in stop 2 of my 3-stop Spring 2009 Tour of the Southern States, i visited partner this past weekend.
a few things.
partner is not a secret code name for eF (whose [not so secret] secret code name is, quite clearly, eF).
partner is the name for partner.
no, we are not lesbians. we are not cowboys.
we were simply math partners in mrs. woody's 12th grade pre-cal class and due to a mutual loathing for referring to people by their actual names (presumably scarred by the "jack!" "rose!" "but, jack!" "no, wait, rose!" "yes, but jack, wait, jack, come on, jack!" "but, rose, no, rose, wait, rose" of titanic), we appropriated "partner" as our own.
so that's partner.
i met partner in the eighth grade. we were in the same homeroom when i spotted her reading sweet valley high: elizabeth wakefield's diary. next thing i knew, drawn together by a love of teentrash lit, we were sitting on some bleachers, half-assedly watching a softball game being played during a random free period in mrs. mauldin's math class in the waning days of fall.
we sat there for what felt like hours (as everything does when you're thirteen) while partner described her ideal wedding.
paul kendall- semi-famous for having once told our school bus driver to "pedal faster"- sat suspiciously close, one bleacher below us. at the time, i was preoccupied with the idea that he had an enormous unrequited crush on her and was secretly fantasizing himself into her fantasy wedding. i realize now maybe he was just watching the game.
but i'll admit i envied her. even then, even in the eighth grade, she had a boy literally at her feet. and she seemed to have everything figured out. with confounding certainty she knew her bridesmaids would wear pink. (we didn't.)
it's hard to see where friendships actually take root. when you're young you just remember the tangible things like riding home on a different bus, the silly thrill of saying you're going to "amy house's house," the bitter betrayal of the tapered leg jeans. in the absence of ceremony and vows, you don't stop and think, wow, i'm going to know this person the rest of my life.
i say that, but i must have known on some level because around the end of our 8th grade year, i was compelled by maudlin girlish sentiment to commit a crime against poetry and memorialize our bond in a rhyming monstrosity entitled "forever friend" that partner has rightfully yet to let me live down. so even then, it must have seemed like we were friends for the long haul. because there are some friendships where there is no option of walking out. you're just stuck with each other and that's that.
partner and i had shitty patches, but even when things weren't great there was an overarching calm. we still hung out. i could still, post ear surgery and high as a kite on valium, just five days after her dad left her mom, make her laugh so hard she peed. and we still talked. we just didn't talk about certain things, because there are certain things we were too young to be able to talk about.
it seems really self-involved to say we have our own partner culture, but in some respects doesn't every friendship? our's is built upon a sturdy foundation of diarrhea, desserts, and dr. quinn. and also a distinctively southern laziness. when together, we unfold at a slower pace and a higher pitch. (after two days in kentucky, it has taken a week for my voice to resume its normal timbre.)
and i have to say, there's something deeply reassuring in all of that. in slipping back into that voice, that time, that slow, gentle laziness. like sliding a toe into cool water on a hot day, it's an unbearably precious delight, the fleeting sweetness of which i always forget.
last saturday, as partner, braless, with a baby in her belly, sat curled up in a lawn chair and i stretched out in a hammock beside her, we talked for hours. rarely looking at each other, we just stared out into the green field that rolls off their backyard, watching a neighbor's dappled collie laze in the sun as the shadows slowly crept overhead, and talked about her and me and everyone we know in a stillness disturbed only occasionally by the sound of the coals in the grill her husband had lit for dinner breaking apart and crumbling to dust every now and then.
i appreciate now more than ever that there are few things lovelier than this.