Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Thank You For An Old Friend

On August 23, 1988 I met Lisa for the first time. I was 17 years old and had just moved into my new dorm room at college. It was the first time I had ever really been away from home. I was an overweight teen with low self-esteem, had lived a fairly sheltered life with few social engagements outside of school hours, was naive & extremely timid. Lisa, on the other hand, was 5 years older than me and already had plenty of life experiences. She was outgoing, confident & vibrant with the greatest sense of humor. And she was determined to force me to talk to her that day. Her family had just dropped her off at the dorms and left....and it was her birthday. Suffice it to say, we became fast friends. I absolutely idolized her because she was everything I always wanted to be.

After the first few weeks, I began going home with her to her parent's house about 4 out of every 5 weekends instead of going to see my parents. I became very comfortable at their house and was quickly treated as part of the family. Being exposed to the dynamics of a family that was so different than mine was amazing. I knew that my parents loved me, but the atmosphere around my family home was basically formal. Kids were to be seen and not heard, etc. Between my new exposure to a family that loved to talk and have fun together and everything I experienced while hanging with Lisa, Brandon and our other friends from college, my basically blank personality got a chance to develop itself. At the time I didn't realize how much of an impact Lisa was having on my life. We were in college together for 2 years and then kept in touch with visits afterwards for years. I started getting less of a chance to visit as the years went by because I was living and working hours away. Lisa eventually married and had 2 kids and I was able to see them a few times while they were both little, but eventually we fell completely out of touch due to some major crap going on in my life. The last time I remember seeing her or any of her family was the winter of 96. But 2 years ago I accepted a job about 20 minutes away from the town where Lisa and her family still live. I thought about her often, but hadn't tracked her down yet.

Then a couple of weeks ago, while at my company picnic, I recognized Lisa's mom standing across a crowded room. I almost talked myself into passing by and pretending not to see her, but luckily I chose to step in front of her and get her attention. We talked for a few and she seemed very excited to see me. In fact, she pulled out her cell phone and called Lisa so I could talk to her immediately. Hearing her voice after 12 years was crazy. She sounded exactly the same and was able to recognize my voice without me telling her who I was. We exchanged cell phone numbers but were both busy at the moment of our chance encounter, so Lisa said she would call me over the weekend. A few days later we talked for a bit and she invited me to meet her and her sister and their husbands at the bowling alley. I had wondered all week how different they may be. What would they look like? Now that we're all old, would they act old & stuffy? Would they be all prim and proper instead of the wise-cracking, foul-mouthed people I loved? But all my worrying was for nothing. Age hadn't changed anything. It was amazing seeing them and I immediately discovered that I still felt completely comfortable around them. But the best surprise was yet to come.

A week later I was invited out to see her house and do some more catching up. Lisa & Larry showed me around the house and land and Larry bbq'd some kabobs while we visited. They are still an extremely close family, so by the end of the night her kids had gotten home, her sister and one of her nieces came over and her mom was there. Everyone was in the kitchen and they all fell into the old routine I had seen so often 20 years ago. Teasing each other, laughing, high-fiving, everyone talking at once, complete chaos. I had to take a step back because I suddenly become overwhelmed with emotions. I looked around and watched all the different interactions. Lisa's kids act exactly the way I expected them to and Lisa is exactly the type of parent I expected her to be. I know it probably sounds weird, but for the first time in a long time I felt at home. And that's the moment I first realized how much influence Lisa and her family had on the person I am today. The humor and affection they so freely shared with me all those years ago helped transform me from a timid, naive 17 year old into someone who loves to be surrounded by fun and strives to show her friends and family how much she cares about them. I should have thanked her years ago, I just never realized. But better late than never - Lisa, I want to thank you & Shelly and your parents for everything you guys have ever done for me, even when you didn't realize you were doing anything. I love you all and I hope we don't have a 12 year gap ever again.

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