No man is an island…
I not ashamed to say that I need my girlfriends. I need those friendships possibly more than any other relationships. While we may be culturally programmed to settle down and bear offspring, we are also inherently programmed to be social, interconnected beings. My stubborn independence is fundamental to who I am and can easily be traced to childhood trauma (I say trauma with the lightest touch here, only insomuch as that we all have some level of trauma but this is the language the kids are using these days.) And yet, as I continue to explore aspects of potential codependence (yes, I know, it’s confusing,) I am reflecting on my female friendships and how critical they have been in my growth. Without the sounding boards, the reality checks, the swift kicks in the ass, the listening, and the resounding “yes, you have that right!” and “no you’re not bananas!”, I would not have felt safe to take the risks – and therefore have the adventures – I’ve had in my life. And so another chapter on some amazing women I’ve had the honor of calling friends…
I met Valerie in 1995 when we were studying theatre at SFSU. We were both hustling, working hard and enjoying San Francisco in the mid-90’s… before the dotcom bubble-then-bust, before the tech boom, before Willie and Gavin, before people lived by the hundreds in tents on sidewalks. You know, back when it was relatively affordable and truly welcomed all kinds.
Valerie was always much cooler, smarter, and well dressed than anyone else in a room. At some point, she helped me get a job at Restaurant Lulu where she worked. Coworkers used to refer to us as ‘Night and Day.’ Not because of our work hours, but because we couldn’t have been more different. Valerie was the maitre d’ and I was the hostess. I was still shedding my hippie skin from living at the beach in San Diego for years, so it was big, flowy batik print skirts for me, and chic black ensembles for her. She was quick witted and funny – but you never knew if she was letting you in on a joke or you were the joke itself. I think that made the pretentious folks dying to get into one of the best restaurants in SF love her even more. I was all sunshine and rainbows, stupidly telling everyone they could have a table when there were clearly none to be found. I didn’t understand how the system worked, I couldn’t strategize and think far enough ahead to see the potential shitshow I would have unleashed had I sat a four-top at that moment. Valerie could see it all in front of her like a chess board, plotting out the next ten moves, and still managing to keep everyone satisfied. There were people who would wait an hour and a half for a table, and somehow, she had them laughing by the time they were seated. Working at Lulu’s had many perks and there was a lot of crazy shit I saw working there – everything from people having sex in the bathroom to doing blow under the tables. And because of its pseudo-celebrity popularity (a highlight was meeting Michael Stipe and R.E.M.,) it was always intense.
Over time, though, Valerie handed over the reigns so I got to be maitre d’ occasionally. I think she was moving on to bigger and better pastures, and knew she’d trained me well. She forced me to have confidence in myself, no more pussy footing around.
I should note, there was a lot of back and forth with my boyfriend at the time. He would show up on his bike outside and motion for me to come talk to him. Valerie gave me a lot of well warranted eye-rolling. It is something I love most about her – she does not suffer fools and pulls no punches. It was the kind of honesty I needed in my life, and still do. Sometimes it felt harsh but I realized it was because she knew I deserved better and was capable of more. She saw what I couldn’t. I also got to see what kind of person she was, built on trust and loyalty. Her drive for excellence is still incredible, and her energy continues to inspire me to get over myself and push forward.
I also remember during the holidays, she would deliver these cute little bags of homemade cookies and sweets for everyone. It was so thoughtful. So grown up. More importantly, I have a huge sweet tooth and these were the bomb. Valerie went on to become one of the best, award-winning chocolatiers and bakers in L.A. with her company Valerie Confections. I never had a doubt, and I’m honored to still call her my friend.
(p.s. One time she let me borrow this black, sexy dress and I will never forget it because I got so lucky that night with a patron from the bar.)
I don’t remember meeting Lyle, specifically. I know it was when we were both pregnant, me just a few months ahead of her. It was either when she and her man (who was an old friend of mine from high school) were driving through SF or at a mutual friend’s wedding. Regardless, I do remember thinking – how did I not know her before? Lyle is a born and raised New Yorker but also manages to seem like a person who could live anywhere. She is brutally honest and deeply loyal, qualities I always love in a person. And hilariously inappropriate.
Coincidentally, when our baby boys were quite young, we had both decided to leave their respective Dads so she and I have always had that in common. Its not something I would wish on someone, but it is an immediate bond maker. I remember on our first visit to see her in Kauai, Jackson was two years old and I was a bit of a mess. No, I was a full-on mess. Turning 30, my Dad had recently died and I’d left Jackson’s father. I literally did not know what I was doing with my life, or how things would eventually turn out ok. I certainly couldn’t afford a plane ticket to a tropical island, yet, that was the decision I made for myself and I will never regret it. One of the first things we did was cut off all my hair. Well, the first thing was to have a drink, then make a wish and blow out candles on the cake she’d baked me. And then I cut off all my hair. (Hair always seems like such an important thing until its gone and you realize how little you need it, am I right?) Lyle said it so matter of factly, like, let’s cut off your hair! How could I refuse? It was probably couched in a way that made it seem like a new beginning, of things to come, shedding the old and on with the new. But it didn’t matter to me the why, it mattered that I trusted myself with her.
While it was an old boy friend that introduced us, Lyle and I have surpassed that connection to have our own sweet, lifelong friendship. I always feel lucky when she calls to say she is in town and let’s meet up. I can’t put my finger on just one way having her in my life has influenced me but some are the way she dealt with moving to Hawai’i with her young son and rebooting her naturopath career in a new place, how she managed to fight for her son’s life year after year while he battled illness, and how candidly she processed her mother’s passing last year.
Lyle is raw, unfiltered and unfettered, and I’m grateful for her friendship. She never feels sorry for me, and I’m free to be my absolute worst or best with her, no judgement. I know I can count on her to tell me the truth, always. Unless I ask her not to – but I’m not sure I’d ever do that to her.
Writer Traveler Human Being