted through some rather uninteresting courses for 4 years. She struggled to keep up with all those girls who had gone to competitive prep schools and who made fun of the way she talked. It was not easy for a girl from the Florida panhandle to fit in with that crowd. But FL stuck it out (in the company of people like Meryl Streep.)

After college as I was roaming around Europe with my friend BC trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, I got a letter in Rome from FL asking if I would like to join a group house in Washington, DC, with her and some other very rich girls. So I moved to DC and took a job with the FBI (only temporarily). FL was totally her own person, even then. She went to the movies every day on the way home from work. She found us a GYN through her daddy, so we could take care of that aspect of our life. We hung out with her cousin and his friends from Pittsburgh, who lived down the street from us. Life was definitely fun!

Then I met JR, who had a friend JJ who needed a date. So I fixed him up with FL, and after 3 months they declared they were getting married. I was sad to see FL move out of the house, but she thought she was in love and was definitely ready to get married.

So for the next 30 years she was the devoted wife of JJ and perfect mother to their 4 children. But her spunk was kept in check by JJ, who didn’t really want her to laugh too much or do silly things or be too spontaneous or unpredictable. His job was to work all the time. Her job was everything else that was required to keep a household going and raise 4 bright children.

Several years ago, JJ pulled the plug on the marriage, although my friend FL might have done it if he hadn’t gotten there first. They split and she graciously moved out, taking the bare minimum of the last 30 years of stuff and some mixed good and bad memories. I know this was an incredibly hard time for her, for her children, and probably even for JJ, although I am not ready to cut him any slack. How do you pick up and move on after more than half your life had been invested in a single relationship?

But she did. She established 3 criteria for where to go: a place (1) near a major airport, (2) where her children would like to come visit, and (3) where there were cultural activities. She got all except the last one in Merritt Island, Florida, with the added bonus of being one block from her youngest sister JB.

So this is where I found FL. She had told me that her life was boring and uninteresting and said that I should look for the fat old lady at the airport. None of this could have been any further from the truth! The person who met me looked like a slightly more mature version of my high school friend – same curly brown hair, same coy smile. And for the last 3 days, we never stopped doing things! The first day her friend Dave, who is an aeronautical engineer in charge of launching space shuttle missions, took us to lunch. He had sent FL roses for Valentine’s Day, and obviously adores her. Look at my previous BLOG entry for a rundown on that day. It still makes me tired.

The only dilemma of the weekend was what to call me. To FL, I was Barbie, a name I had forever given up when the doll came out and I realized that our shapes would forever be different! But it is hard to change someone's forever name in your head, so I remembered my old name for a few days.

On Friday we were up early for tap dancing, another BLOG entry. Then we shopped for dinner, since her boy-du-jour George from Pittsburgh was coming for a visit. We had a swanky dinner, replete with appetizers and cocktails, for George and her sister’s entire family and their dog Chocolate. FL and George graciously asked me to sit up listening to jazz with them, but I opted out because I need to sleep!

FL had the brilliant idea of rediscovering another old friend an hour away in New Smyrna Beach. So as soon as we got George out the door and on the road, we picked up FL’s sister JB and hit the road to go see TK, whom I hadn’t seen for 38 years. She is an accomplished artist and one of the nicest, funniest people I have ever met. So we hung out for the afternoon with her just reminiscing about old times. You get a very different perspective on things after all those years.

FL is once again the happy free spirit that she always was when we were growing up. She has wonderful children who obviously think highly of her and want to keep her in their lives. She has her grandchild Jay, the smartest most adorable 2-year-old ever, she had an amazing collection of friends in Merritt Island (and from the other places where she has lived), she had her dad and all 9 siblings, and she has a wonderfully positive outlook on life, that seems to be devoid of bitter baggage from the past. FL is my inspiration when it comes to finding yourself and figuring out how to be happy. BRAVO!

And thanks to her for rides from and to the airport and for schlepping me around and paying for highway tolls and taking me out to dinner and for giving me ideas of new books to read and for letting me stay at her house and feeding me her grapefruit from her own tree and for just being FL, my friend.


Blogger Liea said...

WOW! Sounds as though you had a wonderful time. Although the activities were noteworthy and gave you joy, while reading your post, I sensed that you would have been just as happy to be locked up with FL talking for the whole weekend. The joy seemed to stem more from doing the activities together with your long time friend than the activities themselves. I am glad to see you happy and that your visit went so well. You deserve it!

10:15 PM  

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