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  • Joan Schweighardt

Five Directions Press Authors Dish: BFF

According to online urban dictionaries, BFF has a variety of possible meanings, at least one of which is vulgar. Rest assured; here at Five Directions, where we are all women who were once little girls, BFF can only mean one thing: Best Friends Forever!

Toronto skyline

Ariadne Apostolou: She was nine. I was seven. She introduced herself on the day we moved into our new home in our new country, Canada. She showed off her new permanent of short corkscrews, the result of having failed to “train” her hair to curl. She advised me to use the name she’d chosen for herself, not her given name. She talked a blue streak with expressions I’d never heard. She intrigued me. She invited me over to play. I learned about synagogue, Queen Esther, and Mordechai. I sampled latkes and half-moon, jewel-toned, jellied sweets. I heard Broadway musicals and BBC-aired operas on her parents’ living-room radio.

Our interests were synched. We drew pictures of hypothetical subjects and designed our own paper dolls. In a brides phase, we created wedding gowns galore. We alternated reading our books aloud, two paragraphs at a time because she’d forget to stop. We wrote stories. Her heroine was Spanish. Mine solved mysteries. We imagined being grownups and fantasized future husbands, homes, furniture styles. She’d be a flamenco dancer and demonstrated with castanets from her lessons. I would be an archaeologist. My only dislike was that she‘d entwine her arm through mine to walk to school. I’d pull away, but she persisted.

She started high school and we saw each other less. I made new friends and ice-skated on Friday nights. My freshman class was a curriculum experiment for carefully screened students. Our biology teacher called us The Brains. The Brains became my new friends.

My BFF had adjusted poorly to high school. She was a loner. She talked to herself. She was strange. She waited by my locker to walk home, again arm in arm. Mostly I complied. I was her only friend. Sometimes, unkindly, I hid until she left.

That June, my family returned to the States, and she and I corresponded. During her first year of college, she got pregnant. She didn’t know the father. Her parents disowned her. She became a stenographer.

In my junior year of college, I faced a crossroads about my future. My BFF knew me best. I organized a weekend.

I met her daughter, who had a five-syllable Spanish name, and her Born-Again minister husband. She talked a blue streak. Alas, she couldn’t listen. Had she ever? They badgered me to join God’s Family and be free of Sin’s Bondage. Shocked, I argued. They drove me to the airport at breakneck speed in the rain, swerving across lanes, careening past semis, and left me at the curb, stunned and shaken.

I applied to graduate school in archaeology. We never communicated again. BFFs are not forever.

Two girls running, hand in hand

Gabrielle Mathieu: At the age of eight, my friend Andrea liked to munch ungarnished tuna fish from a dull-green plastic bowl as she watched I Dream of Jeannie. She was plump and pink; I was tall and strong for eight, but clumsy and bookish. Neither of us could play sports, but we had little else in common. We never would have become friends had we not lived in the same apartment complex.

We had vastly divergent ideas of entertainment. Andrea was content with the popular shows of the day: Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy, and the aforementioned Barbara Eden confection. I liked to make up my own stories. Dissatisfied with TV’s laugh tracks, the ghastly shag carpet, and the sedating hum of the air-conditioning, I dragged Andrea into the Texas heat to play in the open spaces of the complex. Stairs became access points to forts; the second-story bannisters became look-out balconies; and we became princesses or spies or goddesses. I played Queen Elizabeth the First; Andrea was instructed to be Mary Queen of Scots, a simple role, I thought, since she spent most of her time in prison, waiting to be beheaded. I was Athena, inspiring the troops, and Andrea was Aphrodite, lounging about on divans. And so it went.

Andrea had not read the books I devoured and had little interest in the colorful history of the Tudors or the lusty appetites of the Greek gods, so it was left to me to devise adventure plots and the dangers they would include. She cheerfully went along with my suggestions. Perhaps I would have had other friends if I could have imagined other play activities, but I could not jump rope, and make-believe games that involved weddings seemed so final. What happens after the wedding? As far as I could tell, things quickly became routine and then devolved into mutual nagging.

Myths and quests and politics could be converted into convoluted games without end, set aside one day and taken up the next. They could be altered to match my mood.

Thank you, Andrea, for indulging me. You helped me become the writer I am today.

Red and yellow flowers

Claudia H. Long: If you were born in the States between 1950 and 1960, two things will be true: first, your name will not be Tiffany—that was a lamp, or a store (and no, the girl in the movie with Audrey Hepburn was named Holly); second, you will know at least one Linda. I was fortunate to know many.

I arrived in the USA in 1966, just in time to start the dreaded junior high. It was a time of drugs, sex, long hair, and political rebellion. In the community in New York where we lived, though, all that was rampant only in certain segments of the high school. In the middle school we were still exploring makeup, miniskirts (girls couldn’t wear pants to school yet, despite the frigid New York winters) and, for some of us, bras. For us, it was a time of acne, unruly hair, body shame, insecurity, and for me, a new school, a new country, and a new culture devoid of uniforms, rules, and long-known expectations. It also became my time of Lindas.

My first friend, that summer before school started, was Linda D. She was the daughter of the elderly caretaker of some of the outbuildings at the hospital where my father was a resident and where we lived in staff apartments. She was a big girl who suffered from horrible skin, but she had a generous laugh and knew where the steam tunnels under the hospital were located. I couldn’t ride a bike but I could roller-skate, and we roamed the tunnels to escape the humid heat.

Come September and the new school, Linda D introduced me to Linda B, who lived near the school. Linda B had chopped blond hair, odd teeth, and knew all kinds of swear words; wild ones, really out-of-the-norm ones. I was crazy about her, and we became a threesome. Linda B would grow into an amazing beauty, but for then, we were a trio of not-quite-fits.

Linda B hung out with Linda C, who was a year younger than we were but lived a block from Linda B and was the only other girl in the immediate vicinity. While I was never close to Linda C, she was part of the group. Lindas B and D stood by me through the big nasty of eighth grade when I had a falling-out with the popular group and became, for a time, a pariah. They never let me down.

After middle school, I went on to a different high school, one with “a few more rules,” and had a Debbie and a Mary Alice, but no Lindas. I was deeply unhappy, and as my father’s residency ended, I gladly went on to yet another school. My new best friend, within a week of starting eleventh grade, was Linda G.

Linda G and I were as close as only two high school friends can be, spending long hours in each other’s homes or on the phone or at the ice cream store or the bowling alley. We were deeply different, and I went on to college and she joined the army as soon as the Viet Nam war was over. She married young, into an abusive relationship, divorced, and as a result of working in the chemical weapons division, developed myasthenia gravis. We lost track until a few years ago, when we found each other on Facebook. She was an ardent supporter of my writing, and since at that point she was wheelchair bound and on disability, I sent her my books as they came out. She died of her illness last year, far too young.

I’ve lost track of my other Lindas, but all of them live in my heart—where there are still no Tiffanys other the store.

Images from Pixabay, no attribution required.

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