THE SWAP: STORY OF A FRIENDSHIP

I am one of those people who has a story for everything. 

You like the sweater I am wearing?  Well, there’s a story behind it. Really.

The story begins more than fifty years ago, at Hunter College, when two girls—P and me — met on the college newspaper.

We were very different in many ways but we both loved writing, and we laughed at the same things, so we became friends and then writing partners, writing Hunter College Sing together through our four years of college.

That first summer out of school we looked for work.  Every Monday morning we met at a beauty school on Broadway and 42nd, and got our hair done by students for something like fifty cents or a dollar.  Then, all dolled up,  we went job hunting, sent by  the same employment agency, sometimes to the same offices. By the fall we were both working at Decca Records, sharing one big office.  She worked for the head of Promotions and I worked for the head of Publicity. We ordered lunch from the same takeout place, and bought our clothes up the block at Bloomies. Our next jobs were on the same block, across the street from Carnegie Hall, and after work we met at the Carnegie Deli or the Automat and worked on writing pop songs, comedy material and lyrics for a musical we were trying to get going. We spent our salaries on studio time and demos and professional singers to showcase our work. Once, we auditioned for the Chicago comedy club, Second City, and once I got to try out our comedy material on a nightclub stage.  Eventually we got a few things performed and a few things published and earned our ASCAP memberships. We were on our way.

But then, marriage — first mine, then hers — broke us up.  It didn’t have to, of course.  We could have gone on trying to make it in show business, but in those days, it was not the conventional thing for young women to do.

After marriage, she moved away, first to another borough, then to another city, and eventually to another country. There was no internet.  Telephone calls were expensive and there was a big time difference. And so our once intense partnership became occasional letters, further and further apart. I didn’t miss her and she didn’t miss me.

Yet, during those years, we lived parallel lives. I had children, she had children.  While she was learning a new language and a new way of life in Israel, I ran a bookstore, then went to grad school.  She began writing children’s books at about the same time that I began writing my first novel. 

She visited the States, though not often. We managed to see each other from time to time.

As time went on, she started attending writing workshops in the States, so we saw each other more frequently.  She began to extend her stay long enough for us to have a week together, to catch up. 

We learned how different our lives were and how similar. We shopped together. We talked writing.  Our days were filled with memories of the old days, of people we knew, things we did, clothes we bought. At the same time, our friendship was reconstituted into present day, as we discovered we still had the same love of writing, and the same sense of humor.

Between visits we now had e-mail to help us keep in touch. 

If she saw a scarf she knew I’d like, she sent it to me. If there was something she couldn’t get in her bookstores at home, I would get it for her.  Once, when I was in Marshall’s, I saw a sweater I knew she would like, and I bought it in two colors, one for her, one for me.

When my first novel was published, she had tee shirts made up with the title on them.

I edited her first novel and it won a big prize.

She made a point of visiting my mother shortly before she died.

We made the long trip to attend her son’s wedding. 

I know her siblings and her children, and she knows mine. 

These days, we even see one another on Skype.

One morning recently, we found we were both wearing the sweaters I had once bought us, now at least ten years old. “I’m tired of the green,” I said.  “I should have given you the green and kept the pink.” 

“I like green better,” she said. “Send it to me.”

So we made the switch, and now I am wearing the pink and she is wearing the green.

But it is not the end of the story, yet. Because we have promised each other we will switch back, in another ten years.

And I can’t help thinking of how many ways, trivial and serious, deep and not-so-deep, barely-there and ever-constant, our friendship has survived.  Come and gone.  Taken a turn. Ebbed and flowed like the ocean between us. 

And maybe one day, when we get tired of wearing them, we will run the pink and green sweaters up the flagpole and salute them, as emblems of how long we have been friends.   

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About betteann

Writer, teacher, cook
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