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. Sometimes 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 grin. I relish her white teeth, hot little body, and Carole King (on the Tapestry album cover) 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 way for the sun. With the recent rains, the white orb at the top of the hill looks magical. L.A. winter mornings often achieve that magical feeling. Misty…big skies…brisk, and soon 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 elation of a long plastic slide followed by recovery in waiting arms. We smile at the mothers, confident we know every milestone, 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, we remind each other of details, of fraught moments in spaces that passed too quickly. Places and things that shaped us as we shaped our children’s lives– SoCal summer vacations spent in turquoise swimming pools, camps and beaches, and motherhood’s long days of joy and servitude.
Women walking and talking. It’s a thing. Though we did not invent this.
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 behaviors, road closures and the threat of coyotes, leash, harness, and water bottle styles, while pretending to ignore the selectively aging celebrity in his tight shorts, on his regular hike to the summit.
The forward momentum of walking drives the conversation. The words reflect the rhythms of our lives. As our feet move, we grow closer to our destination, and as we pause, the silence allows for contemplation.
On this bench perched over Hollywood, we sigh, Emily and I.
We know this view with its sprawl and its iconic buildings and its long boulevards. And yet this is only a quick rest – don’t get too comfy –before a final push to the wide marble steps, the busloads of school children, 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 only she must know. We talk in shorthand, in laughter, in tears. We talk from our hearts and our heads and our bellies, having committed our 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 passed. In that year, I’ve traveled to Lisbon and to a residency in a convent in Mertola, then onto Madrid and Athens, before ferrying to two spectacular islands in Greece. I’ve lived, and loved, suffered, and endured. Perhaps through travel and friendship and grace, I’ve let go and felt hopeful for what’s to come. I’m on track to publish stories, essays, and finish a play. I’m on track to fall in love, stay in love, have a new hairstyle, a better serve, and a new tennis 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. She visited my mother throughout Pat’s illness and was there as a witness when my mother vanished, leaving behind a long-necked skeleton of hair and bones, abrasions, and murmurs in her place.
And Emily was there when we were 9, when we borrowed each other’s clothes, before our bodies sprouted. Before we were women or mothers or caretakers of our mothers.
We were 9, Emily and I, giggling so loudly that my mother, tipsy and glamorous, still in high heels, and having gotten home after 2 AM from a party, opened the door to my bedroom. In her low theatrical voice she tried to scare us. Girls, she said, lighting a cigarette, it’s late. Go to sleep, or I’m going to have to separate you.