There is a picture on my desk taken about 13 years ago. A woman and me. Our faces are touching, side-by-side. I have my arm around her, and both of her hands are wrapped around mine. My hair is a mess, but I apparently couldn't tell the night the picture was taken. Her beautiful red hair is perfect. We look like a couple of kids dressed up for dinner with their parents. It is one of my favorite pictures ever.
I met the woman at work. When I interviewed at the small organization of about ten people, it was the practice to have the prospective employee meet with each individual staff member. She was the office manager. I met with her and another member of the staff at the same time. It was a brief interview with the two. The executive director of the company had a simple rule: “If you feel as if you and the person could have a beer together, we can hire him.” I learned later that the office manager, when asked what she thought of me, responded with a casual “He’s all right.” To which, the executive director countered with “I thought you’d be more excited since he’s gay.” The office manager was the only gay person on staff. “Well now that I know that, I say hire him immediately!” And I was in.
She may have regretted it later. I was in my early 30s at the time, more than a bit immature and quite a bit high-maintenance. I would check in at her desk a couple of times a day, complaining about my even more high-maintenance boss. She would listen for a little while and then say with exasperation, “You need to return to your desk.” Her office was directly next to the executive director’s office, and my friend would warn me. “She’s going to storm out of her office, see you here and bite your head off.” And the director did a couple of times.
My friend kept her work and private life somewhat separate in those days. She talked of introducing me to her partner, and eventually that happened. Her partner and I hit it off quite well. I began hanging out with them, at their house, for happy hour almost every night of the week (we were in our early 30s), for weekend bike rides. With the time that I spent with her, I learned that she is alternately raucous and reserved, candid and considerate, indulgent and impatient. But she is always radiant, chic and incomparable. (Now, if she’d just quit asking if I color my hair…)
A few years back, I first heard her refer to me as her best friend. I honestly had to mask my surprise and delight. I felt warm inside for days after her simple proclamation. If you don’t understand, think back to the coolest girl in high school: the one who did her own thing, the one who could care less about anyone’s estimation of her, the one who knew she was special and knew her friends were as well. And here she is, all grown up: still cool, still individual, still extraordinary.
She told me once that the only reason that I had stuck around so long was that I was the person whose company both she and her partner enjoyed. I laughed aloud at that, but the truth rang louder.
If I believed in it, I’d say that fate brought her into my life. But I’ll just say it is luck. I know how lucky I am to be her best friend.
(Photo by Justin De La Orenellas)