My Friendly Valentine (February 12, 2014)

There are two personal items on which I refuse to spend more than $15 – sunglasses and gloves. The reason is simple. I can’t be trusted to hang onto them. Case in point: today is February 12th and I have managed to lose four pairs of gloves and mittens with plenty of winter left to endure (Curse you Punxsutawney Phil!). At this point I consider it fiscally irresponsible to invest in another set. I might as well just set a stack of dollar bills on fire and call it a day. And since it’s hard to wash the WASPy values of my upbringing away completely, I am doing penance in the form of enduring the rest of the season without finger coverings. Maybe that will teach me to take better care of my things before next year.

While I am careless with seasonal accoutrements, I am pleased to report that a penchant for leaving items behind in cabs, trains and restaurants does not extend to people. With folks I love, I am in it for the long haul. My longest-running friendship dates back to the summer I turned four years old. Bob, the neighborhood boy who lived down the street from my grandparents, anointed himself my confidant and protector before I knew I needed one. 31 years later, he checks in periodically for an injury count (physical and emotional), career updates and wishes for my health and happiness. Bob is a constant, a touchstone when everything else seems to be evolving faster than I can grasp. Then, as now, woe be to anyone caught in the act of inflicting pain in my direction. I can take this for granted, but I don’t. It’s a rare and special gift.

My other best male friend, Gary, I encountered for the first time at age 13, enrolled in a summer school program a few months before making the leap from tiny Lutheran primary to Chicago Public High School. We both sacrificed time at the beach in favor of a full day of French lessons and algebra so we could be competitive in the International Baccalaureate program into which we’d been accepted. I was there under duress – forced into the challenging academic curriculum by a mother frustrated in her own youthful, scholastic ambitions. I was still working out some juvenile delinquent tendencies and didn’t appreciate the interruption. Gary was as good a kid as you could wish, a parent’s dream. I am proud to say that across 22 ensuing years, we’ve rubbed off on each other in mutually beneficial ways. I grew a little more rigorous and studious, while Gary got in touch with his inner troublemaker.

Then there’s the quadrant of bad ass lady pals, gifts presented as I worked through issues with female relationships (courtesy of a competitive, threatened mother and some junior high bullying). Jessica walked into my life at the age of 16 and once we finished our yearlong pissing war, we were emotionally, if not always geographically, inseparable. One tearful “I need you” SOS is all it takes.

Theresa came along at age 18, when I worked my first hourly gig at the Wendy’s in University of Illinois’ Campustown. Unlikely duo were we: me with my big city shoulder chip and bitchy sorority girl looks, she with her light Southern twang, brick shithouse build and black lipstick. It just worked. Nearly two decades later, we both get a kick out of keeping in touch via snail mail, like Hillary and Cece from Beaches.

I met Diane at work in 2007 through another mutual friend and colleague. Immediately taken with her talent, empathy and survivor ‘s biography, she may very well be the most likeable, gifted human being on Earth.

Beth is the latest addition to the BFF roster, making me fall in love with her at first sight in the spring of 2011. I would remark upon the surprising ease and speed with which we’ve become family, but this is no shock to anyone familiar with her humor, generosity and loyalty. After we befriended one another, I told Beth I wanted to be her when I grew up. I still do.

Last, but certainly not least, are the close relatives I’d seek out even without the bonds of blood – my little sister Jenny and my cousin by marriage, Carla. It’s a pretty terrific thing when people you have to engage anyway are those you’d have chosen to be part of your life, if given the opportunity.

I am without a husband or boyfriend this Valentine’s Day, but I have plenty of significant others. I experience more love, joy, companionship and laughter than a body has any right to expect. I’d be a first rate fool to indulge in Hallmark-related self-pity given such a huge portion of life-fulfilling blessings.

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