Friends of a Lifetime

This is a story about three girls who still think they’re twenty years old.  But in fact, these girls are all turning forty, and these girls are headed to Mexico late next week to celebrate the milestone.

These girls are me and my two oldest friends, Sarah and Shannon, both of whom I’ve written about many times, sans permission.  This is another one of those ask-for-forgiveness-not-permission posts, so I’m going to take some creative liberties to share our history with you, and they’ll likely read this post on their Tuesday morning commutes and shake their heads at my antics.  That’s our usual pattern.  (I’ll load my words up with hyperlinks, so that you can read more about the backstories, if you’re so inclined.)

I’ve known Sarah the longest, since we were twelve years old and became attached at the hip in grade seven.  We met Shannon in our first year at the University of Calgary, and we quickly became an inseparable trio.  Using our first initials in a brash acronym, we established the ASS Tour, and made sure the three of us went on a short annual getaway.  Back then, our getaways meant road trips and small towns and hostel rooms and Missy Elliot mix tapes.  We would take a weekend in Red Deer here or an overnight in Edmonton there, and once drove West for a week in Kelowna and Vancouver, through forest fire smoke and rock slides on the Coquihalla highway.

In 2002, I moved to Toronto, and in early 2003, Sarah moved to Washington, DC.  Shannon stayed in Calgary, and I’m not sure if we ever spoke about it in depth, but in the back of my mind I always thought we’d all move back.  However, life happens, careers grow, marriages take place, babies are had, and somehow we all found ourselves living wonderful lives 3500km apart.  We still make the effort to see each other regularly, usually every second Christmas in Alberta, and the odd time we’ll uncover bonus visits like work trips or concert weekends.  We managed a few days in NYC in 2011, the week after my miscarriage, at a time when I desperately needed them to help me heal, and our last big trip was in 2014, when we went to Vegas to see Britney Spears and relive our Uni days.

My memories of those adventures, and my memories of the three of us in general, are overwhelmed with laughter.  The kind of laughter that makes you gasp for breath and squeeze your sides and wipe your tears.  The kind of laughter that annoys your husbands and wakes your children and makes everyone else roll their eyes.  We’re gone for four days, and with some creative scheduling at Burlington Sports & Spine, that’s only meant one shift off for me during our busy Winter season.  It’s a short trip due to the realities of busy lives, but those four days will give us time to reflect and reminisce, and most importantly, to laugh; and the Mexican sunshine, the sandy beach, the tacos and tequila, well, those won’t hurt either.

This year’s ASS Tour is going to mark our milestone birthdays (although, ahem, I’m the youngest and my birthday is still nine months away), but more importantly, it’s going to mark decades of friendship, support, love, and connection.

They are the friends of a lifetime.

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“Because I can.”

I checked off a bucket list item on Labour Day Monday morning.  I swam with the Triathlon Club of Burlington (TCoB), in their annual Pier to Pier swim.  This swim is 2.8km, across Lake Ontario, from the Burlington lift bridge pier to Burlington’s downtown pier.

Usually on Labour Day Monday, you can find me in my happy place, along the Lake Ontario shoreline, on a long solo run to clear my mind and get myself mentally prepped for the upcoming school year.  With a teacher husband and two school-aged children, Labour Day is like my New Year; a fresh start, new goals, big dreams.  And every year, I’ve noticed the TCoB crew climbing out of the water with big smiles and high fives, and sunshine on a glassy lake only adds to the appeal.  Always up for a challenge, I wanted in on the fun, so a little over a week ago, I signed myself up.

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2.8km looks really far from this finish-line vantage point; that red circle is the lighthouse where we jumped in.

IMG_9438My husband thought I was crazy; 2.8km and I haven’t swum a stroke in almost a decade.  In fact, I’ve never even put on a wetsuit before, and I didn’t have time to test my borrowed suit out before yesterday’s event, so it was a jump-in-and-hope-for-the-best situation.  But, I used to be a lifeguard, and a decade ago I did a handful of triathlons, including a 1.9km swim in my 2007 half-Ironman.  So while I haven’t swum in many years, I hoped my previous experience, swim technique, and fitness could carry me through.

Monday morning at 7:15am, two of my girlfriends met me at home, and the three of us trekked down to the pier.  They were rookies too, although one is a regular lap-swimmer and one had just come off a great triathlon season.   They gave me tips on getting into my wetsuit (a workout in itself!), BodyGlide advice, and how to loop my zipper string.  I was woefully underprepared, and felt like I should personally introduce myself to the kayak support boats.  Deep down though, I knew that sheer determination (stubbornness?) would get me across the water.

It did.

I finished in 58:36, just under the one-hour mark that my obsessive Google calculations of “open water swim times” told me I could do.  And while I don’t plan on adding swim training to my schedule, I truly enjoyed the experience.  I enjoyed the nerves, the challenge, the friends and family, the sunshine, the sense of accomplishment, and the gratitude that I am physically able to do things like this.

“Why would you want to do that?” someone asked me.  “Because I can.” And oh how I love a challenge.

In fact, this just may become a new tradition.

 


Bob said “anytime.”

My dad has a friend who’s been in his life for many decades.   Let’s call him Bob, to maintain some anonymity; Bob is a bachelor, never been married, no kids.  I’ve known him for more than 25 years.  And now Bob has Alzheimer’s disease.  

I struggled about whether or not I should write this post, about whether or not I’d be violating Bob’s privacy, about whether or not he would approve or disapprove, should he be able to make that decision.  And as my thoughts rolled around and around, I thought I’d ask his sister, who is handling his affairs these days.  She said yes.  And so I wrote.  And as the words came, so did the the memories.

Bob was diagnosed a couple of years ago, and just this past Spring, his sisters helped him to relocate to a Retirement Home in Toronto.  His deterioration was progressing, so within months, his house in Calgary was cleaned out and sold, and Bob was back East, closer to his sisters and extended family, and also to me.

For much of his life, Bob lived in Calgary, just over an hour from the small town of Sundre, Alberta, where I grew up.  He worked downtown, in the oil business, and had a mind for math and numbers and a personality for order and specificity.  He was a perfectionist through and through, and gave of his talents generously to many people in his life, myself included.  When I was a new University student applying for a waitressing job, Bob helped me get my resume in order; he made my experiences of babysitting and lifeguarding sound like formidable accomplishments and he went over my revisions again and again with a fine-toothed comb.  Every sentence perfect, every statement clear and concise, every opportunity explored.  He must’ve spent hours behind the scenes, thinking about how to best present my 18-year-old self to restaurant managers, while I rolled my eyes on the other end of the phone line as he got me to rewrite even the smallest details.  I got the job, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

I moved to Toronto to attend the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in 2002, Bob’s hometown.  Way before the Facetime era, Bob arranged for his nephew to scout my potential apartment for me.  Moving solo across the country to The Big Smoke was a daunting endeavour for my 22-year-old self, but his nephew gave me a full report via Bob.  I remember that he commented on the water pressure being strong; attention to detail must be genetic.  I got the apartment, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

School took over my life and I immersed myself in my studies and my friends, my running and my new city.  I was working occasional hours as a personal trainer when tax time rolled around.  I called Bob and asked for help with my personal taxes.  He filed them via paper and pencil, long before QuickTax, with me on the other end of a long-distance phone call, answering endless questions, sorting through paperwork, being as thorough as Bob demanded.  I got the taxes done, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

I was a newlywed in 2006, back in Calgary with my husband for a Summertime visit, and needed a place to spend a night in between dinner parties and brunch plans.  He toured us around his neighbourhood, took us for a walk, made us feel welcome.  We had great conversation, marvelled at his tidiness, commented on his home’s precision.  He gave us a place to stay, I said thank you, Bob said “anytime.”

My family went to visit him last Sunday.  We told the kids that his brain was sick.  That he’s a smart man with a big heart and a big, awful disease.  He was having a good day and he was the Bob I remembered in many respects; the Bob who likes to talk, except this Bob had trouble finding words.  The Bob who loves children, except this Bob couldn’t interact with them the way he used to.  The Bob who loves showing people around, except this Bob got disoriented in the middle of his tour.

But this Bob still remembered me.  This Bob was still happy to see me, my husband, my kids.  This Bob still smiled, still laughed, still has a positive outlook, a generous spirit, a fierce loyalty, a kind soul.

I gave him a long hug, he said thank you, I said “anytime.”

 

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