We meet, Emily and I, and my Chihuahua mix Pippa, in front of Trails, in the park. We hug tightly because it’s a chilly morning and we have missed each other, even though it’s only been two weeks.
I look her over, and she looks me over, and I always decide she’s beautiful and much more photogenic than I. Often I envy her new sneakers, her morning expression, and her Emily brand of happiness—a kind of avid embrace of the day that starts with a nod and a slivery grin. I note her white teeth, her hot little body, and Carole King (on the cover of Tapestry) hair. The thing is, she doesn’t look to me like a friend anymore. She’s become a relative, a sister from another mother. When does a friendship transcend friendship? It happens granularly, purposefully. Luckily, it happened to us.
We start our ascent to the observatory as clouds are clearing, and with the recent rains, the white orb at the top of the hill looks magical. L.A. mornings can achieve that elevated feeling. Misty…big skies…brisk, before it’s too warm for anything but a t-shirt.
We pass the newly erected jungle gym, where young mothers are catching their toddlers. These little ones have just learned the joy in skimming down a long plastic slide followed by recovery in a mother’s waiting arms. We smile at the mothers, confident we know every milestone and every beat that awaits them. These mothers are still teachers of how to drink from a straw, detangle a knot, pull on a sock, sound out a word, or lace a shoe.
Now that our kids are launched, now that they look after us in ways we hadn’t imagined, we remind each other of details, of elations, of fraught moments in childhood spaces that passed much too quickly. We talk of the things that shaped our children’s lives, and, in turn, shaped our own. The SoCal summer vacations spent in turquoise swimming pools, the field trips and pizza parties, the camps and beaches, the matinees, sports teams, and music lessons, and our own never-done days, days of joy and servitude.
Women walking and talking. It’s a thing. Though we did not invent it.
We stop to chat with walkers of varying sizes, ages, and shapes, often seen hiking with their dogs or partners, or both. We exchange thoughts about breeds and canine behaviors, road closures, air pollutions, and the threat of coyotes. We opine about leash, harness, and water bottle styles, while pretending to ignore the familiar actor marching ahead of us in his tight shorts, on his regular hike to the summit.
The walking, the forward momentum of walking, drives the conversation. The words and phrases capture the rhythms of our lives. As our feet move, we grow closer to our destination. When we pause, the silence is welcome, filled with contemplation.
We girls, we sit on the bench overlooking Hollywood proper, and we sigh, Emily and I. We sit together, side by side, as we did on the Madison Avenue bus that once took us from my house to hers, where we sat together, watching our Friday night line up on the chic red sofas in the TV room.
We love this city view with its sprawl and its iconic buildings and its long boulevards. But this is only a quick rest – don’t get too comfy, she says — before pushing me to the final stretch, the wide marble steps and the panoramic views at the top of the trail.
There is much, but not too much, that is left unsaid between us on these walks. Our lives together and apart are lived in the ellipsis. ‘Til next time — Dot. Dot. Dot. I have my wins and losses, my romances and my question marks, my grand ideas and small conundrums that I save up like currency. We talk in shorthand, in laughter, in tears. We talk from our hearts and our heads, and our bellies, having taken time for the walk and for the joy of conversation itself. We walk and we talk. We suggest and we digress. We ponder and we listen.
It’s been more than a year since my mother died. In that year, I’ve lived, and loved, suffered, and endured. I traveled to Lisbon, and to an artist’s residency at a convent in Mertola, where I wrote and communed with peacocks, horses and geese, canoed along the Guadiana River at sunset with a young, South American filmmaker, and walked single file each day along a narrow road to a castle town made of cobblestones. From there, I visited generous friends in Madrid who invited me to Greece. I saw the ancient sites of Athens, and caught crowded ferries to two spectacular islands where I ate and drank and swam like a drunken fish in the warm Aegean.
Perhaps through travel and friendship and grace, I’ve let go. I’m now on track to publish stories and essays and eager to finish a play. I’m on track to fall in love, stay in love, rock a new hairstyle, paint my house white, develop my serve, set up an easel, learn to play a Beatles song on my lonely guitar, cook a lemony lentil soup, and buy myself a brand new racquet.
Emily and her family are starting on a journey with her mother that I know too well. She travels to New York and comes back with reports for our walks and our phone calls. I listen and I know and I nod.
Em visited my mother throughout her illness and was there as a witness when my mother vanished, when all that was left behind was a long-necked skeleton of hair and bones, abrasions, and murmurs.
And Emily was there when we were 9, when we borrowed each other’s clothes, when we refused to brush our long, Herbal Essence-scented hair, way before our bodies sprouted. Before we were women or mothers. Before we shared books and recipes and links. Before we raised our kids and encouraged them to drive away to start their own energetic lives.
Once we were 9, Emily and I, giggling so loudly on our sleepover that my mother, tipsy and glamorous, still in heels, having gotten home after 2 AM from a party, opened the door to my bedroom, and in her low theatrical voice, tried to scare us.
Girls, she said, it’s late! Go to sleep, or I’m going to have to separate you.