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out on a limb

Volume 15/Issue 24

Don't I know you from somewhere?
...Memories Of A Past Life

Ever meet somebody you just know you've known before? It's like everything fits, it's instantly comfortable: you communicate immediately-sometimes by just catching each other's eye. It's fun and a little bit scary.

Couples don't usually open their lives to a single individual unless that person is somehow already known to them. And two lesbians rarely admit a third. But in a real sense, there is sometimes an adoption that takes place. Space is made for another and a wonderful friendship grows.

I do not make friends easily--or quickly. I was the kid, who in first grade, needed the teacher's help to arrange a playmate for me. I had refused to go out for recess several days in a row and Mrs. Zito, a towering scarecrow of a woman, finally demanded to know why I got sick each day when the bell rang.

My eyes filled up with tears as I explained that I had no one to play with and that I didn't want to be left standing against the playground fence or sitting on the bike rack watching everyone else laugh and have fun. Mrs. Zito waved away this reason with the flick of her hand. "Jean," she called to a tall, angular girl in the hallway, "take Pam outside and introduce her to all your friends." I was mortified.

But Jean did just as she was instructed to do, and I was still left standing against the fence except on days when Jean would introduce me around again, at Mrs. Zito's insistence.

I was no social butterfly and had no clue about how to develop a circle of friends or even a best friend. My early school years were very lonely. I would occasionally become attached to one girl--who would be the object of many childhood daydreams--only to find the friendship short-lived and frustrating. But everyone knew that even Superman had his Fortress of Solitude, so I, like the man of steel, developed an alter-ego who could face the world more easily. I became the class clown.

By high school, I had developed skill at getting teachers to notice me...but not my fellow students. I would make my friends one-at-a-time, and I existed as a binary unit with that person. It was rare that I was in a group of even three.

But high school offered lots of ways to avoid the cliques and "girl-gangs" that inevitably developed. I took advantage of ready-made groups: the school newspaper and yearbook, the chorus, the drama club. But I was always in a supporting role; I was never the star.

College, too, was a time to enter already constituted groups. And by then, I had learned how to make myself useful to people--by checking over their English term papers or typing them. I was also a good source of advice and moral support. Still, my best friends were the ducks who came to visit me in the afternoons as I sat along the lakeshore reading my homework.

I made my first real friend when I was in my twenties. Lelia taught me everything about finding myself. We traveled all across America, camped in the mountains, explored the deserts, climbed up into gorges, and searched for gold. We never found any--but the treasure of her friendship was more valuable one-hundred fold than any yellow mineral we might have discovered in an old mine shaft.

I was quite cautious, too, about entering into any kind of intimate relationship. I was in my 30's before I dared venture into that territory.

I must have learned something during those first 30 years, because my personal life really bloomed at age 32. I was able to make friends, have lovers, develop warm, caring bonds with my family. I learned a lot about my dad, who had previously been a mystery to me. We became friends and confidants. When he died, I was at his side watching my life-giving father slip silently away from me. But before he went, he gave me some advice: take off your fighting shoes. He urged me to make peace with myself and who I was--the child he had loved through the terrible twos and through the equally terrible twenties. I stood vigil at his coffin--his lone soldier daughter fighting an unnamed war against unseen enemies.

Now, I am a different person than I was in my 30's. At age 48, I value laughter and a warm arm around my shoulders. I find reasons to engage with my friends--to stay in touch, to smile, to inquire about their lives, to hug them, to stand close together. But making new friends is still a difficult task for me-like rubbing your head and patting your stomach at the same time...if you THINK about it, you can't do it.

Of late, however, I have found a new friend who seems strangely familiar. So it must be that I have known this person in another life. Things are just too easy. And when one can't explain things that happen, one must turn to metaphysical explanations--like past lives.

I wonder who this person might have been? I feel happy when we are together. I have invited my friend to some pretty important events that have happened in my life recently. And of course we will share Thanksgiving together this year, giving thanks for good friends who return the love we send out to them.

I think that love and loving emanate from a person in concentric circles--the kind a rock makes when it's thrown into a pool of water. The circles coming from another intertwine with my own and friendship resides in the intersections.

Life is so much like a highway: people enter and exit at various points along the way; some travel with you for many miles; some, sadly, are accidents that hurt us deeply.

With your best friends, you want to take all the side trips, visit all the natural wonders and the junk shops along the road--anything to make the time last.

Oh, and there's those great sing-alongs as you go down life's highway... "OOOOOOOOOK-la-homa, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains...."

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