My good friend Patrice is someone I grew up with. We met in second grade, where we suffered at the hands of the cruel Miss Angela. We both spent time under Miss Angela's desk because we were outspoken and not as well-behaved as other children in the class. And then there was Girl Scouts. Patrice and I both had fun at regular meetings, on field trips to places like Amish Country, and overnight camping excursions.
I have strong memories of Patrice's mom, who was not exactly the dainty type, bellowing "Alllllright girls, up and at 'em! On the double!" throughout the day. I liked Patrice's mom. Unlike some of the other troop parents, she didn't sit around smoking and gossiping with the others, hinting unsubtly that we kids should get lost and leave the grownups alone to relax, which was the true purpose of this trip. No, she was loud and aggressive, but in a caring sort of way. From Patrice's mom, we learned how to use a Port-o-San in the woods, how to dig a trench around our tent, and, of course, how to start and maintain a campfire. That, in case you didn't know, was the true purpose of a Girl Scout camping trip.
Patrice and I eventually lost track of one another. She moved down south before graduating and got married. That marriage didn't last too long. She came back up north in time for senior year. I remember seeing her at the hairdresser, getting fixed up for the prom. But that was it. Many years later, as first Classmates.com and then good old Facebook arose in our culture, I got back in touch with Patrice. Turns out we were both living down south, not terribly far from one another. But we were both married with kids and jobs by then, so getting together was something we talked about but didn't do for a long time.
Then came our 40th reunion a couple of Octobers ago. Patrice asked if I'd be interested in a road trip. We agreed to do it, and met up a couple of months before then in the city where I live now. Always amazing to see classmates -- you always think to yourself, My God they've gotten old. Do I look like that?? But it's also amazing how the years disappear after you talk to each other for a few minutes and remember things that have zero meaning to anyone else. We had the best time on that long round trip to New York. We spent a lot of time with our other friend Carolyn, enjoyed a great evening with classmates, and even got to our favorite beach. And of course, we talked non-stop about everything.
The great thing, the best thing, about Patrice is that she's a people-person. She's the polar opposite of me. I spent high school feeling quite indifferent to most of my peers. My circle of friends was so tiny, we couldn't have constituted a quorum if we'd needed to. But Patrice? My god, Patrice knew everybody on her block and most of the people in our class of about 300. She knew all their private little stories, too. Our town was kind of pastoral-looking on the outside, but inside our small houses, there were plenty of little dramas and soap-operas going on. Some of which involved very grim storylines of abuse and domestic turmoil. Patrice knew about these, because she had an open, caring, giving nature, and people opened up to her.
Crusty on the outside, heart of gold on the inside. That's Patrice. And when she became a mom, she was 100% invested in doing all the things her mom did with her. It was maybe easier with a son, when it came to outdoor activities. Her son's father was busy working and not always available for those activities. I don't know Patrice's husband that well, but I do know that Patrice feels responsible for her son turning out to be not such a nice guy. When Dad tried to lay down the law, Patrice always tried to smooth things over. Some of the necessary messages apparently didn't get through. Patrice is now a "mom" to three grandchildren ranging in age from 13 to 2, with different moms. And the so-called adult parents of these children often use the little ones as bargaining chips. Patrice would lay down her life for the kids, and the grownups know it. Patrice and her husband are not youngsters; both anticipate retirement soon and have accumulated a rather alarming array of job-related injuries, infirmities, and the wear and tear of decades. They need to be able to kick back, relax, and think of themselves, but on a continual basis, it's three generations in continual crisis mode.
The other night, Patrice made an odd request. Would I text her the next morning? After a bit of back-and-forth, I got the whole picture and became concerned. There had been another ugly confrontation. Sonny had stormed out, and Patrice was worried that he would come back and "no one would know if anything had happened to" her and her husband. In today's weird social climate, you can never tell if someone is worrying needlessly or not worrying enough. I promised to text at a particular time; got her home address and put it in an easy-to-find place; looked up the phone number for the police in her town, and then decided to implement a Plan B. If she answered but didn't sound like herself, I would ask her to name three people other than me who had been at the reunion. I wanted to make sure Patrice was answering Patrice's phone, you see. This was something I'd done years before: When my dad was terminally ill, many hundreds of miles away, under home care with various strangers working shifts, I gave him a code phrase to use if he needed me to come down and help -- He was to say something about the racetrack. That he missed going there, and maybe sometime we could go again. My dad never went to the racetrack, but the unknown, poorly paid shift workers of various levels of professionalism didn't know that. So if he expressed what sounded like random old-guy nostalgia, I would know something was up and come on the run. Thankfully, he never had to use the code phrase. His caregivers turned out to be wonderful.
In a similar way, all the preparation for Patrice was thankfully for naught. She texted me before the appointed time and sounded 100% like herself. We're still up around condition orange or yellow for the next few days, and the "welfare checks" will be consistent, but we're hoping that if she and her husband stand their ground, however belatedly, we'll all be around for the 50th reunion.