Jenny ( from the Block)

So I spent yesterday afternoon with the friend I have been friends with the longest. In a month’s time, we will have been friends for twenty years! She is a mother of two, so I made some supper for her family and went over to see what I could do to help. I’ve been thinking ever since about the nature of friendship and how it is one of those things that shape us most.

We were 13 when we met (Actually, I was a month shy of my 13th birthday), and she had just moved down to the big city from Anaheim Lake, where her father’s ranch is.

None of us city kids could really comprehend her life before she hit Vancouver. She knew how to break a horse and how to cut firewood. Thanks to home schooling, she was a better critical thinker than many adults I know today. However, at the time, her new friends were mostly worried about her fashion sense. We of the West Side didn’t know how to explain that you didn’t wear boots with tassels on them. Those were for girls who lived in the suburbs.

But she befriended who she wanted, went where she wanted. Social stigma was as gum under her heel. Annoying, but you keep moving. The rockers, the popular girls, she greeted them with the same frank smile. The rest of us knew our places, thank you very much, in the High School Social Scene. Jenny didn’t bother. High school is its own little ecosystem. As soon as you hit grade eight, you get a label. But Jenny hadn’t been socialized like this. She didn’t see popular people or losers, she just saw people. It was hard for her at first, to realize that there were these laws of our fishbowl society. To her credit, she spent her high school career breaking those rules.

When her parents got the contract to run the Theater Royal at Barkerville, Katherine and I took the train up to see her. The freedom allowed us in a small town was seductively heady, but Jenny took it in stride. She nodded or spoke briefly to everyone who passed us in dusty pickup trucks. I asked her how she knew so many people. It turns out, the whole north of BC is like its own small town! Walking around at night between distantly-spaced halogen streetlamps held no terrors for Jen. We scuffed our boots and laughed a lot. For an urban flower raised in an overprotective greenhouse like I was, it was pure heaven.

We graduated, went on with life. My first weeks in Port Hardy were less terrifying than they might have been because of my experiences with Jenny in Barkerville. Strangely, these were the opposite tenets proposed to ‘streetproof’ your kid. I smiled a lot. Made eye contact. Talked to whomever I wanted. And (Shock! Horror!) I was perfectly safe. Directness and self-confidence are a powerful duo to have on your side. I call it “Port Hardy Liz”, this manifestation of the divine, but its roots are in my friendship with Jenny.

Eventually, Jenny went to Germany to study. She met Joerg, they fell in love. I think I might have been the first ‘old’ friend to meet him. Now Joerg and I are on our way to becoming old friends, ourselves. I can’t wait for that to keep happening.

When Jenny’s sister died of cancer, I didn’t know what to say. When my mom died of cancer, Jenny knew just what to say.

A few months ago, I had dinner with a vastly pregnant Jen, and her oldest friend, who she’s known for thirty years. We women sat around the table, talking about businesses and future plans, and I saw the grey in Jenny’s hair and the crow’s feet around Mandy’s eyes. Thought of the shadows under my own eyes. For a second, I wondered how we got so old. And then it was like nothing had happened.

We were still us. Our lives were still unfolding. The world was still turning.

Amen.

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