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by Christine Mourre

Sandy and I were amazed at what good friends we had become in little more than a few months. But now, in January, after spending every day of the holidays with her, I had to say goodbye. Sandy, her three-year-old son and her husband were leaving Toronto for his new job in California. Packing up their apartment meant getting rid of a lot of little things like kitchen items that were too good to throw away but crazy to move to the other side of the continent. Unexpected tears filled my eyes as I put trivial items like a small, unmarked bag of coarse salt, sealed with a hastily made knot, in our kitchen cupboards, next to what I already had. My blurred vision made deciphering the hand-written labels and unfamiliar packaging from stores in Korea and Chinatown even more difficult.

Olive oil, olives, a half tub of organic, freshly ground peanut butter, Chinese hot sauce, celery salt, non-bleached muffin tin liners and loose Earl Grey tea, from their trip to London four years ago, were the last of the items from her kitchen. A plastic take-out cup, the kind you drink beer from at outdoor events, was filled half-way with soya sauce and had a piece of plastic wrap and an elastic for a lid. The cup was wedged into the corner of the box and kept upright by the other items. It served as a signature, leaving no doubt if there was ever any that all this stuff was from Sandy.

Some of the other things she gave us were her son’s sand box toys. “Why move them when you can buy more,” she said, and a basket of miniature, plastic, toy food items: a hotdog that snaps into a bun, a teeny carton of milk and a doll size bottle of ketchup. I sorted, discarded and found a place for all the bits and pieces. My eyes stung as I again became teary-eyed. Luckily, the curiosity, surprise and the occasional dismay I experienced while considering each item distracted me enough that I could finish the job of going through her stuff.

Everywhere I looked I saw reminders of her and her family. Household items like an odd shaped, spiky candleholder and a bright blue wine stopper stood out from the things that made my house feel familiar, and it felt strange. This is what it must be like, I thought, when a parent dies and all the day-to-day items, which until then nobody thinks about, are spread throughout your house.

It was a hot and humid day last July when a mutual friend from the park, where our kids play, introduced Sandy and me. In the following weeks we would occasionally see each other in the playground. Weary from the heat of the day, we would chat while pushing our kids in the baby swings. We compared notes on the fall programs at the Rec Centre - which ones you could drop your kids off at and which ones were for “parents and tots.” I partially listened to Sandy, showing only a slight interest in her choices, while I mined through the remaining ice cubes with my straw for the watery, but icy, last few sips of a Vietnamese iced coffee.

In September, a small group of us from the park made plans to meet on the patio of a nearby busy restaurant for a send-off drink for a mom named Angie. Angie’s doctor husband had finished whatever he was here for and they were now returning home to Italy. When the agreed upon evening arrived, I found Sandy sitting alone on the patio with a pint of beer, minus a few sips.

“Hi, looks good,” I said, my eyes fixed on her beer. “Is that Heineken?”


“Pint of Stella please,” I told the waitress, as she rushed by.

“Good choice,” Sandy smiled and took another sip.

“Been here long?”

Sandy tilted her beer towards me so that it came up to the rim of the glass. “Just this long,” she said, smiling.

Just then Angie spotted us from the sidewalk, waved and came towards our table. She looked like a model from a ‘Hot in the City’ segment of a fashion magazine. She was our age, late thirties but was super-slim and had the most beautiful casual summer clothes. Where I looked worse with the heat, my hair stringy from perspiration and pollution, my skin on the verge of breaking out and my clothing loose and shapeless, she looked fantastic. Her cooperating, straight brown hair with caramel highlights fell generously from her head and bounced with a swoop of curl at her shoulders. Her face, tanned a deeper shade of olive, was shiny from the day’s heat, but her skin looked healthy, supple and perfect. She was dressed in neutrals: beige, white, and taupe. She wore flat, strappy, tanned-coloured sandals that showed off her soft, clean feet. Seeing her toes made the idea of some men’s foot fetishes easier to understand. A turquoise scarf flowed through the belt loops of her white beach pants and added a splash of oceanic colour. Her perfectly buffed fingernails were a natural finish to her delicate hands.

I, on the other hand, wore a baggy, dark, inky-purple cotton t-shirt. It used to be navy but after being worn day after day for many summers and serving as a pajama top in the winter, only the purple of the dark blue dye remained. My denim capris were too heavy a fabric for such heat and they seemed to absorb the water from the air as the day wore on. The double thickness where the seams met up felt like a rope grinding into my bones and other sensitive areas. The grime of the street made my hastily painted toes feel sticky as they crowded up to the front of my sandals. It seemed no matter how often I washed my feet they always looked neglected.

“Hey there, you made it,” Sandy said, looking up and squinting as Angie approached.

“Yes, yes, very difficult day I had," said Angie. “I’m a mess, didn’t even shower today.”

I rolled my eyes but smiled, going along with her opinion of herself. I wasn’t going to compliment her by disagreeing. No one looking this good needs a compliment, I thought.

“Too much to do, pack this, do that, food for the baby, then my older son, Francesco … he don’t like the change,” Angie continued. “My husband, he work late last night and then again this morning. Has hard time say good bye to the people he work with.”

“Moving so sucks,” I said.

Sandy tossed her head and blew back her long bangs saying, “Don’t even talk about it, I’ve moved way too many times.”

“The kids make it hard … If just me, then okay,” continued Angie.

“I want something to eat,” said Sandy.

“Me too!” I added, thinking about the food I saw on the other tables. “Anything good on the menu?”

“The kids cry, don’t sleep well”, Angie said. “They get into all the boxes.”

“Everything’s easier when you’re single,” I said.

After thirty minutes of predictable chit-chat about the pains of packing and moving, Angie finished her iced tea, tried to offer us a couple of dollars towards the bill, which we refused, then wished us “bonjourno,” leaving just Sandy and me.

Sandy’s eyes soared high to the left then to the right, like radar, scanning for the other women we were expecting.

“I think it’s safe to say the others are a no-show,” she said, checking her watch. She exhaled and her long highlighted bangs bounced from her face. She smiled and on the verge of laughing said, “Look’s like just us two.”

We moved our chairs closer to the small, white plastic patio table - no longer keeping space open for others. The scorching late afternoon sun had finally started to set behind the brick and steel horizon of downtown. It felt great to take my sunglasses off and feel the air move around my eyes and over the bridge of my nose. My hair loosened from its elastic, falling around my face. An hour ago this would have driven me crazy and caused me to think about shaving my head, but now, with a cool beer and shade, it felt familiar and comfortable.

Without the sun and the distraction of the possibility of others showing up I was able to focus on Sandy. She looked like she wasn’t doing so great with the heat either. Her clothes, like mine, looked like they were picked with only survival in mind. She wore a stretched out faded t-shirt, faded blue jeans and sandals that looked comfortable and purposeful. Her black mid-length hair was gathered in a sagging ponytail. As she settled she emptied from her back pockets a cell phone, house keys and her wallet.

The waitress came to our table. “Two more?” she asked us.

“Yes please!” we said.

“And some calamri too, you like calamari, right?” Sandy asked me.

“Do they have natchos here?”

“Mmm, natchos are good,” Sandy said, nodding.

“No natchos," said the waitress.

“Calimari, then, perfect,” I said.

“…and fries” asked Sandy, “and two glasses of ice water.”

“Extra lemon … for the calamari please,” I added.

We started on our second beer, and like the blurred colours of a race car speeding down a straight-a-way, our outpouring of like-mindedness made several hours feel like minutes and a busy downtown patio feel like our own private planet. Over beer, food and two self-consciously smoked cigarettes, we recognized that we had each experienced the same hard-learned lesson: That once you enter mommy-hood, the friendship pool changes – dramatically.

“I remember the day I first met you,” Sandy said, putting her cigarette out in the ashtray. “You looked tired of meeting new moms and tired of being friendly.” She picked up a calamri ring, swirled it around in the dip and tapped the excess dressing onto a rusty leaf of iceberg lettuce. “I’m pretty sure you were thinking, oh great, another name to remember.”

I laughed, but I wanted to disappear. I tilted my head back to escape from her view for even just a moment. I could tell that she was eating the piece of calamari and took this as a good sign. I looked at her, smiled and raised my eyebrows in agreement, surrendering to her clairvoyance. Mercifully, she giggled a little, nudged the plate of calamari closer to me and changed the subject.

We both still had friends from our single days - that is, friends without children - but it just wasn’t the same. We agreed that no matter how much a single friend tries to understand your situation, hanging out with them and your child is frustrating and difficult and makes attempting a meaningful conversation pointless.

Contrary to what one might think about mothers of young children, spontaneity became the best way for Sandy and I to see each other and this made our friendship easy. I could call Sandy from the subway at 9 pm and sure enough, in twenty minutes we’d be meeting up for a quick or not so quick beer. Mid-day, finding herself at the end of my street, she would call, wanting to know if I or we had eaten yet.

The morning of the last day I saw Sandy, the movers had just emptied her apartment and she was standing outside having a cigarette, watching for my car. She was wearing her loose fitting, grayish-pink turtle-neck sweater cinched at the neck with a long, knitted scarf the soft orange colour of not-yet-ripe cantaloupe, her faded jeans from the summer and light-brown suede boots.

I was driving her to the Days Inn near the airport. Her husband and son were arriving that same evening from visiting relatives out west and then together as a family they were catching a 6 am flight to Los Angeles.

After checking in at the hotel and dropping off her bags, we got back in the car and drove up the suburban strip looking for somewhere to eat.

Sandy sighed. “Golden Griddle,” she said, while pointing in front of my face, across my line of vision.

I could feel her gaze as she strained to see out of my side of the car, distracting me from the fast moving traffic in the other lanes, and it bugged me.

“How ‘bout I’ll look on my side and you look over there,” I said, gesturing to her window with my chin while negotiating a lane change across three lanes of traffic. I smiled and then giggled. I was thinking how my husband, who knows how much I hate driving, would never believe how kind and diplomatic I was being with my passenger at that moment.

“What’s so funny?” she asked, wanting to get in on the joke.

“Nothing, nothing,” I replied. “I just need a drink, this driving is killing me.”

“I don’t know about beer with pancakes” she said, thinking back to the Golden Griddle.

“Hey, a Denny’s!”

“I’m sick of Denny’s from when I lived in Florida... They’re everywhere down there. Hey look, Lusty Ladies, bet we can get a drink there!”

The choices of American owned franchises had us laughing with tears as we tried to imagine where our last dinner would be.

“Hey, bbq ribs!” Sandy read, from a sign that was shaped like a cowboy hat and had a lasso dotted with neon lights. “It’s not pancakes or a strip bar!”

“Gotta love it,” I replied and swerved a sharp left, crossing more lanes of traffic to get into the parking lot.

We couldn’t stop giggling once inside the doors of the Texan themed restaurant. Everything, the tables, booths, the floor area and the stairs leading to the different seating areas were so big. A thick, heavy velvet rope kept us cued in our own private line and waiting to be seated. There were lots of gas fireplaces with orange and yellow glowing fake logs but the tables near them were taken. Sheets of brown craft paper more or less covered the red and white checked tablecloths. In the middle of each table was a small tumbler of crayons, burger condiments and watery-looking, red hot-sauces.

A young woman seated us at a huge oval table with red, vinyl-covered wrap-around seating that had only one opening for getting in or out. We entered the seating loop and wiggled our way to the middle so that we could sit close enough to have dinner together. The waiter appeared while we were catching our breath from the maneuver. He looked a little surprised at our position in the corral but didn’t say anything about it. He seemed happy when we started our order with a litre of red wine from Chile and surprised when we told him we’d look at the menus later.

The wine arrived and with it a basket of tortilla chips with dip. We were happy and felt we did pretty well at finding a place where we could eat, drink and enjoy each other's company. Realizing that we didn’t have to consider the needs of our kids or the opinions of our husbands instantly put us in the mood for indulgence.

“Hi there, uh, can we get more salsa please?” Sandy asked the waiter as he neared our table on the way to somewhere else.

“Tortilla chips, too, please,” I added.

“More chips … Salsa,” the waiter repeated, trying to sound glad that he could be of help.

“And more of this stuff too, please,” said Sandy, pointing to the guacamole. A crumb of tortilla chip fell from the corner of her mouth.

“Yes, guacamole too, please,” feeling the need to translate Sandy’s request. “It’s delicious ... love this stuff,” I said to the waiter, hoping to cajole him into cooperating with our piggy demands.

“What are you gonna have?” I asked Sandy.

“Ribs look good – that’s what they do here, right?”

“I don’t care what I eat, it’s all the same shit with fries,” I said.

Sandy laughed. “Get something good, it’s our last meal together.” Having already decided on her order, Sandy put her menu down, looked around and said, “This place sure is different than the ones downtown.”

After a couple glasses of wine and after finishing our second basket of tortilla chips we got down to the business of ordering dinner. Sandy ended up having the overcooked ribs and I ate a dried up chicken breast on an even drier Kaiser bun. Throughout dinner we laughed, drank, and speculated on the ability of such dry food to sop up the wine in our stomachs.

“Hey, when’s your birthday?” Sandy asked.

“This is so bad, we’re still getting to know each other, you’re leaving too soon,” I said.

“I know, I know, the more we talk the more fun we have, could go all night,” she said.

I started to think about how great her son and my daughter, only a week apart in age, got along. How they could play for hours without any problems and how both of our laid-back and somewhat shy husbands had found they had things in common and even started meeting for an occasional beer.

Then I answered her question about my birthday: “End of March – the 29th.” I was about to ask her when hers was but I didn’t get a chance.

“Let's get some more food … dessert maybe?” Sandy pulled out the menu she had tucked beside her.

“When did you say you left Korea?” I asked her. “Seventeen? To the states first, right?” I was half guessing and half remembering. I felt like I was cramming for an exam, grasping at any and all details to save myself from failing – or from failing to find her again if and when we lost touch.

“Yeah, then after university, Vancouver, BC, where I met Bob, then the house in Florida, then Toronto," Sandy said, giving me a super quick overview of her last twenty years. You from out West, right?” she asked me.

“Yes, ya, from Saskatchewan. Saskatoon is the city. Left when I was pretty young,” I said, answering her question. “How 'bout a salad? I need something refreshing,” I suggested. I looked up from the menu and noticed her mouth moving ever so slightly, attempting to commit to memory the awkward names of my hometown and province.

Our few months of being each other’s best friend would be over at the end of this meal. Sandy held up her wine as if to make a toast and said, “Well, here we are, just the two of us, just like the way our friendship started.” She smiled, sucked her cheek and nodded her head. “A lot of women are nice”, making reference to the many new people she had met since becoming a mom. “They come across as sincere, respectful, and interested in others and they say all the right things, but what you see is all there is – no more. But you’re different. There is so much more to you than just the person I first met at the swing set.”

After nearly four hours and our every culinary desire satiated, from salty tortilla chips to chokingly sweet Baked Alaska, what started with wine ended with water and it was time to leave Texas.

We ran across the football-field-size parking lot to my car. We screamed, like frenzied teenagers, as the icy north wind sliced through us, serving as another reminder that we were in desolate suburbia where the wind blows without barriers.

As I pulled up to the hotel, I thought about what I was going to say when it came time to hug her goodbye. It had to be something simple and without empty promises for the future, which was something others did that we both hated. Thank you for your friendship, eliminated the more flowery and wordy goodbyes that I kept defaulting to. I drove the car halfway through the cul-de-sac to the front door. I had decided on what were to be my parting words. Thank you for your friendship. I was going to give her a hug and say thank you for your friendship, that would be just fine, I thought. Now, I was ready for the inevitable.

We braced ourselves for more icy wind and reluctantly got out of the car and walked the few feet to the red outdoor runner. The weather made for a short goodbye. We reached out and hugged each other. She patted my back and at the same time I patted hers and then she said it. “Thank you for your friendship.”

My jaw moved, but silently. My words came out of her mouth and I was left speechless. Alone, she walked a few more steps to the glass entrance of the hotel. Struggling to open the giant door, she managed a single wave, high in the air –her arm nearly straight above her head. Through the steadfast wind, we yelled out our good-bye’s, like any other two people. During the final moment of seeing each other’s faces, our eyes locked and our arms and faces were motionless, like we were posing for one another’s snapshot.

I wonder if we will ever see each other again. As our families grow it will be easy to lose touch. What we loved was the immediacy and spontaneity of each other – something completely dependent upon our being together.

I’m still a regular at the familiar local where Sandy and I often met up for everything from lattes, scrambled eggs and stories about our kids, to late night beer, suicide wings and games of Crazy Eights.

Sitting at the same table we sat at just a few days ago, I sip my Stella and, while waiting for my food, attempt the newspaper in front of me. But rather than read, I think about the people I know – wondering if maybe I’m overlooking somebody, like I nearly did with Sandy. I scroll down the directory of my cell phone, thinking that there must be someone else I know who would jump at a spontaneous invitation to meet up at the end of the day. Despite my certainty, the bench seat across from me remains empty and I’m reminded again - the one I wish were here has left.

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