FELlowship, bosom buddies, pals, buddies, besties… all terms to describe friends and friendship and that’s what DELve is all about this month. It would be impossible for me to write about this subject without writing about my best friend, Rick. Now I am so fortunate to have so many great friend who are all awesome in their own ways and I (all caps) LOVE them but Rick’s my dude. I find it incredible that people say men don’t have lasting friendships, Rick and I have been friends since we were ten years old and we are faaaaaaaaaar from ten now and we’re still best friends. [NOTE: Rick tends not to maintain friendships and we probably would have never lasted if it were not for my stick-to-it-iveness. He has referred to me as a barnacle on his ass and often greets me with “You again.” I’m sure he means it in the nicest of ways. The picture, taken at our second home… a bar… any bar, shows that he is the cool, reserved one, while I am neither of those things]. He has a great heart but he’s an asshole. I’m saying this because, 1. IT’S TRUE and 2. I can write anything I want about him because he will never see this. He has steadfastly refused to read DELve. I shouldn’t say he’s “refused,” he just says, “Yeah, yeah I’ll get to it!” Rick is the closest thing to a brother without sharing a parent. Nuff said.
I call my brother sun cuz he shines like one.
— Gambino, Wu Tang Clan
I had an idea for this issue and was so excited to pitch it to three writers who happen to be best friends. I asked Donna Cusano-Sutherland, John Daidone and Susan Sweeney to write about their almost life-long lasting friendships with each other. As a challenge I asked them not to share what they have written with the other two until it is revealed in DELve.
Also, included in this issue is a piece by Brenna Gribbon (she happens to be the sister of photographer, Conor Gribbon who supplied the photo of the blue moon over Culver City in our last issue) who I gave carte blanche to write about whatever she wanted. What did the 19-year-old choose to write about, her two best friends, Sydney and Caroline.
Initially, I asked Diana Perez and her daughter Ashely Perez to respond to a Q&A about their special mother/daughter bond, after reading their funny and often moving account of their relationship, I realized that there was another story to be told. I asked my cousin (cousins, our first friends!) Tanya Arnaldy and nephew Armand Arnaldy to discuss their mother/son bond in an identical Q&A. Although they have never met, Tanya and Diana have more in common than giving their only children names that begin with the letter “A.” These ladies are fiercely independent with a tough, no-nonsense approach to life (and parenting), as you will read for yourselves.
As a follow-up to last issue’s Blue Thoughts, my account of the beginnings of my depression, The Cape deals with an unexpected trip which was the catalyst for my recovery. Towards the end of Blue Thoughts, I introduced Roger, a pseudonym for a friend whom I first opened up to about my depression. At the time I wrote it, the story was very personal and it was written without input. Since the second installment concerned “Roger”, I called him to let him know and asked if he wanted to see it before it was published. As a testament to what a true friend is, he said he trusted me and didn’t need to see it beforehand, even though he was (admittedly) a little apprehensive. He also said I could use his actual name, if I wanted. To keep things consistent, I opted to continue to use the pseudonym. Thank you, E.F.L.
Well, that’s about it for this edition… am I forgetting anything… oh, and C.A.F.! If you have any suggestions for future topics (or if you want to be a contributing writer, photographer or guest editor [ I could use a break!]), contact me at DELvemagazine@yahoo.com. I hope you all have a great rest of the summer filled with friends, family and grilled food. See you in September when DELve will be keeping in touch with the MIND, BODY and SOUL.
Flying under the radar for over two decades, Meshell Ndegeochello is not a musician, she is an artist. Her bourbon-rich vocals (along with soulful bass playing) gives color to the canvas which are her lyrics. Ndegeocello’s debut album, Plantation Lullabies with its ballsy single If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)… which title needs no explanation, was one of the best albums of the 90s. Her follow-up album Peace Beyond Passion was almost as brilliant and contains not only a cover of Bill Wither’s Who Is He And What Is He To You but also the controversial Leviticus: Faggot. You’re not a true artist if you don’t cause a stir.
James Corden, the squishably affable host of “The Late, Late Show” on CBS has struck gold with his Carpool Karaoke. Every time a segment airs, the inevitable topic starter the next day is, “Did you see…?” Adele, Stevie Wonder, Gwen Stefani (with help from Julia Roberts and George Clooney), Justin Bieber and the FLOTUS herself, Michelle Obama have all Jumped into the passenger’s seat (actually, Wonder started his segment in the driver’s seat) with Corden to chat and sing along with the radio. Corden can more than hold his own against the pros. Makes you wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that!”
Ain’t nobody fresher than my mothafuckin’ clique
— Clique, Kanye West, Jay Z, Big Sean
GIRLZ TO WOMEN: MY VIEW OF FRIENDSHIP
by Brenna Gribbon
You’re my best friend.
— You’re My Best Friend, Queen
If you were to look in the dictionary, it vaguely described friendship as “the state of being a friend; association as friends. However, I think that there is much more to it than someone you hang out with every now and then because you feel obligated, or just an association with someone. While I have friendships with people I work with, the bonds I’ve formed in childhood are the ones I value the most.
One of my best friends dates back to the first year of my life. When my parents moved into the house we still live today, I was just a few months old and she was three-and-a-half. Caroline was like my sister and still is today. I’m nineteen and living in North Carolina, she will be twenty-three this year and is living in Los Angeles and we still manage to keep our friendship a priority. Caroline knows just about everything about me, good and bad, and I count on her as my number one confidant I am so lucky to have crossed paths with her at such a young age.
Another person I consider one of my best friends is Sydney, who I have known since fourth grade. We have been going to school together up until this year, when we went to different colleges. Even though I do not see her as much during the school year, we still maintain our friendship. The time we spend together becomes more enjoyable because we know that, come fall, we’ll be back at school, and too busy studying. Even though we spent months away from each other apart, we fell back into our friendship quickly almost as if the separation never existed. She is my partner in crime, immediately when she arrived home from school we were back to driving around the town, perusing the mall and of course stopping into Auntie Anne’s for a pretzel, or getting snow cones or ice cream. I think half the fun of it is just driving around and listening to music, simply enjoying each other’s presence.
I’m lucky to have these friendships and hope everyone is able to have friends as good as mine. It is so extremely important to surround yourself with positive people because their energy is so beneficial. A person who is happy or positive usually radiates their joy, and that joy is contagious. People often overlook the importance of positivity and do not realize that once there is a change to reflect this perspective, they begin to live life to the fullest.
BG: Currently a college student and freelance writer, living in North Carolina.
TIES THAT BIND
Gifts from God
by Donna M. Cusano
When I was five, and my best friend revealed that she was moving away, I was devastated. Who would I play dolls with?? Who would I share my secrets with?? Who would I relentlessly beat at Monopoly time and time again….??? The list went on and on. My poor mom had to endure my consistent, immutable whining—day in, day out. In all her infinite wisdom, she shared some advice: “Over your lifetime, people will come and go. When they are there, they are meant to be for a reason. If they stay, they are a gift from God.”
My best friend Joyce eventually moved. We stayed connected for a while—writing letters, talking on the phone. Then lost touch after about a year. Time marched on.
Fast forward: 50 years. As I approach midlife, and I reflect on the many relationships I have had over the years, there have been those that have ”come and gone”, like Joyce, and those in that other category my mom spoke of: “The gifts”.
Very few friendships can compare to the unique bond I have shared over the years with two VERY special people in my life, John (a.k.a. Dayton) and Susan. Actually, they are not friends– they are, as we say in Italian, la mia famiglia—my family. Not just because we have that thing called “history”–they have shared my incredibly crazy and fun youth, and my journey through some significant life milestones… like the death of my parents, the birth of my only child, my divorce, single parenting challenges–and my adventure to a “far off land” to start a new life. Well, not that far off—the Philadelphia area. (Important Note: In 1998, when I told them I decided to move, they cringed at the thought of me being “a whole hour and forty-five minutes away!”)
You see, you can share history with a lot of people. But, what is special about these two is the role they have played in devotedly supporting and mentoring me along the journey—figuratively holding my hand, and my heart, every step of the way. And the incredible support they always give me is, well, quite frankly, priceless.
There is a plaque I bought a number of years ago at some hokey souvenir place at the Jersey shore. It hangs very prominently in my bedroom. It reads: “I didn’t find my friends. The good Lord gave them to me.”
No surprise. Mom was right. She always was.
When I moved out to the Philly area almost 20 years ago, I left with the promise to these two wonderful people that I would move back some day to be closer to them. Well, although I own a home at the Jersey shore, I really never “officially” moved back. There really is no need to. For me, home is not a physical location. It is a place in your heart. These two wonderful treasures are my “home”. When we are together, talk on the phone, text, or instant message each other, all is good in the world. It’s a special place to be; a special bond to be had. Not many are so blessed. I am so fortunate and am thankful every single day.
So, I say to them: Thank you John and Sue for all you have given me over the years. It has been, and will continue to be, an incredibly fun ride; priceless memories, endless laughs, sometimes tears, or frustration (after all, we ARE family). I treasure the last 40 years, and look forward to our next forty together. As my mom would say to me every night before bedtime: Love you with all my heart and soul. ❤
Birth of The Louds
by John Daidone
Friendships often come about when there is a common interest, and for Donna, Sue and I, that bond is our love of writing and communications. I first met Sue and Donna in various classes at Irvington High School (they knew each other from grammar school), but it was Mr. Rich’s Journalism class that really brought out our friendship. We learned the trade writing for The Probe, the school newspaper, and called ourselves the “Big Cheeses.” Our senior year, Donna was appointed the managing editor, Sue became the news editor and I was the features editor.
Journalism became our favorite class, and inspired us to pursue careers in Communications, where we fantasized about going to college together. But alas, we took separate paths, with Donna going to Seton Hall, Sue to Glassboro and me to NYU. Despite this, we remained great friends throughout our college experience. By junior year, Sue had transferred to Seton Hall, and I became a regular at The Pub on Friday nights!
After graduation, Donna went to work for New Jersey Monthly, Sue was hired by Deloitte, and I went to work for a division of McGraw-Hill called the Product Information Network. Our careers have taken many twists and turns over the years, but we can all proudly say that we’re doing what we aspired to do when we first forged our friendship in Mr. Rich’s class. Sue has built a successful career in financial communications, Donna has excelled in pharmaceutical communications, and I discovered I had a knack for writing for the web back in 1996 and am currently working at Barnes & Noble in a digital communications role.
While our love of communications has been a common thread throughout our 40 years of friendship, there have certainly been many other reasons why we remain so close. I attribute a series of annual vacations we took to Beach Haven on Long Beach Island in the mid-80s as the impetus for our strong relationship. It was there that the “Louds” were born. The house we stayed in every year was on a very quiet block, but when we arrived that all changed. And thus the Louds were born. We all had Loud names – Sue was Mama, I was Junior, Donna was Baby, etc. Over the years there has probably been 15-20 members, but we remain the core Louds, to this day we still refer to our group as the Louds. We became the core Louds, along with a fourth who unfortunately we do not speak with anymore (the trauma of a friendship ending is perhaps a subject for another issue). You don’t truly know someone until you live with them, and those annual vacations helped us to learn all there is to know about each other (and we’ve got the pictures to prove it!).
Over the years, we’ve been there for each other through various life milestones. I came out to Sue, Donna and the former friend in 1988, a good six years before coming out to my sisters and stepdad. In fact our former friend came out a few years later, so I like to think that I helped with that process. If I had to explain the one thread that keeps our friendship thriving, it would have to be that we share the same values. We’re good souls who truly value the importance of friendship and being there for each other, in good times and bad. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect trio to be a part of! And when I met my partner Dan in 1997, Sue and Donna welcomed him with open arms (well, after sizing him up first to make sure he was good enough for me!). Dan and I have had many fun gatherings with Donna and Sue at our Maplewood house over the years – so many that they have come to refer to it as “their country home.” Dan is probably as close to Sue and Donna as he is to his own friends, and that to me says everything.
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
— Lean On Me, Bill Withers
by Susan Sweeney
When I was asked what friendship means to me and what caused the bonding, I looked to a couple of people I have known for more than half my life and what brought us together and kept us close over these many years. I guess we usually find traits in friends that may be just like our own: We can share the same likes and dislikes, sense of humor, taste in style or politics. I share a close and special friendship with Donna Cusano and John Daidone, who I’ve known since we were school mates. These two funny, talented and caring kids became a major part of my life at age 15 in our high school journalism class.
Although we’re well-beyond our teens, when we’re together we often retreat to being the kids we still are at heart.
How I knew we were bonded for life came shortly after we graduated from college and vacationed together. You never really know someone until you spend a week with that person, sharing the same bathroom. In working full time at our first “real” jobs, we finally had a little cash and took a beach house together at the Jersey shore. Think about it: What location would be more appropriate for Jersey kids to vacation?
During that week, we spent nearly every waking moment together. Beach, cooking, happy hours, dancing at clubs, boating, grocery shopping, more cooking and more beach. Whether at a dance club, driving around the island or hanging out in the back yard of our little Jersey Shore getaway, we always had a good rock tune blasting. They say that the power of a song can trigger vivid memories that will transport you back in time. In fact, my earliest recollections of our friendship involved music, singing loudly to Boston, Bowie, Billy Joel and Michael Jackson, among others.
On one particular afternoon in the kitchen of that beach rental on Long Beach Island, Billy Joel’s “Italian Restaurant” came on the radio. The three of us naturally began singing with all of our hearts, and lung capacity. “Bottle of red, bottle of white ….” Keep in mind, this was long before Karaoke was a thing. Belting it out so loudly that when the song was over we heard someone clapping outside.
Yeah, a good friend is one who can talk your ear off or sit with you and just listen to your problems or accomplishments, but a truly lifelong friend is one who can belt out a song – even a little off-key – and not judge.
To this day I cannot listen to “Italian Restaurant” without smiling, recalling a carefree time when beach, dance clubs and relaxing were all that mattered. More importantly, it brings me back to one of many simple and endearing times with my closest, lifelong friends.
S.S.: Has more than 20 years of marketing communications, public relations, editorial and journalism experience, she leads marketing communications for a global technology company, responsible for media and analyst relations, customer communications as well as employee communications. Her communications and PR experience includes working in professional services, financial services and financial technology for domestic and global organizations. She holds a B.A. in communications from Seton Hall University. Susan’s free time is spent adventure travelling, reading anything she can get her hands on, enjoying the arts – music, theater and museums — and spending time with her friends and family.
J.D.: Discovered his career niche – writing for the Web – in 1996 and has been working in the industry ever since, currently employed as Director of Content Management at Barnes & Noble, Inc.
D.C.: Has more than 30 years award-winning communications experience, both internal and external, in the financial services and pharmaceutical arenas. She currently Heads U.S. Sales Communications at Sanofi Pharmaceuticals.
Donna holds an M.S. in Communications Management from Syracuse University, and a B.A. in Communications from Seton Hall University. She also holds a graduate certificate in Organizational Leadership from Rosemont College.
Donna enjoys yoga, running, fishing and rock climbing, and most of all, spending time with her lifelong friends, a.k.a The Louds, who she adores.
A GIFT SO GREAT:
Mother… Child… Friend
Build my world of dreams around you, I’m so glad that I found you
I’ll be there with a love that’s strong
I’ll be your strength, I’ll keep holding on
— I’ll Be There, The Jackson Five
— DIANA PEREZ, a Registered Nurse at a level 2 trauma center. I am recently divorced, after a 15 year relationship with a woman. And, although I had a life partner, I raised my daughter as a single parent but in partnership with her dad. Our parental roles were very distinct and often a source of frustration. As the primary parent, I was responsible for the day-to-day aspects of child rearing which included: loving, teaching, advocating, motivating, disciplining and coordinating Ashley’s life. Ashley’s dad was active in her life but got to enjoy her very differently.
— TANYA ARNALDY, 53 years old and a divorced mother of one son. I have worked in the retail industry for over thirty years. I enjoy spending time with the people that I love and hold dear.
— ASHLEY PEREZ, Human Capital Consultant for a Financial Technology company in NYC, Seton Hall University alumna. Currently living in Jersey City, NJ with my fiance (husband as of Oct.7th).
— ARMAND ARNALDY, 20 year old college student, studying Business Administration at Middlesex County College. I work as a part time sales supervisor for a national high-end sunglass retailer. I started playing football at the age of seven and hung up my cleats after I suffered my second concussion ten years later.
But I would not give you false hope
— Mother and Child Reunion, Paul Simon
1. What was the biggest disagreement and how was it resolved?
DIANA PEREZ : Ashley and I haven’t had many disagreements that I can say have left an indelible mark or that may have changed the course of our mother-daughter relationship. If I had to discuss one particular point of contention between us it was during her transition from home to college. Here is some background info to set the stage.
Ashley attended Seton Hall University on a full academic scholarship. The scholarship came responsibilities and expectations in order to retain her status as a recipient (GPA of 3.5 or higher, intense community involvement and peer mentorship to name a few). I’ve always been an involved mother, not a ‘helicopter” mom but certainly a very present mom nonetheless. I was acutely aware that I was preparing this young woman to be a self-sustainable, independent, strong and kind woman so I had to encourage her to spread her wings, get reasonable cuts and bruises, while “trying on life” for size and fit. But I’ve never shied away from pointing out when she was not living up to her, and my, expectations in her personal and educational life. Therefore, I often allowed room for her to challenge me when she thought I was being unreasonable but I always also retained my position as her mother, not her friend, therefore, at the end of the conversation we were going to do what I said, although I always let her believe she “decided” to fall in line all on her own.
The disagreement started when Ashley went to college and I agreed that it would be best for her to live on campus although we lived only 45 minutes away from the college. As with many freshman, she did well but struggled to maintain the required 3.5 GPA. So after one year of living on campus and many tears (hers not mine), I resolved that she wasn’t ready to assume responsibility for her grades and I packed that same U-Haul truck that delivered her to her dorm and brought her back home to teach her a valuable lesson and to continue coaching her a bit longer at home. Ashley went from having the luxury of rolling out of bed to get to class to having to take a bus, then a train and then another bus to get to class, while maintaining a 3/5+ GPA she had committed to when accepting the scholarship. Ashley disliked me for awhile, especially on those cold winter mornings when her commute was disastrous, cold, snowy and/or wet. The intention wasn’t to cause her pain, however accepting the scholarship was the first step in a 4 year relationship with the Seton Hall program and she had to see it through or return the scholarship. Ashley learned that from that experience that she had to learn how to best manage her time to include: working hard toward her responsibilities and commitment in order to rejoice in the glory of her successes, while still managing an active social life. I truly believe that it was her first girl-to-woman lesson… Life is a beautiful balance of hard work, discipline and good times, not one area is independent of the other.
TANYA ARNALDY: Our biggest disagreement came after Armand suffered his second concussion and wanted to play in his next game the following week. As stubborn as he can be it wasn’t until we went back to his Dr. and he fully understood what the long term effects could be. His love for the game and his commitment was understood and showed the type of young man that he was becoming and while I was proud of that it was what was best for his health.
ASHLEY PEREZ: I can’t recall a disagreement that I still think of begrudgingly. I disagreed with most of the rules she had (that’s an instinct programmed into all teens), but looking back I have the life and career that I do now because she taught me the value of working hard and earning credibility. In my current role I partner with a lot of different business leaders across the organization and the feedback I always hear is “when she says she’s doing something it just get’s done.” The importance of credibility is not something you learn in college, it’s a value you learn at home.
2. What challenges did you come across navigating the mother/friend waters?
D.P.: My greatest challenge was navigating motherhood and friendship with my daughter. It was difficult learning how to negotiate the waters of motivating my daughter to trust in our friendship but to also understand that my mother role is ever present. So we, as a family, come up with “the truth before anything else”. In other words… The rule of thumb in the Perez household was “You can tell me anything and its open for discussion, without penalties ore persecution but if I found out about her indiscretions before she informed me the consequences were unavoidable and severe. It didn’t always work but I believe she has told me many things that I’ve had the opportunity to counsel her on without punishing the behavior because of this agreement. It fostered many teachable moments between she and I. Some things that she was forthcoming about should have been things she should have been grounded for but my goal has always been to have a very fluid relationship with Ashley. I may not have liked some of the choices she made as a teenager but I respected her because she often came forward and we were able to have discussions about them.
3. Did you ever wish you and your mom weren’t so close?
ARMAND ARNALDY: No I love the relationship my mother and I have.
A.P.: Not at all, I’m blessed to have someone that loves me as much as she does. Navigating through life is a lot less scary when you know there is someone always in your corner.
4. Do you live together? If not, how often do you see each other?
D.P.: Ashley and I had lived together until recently (25 years), when she got engaged and was ready to move into an apartment with her fiancé. We see each other about once per week but speak almost every day, often more than once per day. LOL she’s a stalker.
A.P.: We don’t, I live about a mile a way. Coincidentally, on the same block where she goes to the gym, so sometimes I see her on my way into the city. We talk everyday, pretty much all day, and see each other frequently.
5. Are there any topics off limits?
A.P.: Not at all.
D.P.: Yes! We don’t talk about her intimacy sessions between the married couple to be. Not interested! She has wonderful friends for that. I just want to know when she is ready to make me a Mama, Mima, Glam-Ma, grandma etc. How it happens can be left out of the discussion.
T.A. No topic is off limits. There are times where it becomes a TMI situation but we listen and work through it.
6. Is there anything that has the two of you ROTFL every time it gets mentioned?
D.P.: HAHAHAHAHAHA, YES! One year I caught her drinking while under age and I threatened to take her to the police department myself for breaking the law but when she and I went to talk to my then partner, my partner was in the middle of rolling a joint and I lost my entire argument in a split second. We tell that story and pee our pants often.
T.A.: There are so many things that cause us to ROTFL, the mention of a bus pass, the way a certain uncle wears his belt too high above his waist, events that occur at our annual Christmas Eve get-together. The list is endless.
7. Are there any traditions/rituals the two of you do together on a regular basis?
D.P.: Yes, a few. Ugly Christmas PJs (I have photos), mother/daughter mother’s day outing, mother/daughter dinners, highlight/lowlight discussions.
A.P.: We do so much together I wouldn’t say there is one thing we do routinely. We do have a ritual of doing a new activity for Mother’s Day, which always turns out to be a lot of fun. She very much likes to be in charge, so planning something she has no say over leads to a really fun experience that she always loves even if she’s protesting the whole way there.
8. What are you most excited about for the other?
A.A.: I’m excited to make my mom proud and give her some grandchildren.
T.A.: I’m excited to see where Armand’s journey takes him. The possibilities for him and his life are endless. Its amazing to watch him grow and evolve.
D.P.: I am excited that my beautiful baby girl is well on her way to the next phase of her life and is going to marry the most amazing man ever. She has created such a beautiful life for herself and I know that if I were to leave this earth today my daughter would need for nothing because she is a self-actualized woman, kind, sweet but a force to be reckoned with. If she weren’t my daughter, she would be my friend.
A.P.: She’s approaching the big 5-0 next year and I’m excited to see the next phase of her life as a nurse, a friend, and a grandparent (in 5+ years lol). She’s knocked the first 50 out of the ball park, and I know she’ll do the same with the next 50.
9. Has there been any incident that has made either of you to put aside the “family” aspect and say, “I need you as a friend” or “I need to speak to you as a friend?
T.A.: Again, our relationship as mother and son is open. Armand has never looked at me as his friend. As explained earlier, our relationship has always been as mother and son and has never been defined as either or.
D.P.: Yes, during the end of my marriage. Ashley gave me some much needed tough love by telling me how she saw my relationship with my then wife. These were things so difficult to hear from your daughter but I knew that she loved me enough to be the one to say them. Ashley had to remind me of who I was and what I had turned into for the sake of keeping my family together. She knew that my relationship had run its course, even if I didn’t want to accept it, and decided that she was not going to partake in it anymore. Therefore, I would have to have two separate relationships, one with her as mother-daughter and one with my wife that wouldn’t include her. My daughter was such a beacon for me during the end of my marriage and I can’t imagine getting through that very painful time without her as my friend.
A.P.: I’ve always been able to confide in her as a friend. She always told me there is nothing we can’t talk about, even when I made poor decisions and had to face the consequences. My mom is always the person I can depend on to tell me the truth even if it might not be something I want to hear. It’s so important to have someone that will put things in perspective like that.
10. What was the last thing the other did that made you feel loved?
A.A.: When I was in the hospital for my second concussion my mom slept in a chair which had to make her uncomfortable and spent the night with me because I had to stay overnight.
T.A.: After a heart-to-heart discussion about my relationship with Armand’s father, he simply came over and hugged me.
D.P.: Ashley has never ever made me feel otherwise. She and I show each other love daily. But refer to question 9 for a concrete answer.
A.P.: Growing up we were always very affectionate and verbal about loving each other, so I wouldn’t say there is one example. As I continue to navigate through adulthood, I really value hearing that she is proud of the person I’ve become. She’s my compass and I love hearing that she feels I’m going in the right direction.
11. What one thing (over everything else) has made you the proudest of the other?
A.A.: When my mom finally left her former company to go to Sunglass Hut as store manager, it made me happy because she was miserable at the other place. and went to a company that is highly recognized an it brought her back into the fashion world which she is very passionate about. To see the smile on her face and the stories she comes in with makes me happy and proud of her.
T.A.: During the time when we were trying to decide where Armand would go to college certain situations occurred and things did not go as planned but Armand’s strength and determination kept him going. Not once did he give up hope he simply adjusted and went with plan B.
by Stephen Holmes
Talk to me, old pal of mine, if you feel you can’t go on. Don’t you sweat, it ain’t over yet this bond we share is strong. Your welfare is my concern, you weigh less than you think.
— Friendship, Pops Staples
I can’t remember why Roger, a college friend then living on Cape Cod, called that particular day. I remember the perfunctory greetings and inquiries about family and life. I know we talked about politics and our society, because we always talked about those things. I even remember we agreed on some point and this was major because we never agreed on anything. The conversation went on for well over an hour before it began petering out. I could hear Roger inhale and letting out a “Well,” signifying the end of everything he had to say and an end to the call. I can’t swear what was said next, but I remember saying, “Roger, I can’t get myself together. I feel,” searching for a word, I settled on “lost.” The phone went silent, while Roger figured out what to say. He knew the basics, which we had covered earlier in the phone call; my dad’s death, dealing with his finances and bills from the nursing home, dealing with my finances, stress over trying to sell his house. We covered it all, but I tried to keep it normal and everyday. “It is, what it is.” “I’ll figure it out.”
“What’s going on?” Roger finally said. I told him everything we had already discussed but this time I confessed I didn’t see an out. I admitted to crying nightly. A guy never wants to admit to crying and he really doesn’t want to admit crying, to another guy. Everything I said, gave life to what I was feeling. Roger took it all in, he let me go on about everything. When he finally spoke, his words said what I was denying.
“Stephen, I get what you’re going through, I’m having problems too.” I was thinking he was going to give me the litany of back pains and car troubles and not enough times in the day, which people tend to dole out in an effort to help you “feel better” about your situation. I was fast-tracking Roger’s next words in my mind, “all you need to do is work with your hands… build something,” he’s that type of “I’m building a deck by myself” kinda guy. “I’m dealing with depression and I’m seeing a therapist. Maybe that’s what you need to do too.” Confused, I asked, “Who’s seeing a therapist?” I thought I missed him saying that one of his siblings or a cousin or a neighbor was seeing one, it never crossed my mind he was talking about himself. He laid it all out for me, what he had been feeling, all the things he was going through, all the doubts. The things Roger was going through was different from what I was experiencing, but we shared the same feelings. But a therapist, really? I had seen a therapist about a decade earlier concerning family issues. But it was for just a couple of visits and I never went back. Being honest, I chalked it up as being something for white people.
Roger and I talked for a couple more hours that night. I was still uneasy, after we had hung up. The tears still came, but so did the morning and I started my routine over again. Summer is not a good time for a teacher trying to keep himself from spiraling. Realizing that sleep was not going to happen anytime soon, I washed the white tear streaks from my face and went to the gym as soon as it opened. I still wasn’t tired when I came back home two hours later. Roger called to check on me before he had to go to work. He checked in on me every day for a week and each time he asked if I wanted to come up and stay with him, his wife and their kid. “You can stay as long as you need to.” The week following our conversation offered little change other than I began to sleep a lot less. I was getting maybe three hours of sleep spread out through the day. My doctor gave me a prescription for something that would help me to both sleep and be less anxious. It didn’t help. I was still not sleeping well and I was still dealing with the anxiety. I began to feel more desperate, maybe I should hang with Roger and family. I told him I would drive up the next day. In the hours that followed, I began to panic. The thought of spending all that time alone with just my thoughts scared me. Driving over bridges caused me to worry under normal circumstances, in my state of mind at that time, I would have lost it.
Roger and my political viewpoints have diverged drastically since we met in college. Not saying that we were on the same page back then but it was a time when we could afford to be more accepting of one another’s differences. Had we met today, both of us changed by the world, we probably would not have become friends. We might have been acquaintances, but not friends. College was a time for “change the world” type thinking. Today, the two of us debate passionately about our beliefs. He’s always wrong, but I let him have his say.
There are many reasons friendships end. We can never be sure what it will be, what line in the sand, that will cause an un-mendable break between friends. I can, however, pinpoint when Roger became something more than a friend. In six words, he became my “brother from another mother.”
“I can’t come. I can’t drive all that way alone,” I told him as I tried to control the panic. I imagined all sorts of wild scenarios of the trip. I imagined my car (followed by me) breaking down, having another panic attack while driving over a bridge… losing control of my emotions and then the car. Most of all, I was afraid of thinking and driving. My fears made me willing to maintain the status quo.
“I’ll be there in three hours,” there it was, six words… ”I’ll be there in three hours.” He didn’t even allow me say, “but.”
The ride to the Cape was filled with idle talk which dovetailed nicely with the silent moments when I thought I was rying to find my words. In reality, I was trying to avoid words. City and waterscapes scattered behind us. One of the silent moments was broken by Roger’s observation about some actress who was popular at the time. Some things are so offensive they shouldn’t and won’t ever be repeated. Therapy, for me, started right then.
The Cape offered me opportunities to breathe, to take long walks, to break free from the grip of desperation. I drew and colored with Roger’s daughter. Mrs. Roger and I talked about our adventures with our students over the past year. Since my visit coincided with John McCain’s announcement that Sarah Palin would be his running mate, there were some intense political debates between Roger and myself. All of these activities came with a price, I was able to sleep for the first time in weeks.
Roger and I found ourselves on our own and he told me more about his struggles to be happy. How what was wrong wasn’t his marriage or home life and it wasn’t, necessarily his job. He knew what it wasn’t, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. I understood. There we were, two men having a serious conversation the way men do, full of stops and starts and you know’s and Idunno’s. Neither of us completely sure how this brand of intimacy works. How do men verbalize feelings of inadequacy when we are raised to “eat” our feelings? He told me about his therapy sessions and he wanted me to meet with her while I was there. It all sounded right, just not for me.
My issues were kept at bay during my visit, but it was just a visit and my time was coming to an end. Roger and his family helped me focus. I keep hearing people question motives and how others are just out for themselves. How friends are as disposable as a razor. Roger showed true friendship and love and I will forever be grateful. But there is a truth I can’t ignore, I know that if I had opened up to any of my friends, they would have moved heaven and earth to see me through. I know some pretty good people.
Feeling like I could travel alone again, Roger and family loaded me on a train back to New Jersey. Magazines and packed snacks, courtesy of Mrs. Roger, entertained me for most of the train ride home. The closer my journey came to my starting point, the more the panic returned. In spite of all of Roger’s confessed advances through therapy, I wasn’t yet convinced. It would be another month of steady decline from the euphoria of Cape Cod. It would be another month before my second panic attack.
SH: Editor-in-Chief of DELve Mag. He is a writer, educator and all around swell guy.