Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Friendsday #4

If you got here somehow other than through Facebook, here's a catch up: I'm starting a series of posts about people in my life who make my life better.  I want to take the time to thank them because it's just a great way to live.  If you missed my other Friendsday posts, you can read them here and here and here.

After attending a private school through eighth grade, my parents made the decision to send me to the public high school by our house.  Aside from the excitement and anxiety everyone experiences transitioning to high school, I went from being in a class of 65 students to a class of nearly 400.  My personality has always lent itself to making a few deep friendships, and in a sea of strangers, there was one person who made the changes slightly less painful.

The first week of school, the school organized a Sadie Hawkins dance—you know, the kind where the girl has to ask the guy—which is in fact one of the worst of ideas ever.  I mean, I’m sure the girls who had just gotten back together with their eighth grade boyfriends following their summer break-ups were fine, but I was starting at ground zero, so I did what anyone in my situation would do—I asked the boy who sat next to me in my first period English class.
Dan with his sweet wife and manchild.  Love this picture!
Dan was funny and smart, and in the three days I’d known him before I had to find a “date” to the dance, I decided he would do.  You know how there’s this theory out there that there’s no such thing as a platonic relationship between guys and girls?  Well, that’s stupid.  From that night on, Dan became a confidante and a study buddy and eventually the stabilizing third wheel in my relationship with my high school boyfriend.  Many of my fondest memories of high school involved cheering Dan on in his football or soccer games and wrestling matches, eating Taco Bell at late night AP History study sessions at his house or mine, or missing curfew and getting grounded because we were doing something stupid.

When we each prepared to leave for college (I was headed to Trinity in San Antonio, and he was headed to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs), I had no doubt that our friendship would survive the long distance.  Labor Day weekend of our sophomore year, I traveled to CO to visit him over “parents’ weekend” at the Academy.  His family was leaving earlier than I could get away from school and work, so they connected me with a nice family, the Johnsons, who were traveling to see their son who also attended the Air Force Academy.

Three months later at a New Years’ Eve party, I answered someone else’s phone that had been left on the counter.  On the other end, a voice said, “Who is this?”  When I answered, the guy said, “You mean Dan’s friend, Leia?”  Up to this point in my life, I’d been “Steve and Nancy’s daughter” and “Lyn and Lisa’s niece” and “Hazel and Claudine’s grand-daughter,” but yes, I was “Dan’s friend, Leia,” too.  I gave Scott Johnson, the son of the nice people who helped me get to CO to see my best friend, directions to the party.

When Scott and I got married three years later, we asked Dan to stand with us, and when his Air Force duty would not allow him to fly home for the wedding, we didn’t replace him.  We were down one groomsman, but it didn’t matter.  His absence as we held his place was far more important than balancing the wedding party.  On some level, he was the reason we were even celebrating our wedding in the first place.

A couple of years ago, Scott and I were struggling to find balance in our family life and marriage.  I was deeply depressed, and Scott was attempting to keep too many plates spinning at work.  The result was a palpable feeling of distance and reevaluation on both of our parts.  Dan showed up to support Scott at his graduation ceremony from an Air Force training program, and in some of our free time, the three of us were lying by the hotel pool having beers and catching up.  At one point, I made an exasperated comment, intuitively knowing it was safe to say certain things out loud to Dan that I wouldn’t have said to most people.  After filling him in on how the stresses of military life were adversely affecting me and the kids, I said, “I can’t stay married if things stay this way.  I’d rather be divorced than keep living like this.”

Dan’s response was steady, but also unexpectedly emotional.  His words were simple: you don’t mean that.  I could see in him surprise and disappointment and pain.  Those four words came back to me in the following months when Scott and I did the hard work of therapy, communicating in ways we had never needed to in the past.  Dan’s face literally came to mind in times when I needed to combat negative thoughts that were the result of depression, rather than based in reality.  He was right—I didn’t really mean that.  And Dan was just one of many people who would have been surprised and disappointed and hurt if Scott and I had decided to throw in the towel.

Dan and I are two years away from celebrating a twenty year frienderversary, which is totally not possible because we are not that old, and while his and Scott’s Air Force careers have never allowed us to live in the same place again, he remains the stabilizing force in my life that he was when we were fifteen.

From Dan, I’ve learned the necessity of surrounding myself with people who love me even when I’m a mess.  I am a fiercely loyal friend to the people I love largely in part because Dan showed me how and why that’s important.  Watching him become a husband and a dad has elicited pride in my heart not dissimilar to the way I feel watching my kids meet milestones.  I’m proud to watch him grow with his family because I have been privileged to be on the receiving end of his wisdom, dependability, and fidelity.  As an only child I can’t be completely sure, but I think this is what it feels like to have a brother.

Dan, I know you might be rolling your eyes at the sentimentality of this, but I don’t care.  I know behind the eye rolling is a giant heart.  Love you, man.

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