So far this summer, I have had the great good fortune to hang with a few of the greatest women I’ve ever known. We’ve been friends for four years, but as hokey as it sounds, I feel like I’ve known them my entire life. Or maybe before that. Maybe we were friends in another life, or sisters, or good neighbors. Anyway, when we get together, it’s like a clap of thunder, or a “Wild Yawp” (to borrow Mr. Whitman’s phrasing). What began as a shared love for the same book has grown into something much more. Something kinda different. We call ourselves Ya-Ya’s.
There have been so many times when I’ve sat down to write about my friends. But then I shake my head and think, “Nah, you can’t capture them on a page – there ain’t no page big enough really,” before walking away from the computer. But this summer something feels different. Something’s changing. And I feel the need to at least try and capture something of what I feel for them, before I forget. Before it all slips away.
Once I read a book called, “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,” by Rebecca Wells. Actually, I saw the movie first, on a weekend on TNT, or TBS, or maybe I was home sick and saw it then. In any case, I ran out and bought the book, finished it in a night, then its prequel the next night. And I just had to talk to somebody about it. Anybody. Not being the social kind I turned to the Internet – and there I found a group of women that I adored because they were the total opposite of me, and everything I wanted to be. Bold, brash, opinionated and not afraid to say so. Independent. High-spirited daredevils. Awesome broads.
Now, I’m these things after a few (name your poison), but not on your average workday. It’s something I wanted to be, though. All my life I had been quiet and careful and afraid, more of a follower than a planner. Not a leader. Definitely not a doer – wallflower me, all the way. And I was damn tired of it. Here was my chance to change. Purdy please?
They took me in like a sister. And after months of posting, we agreed to meet – to gather from all over the country to see if this Internet “spark” was actually something worth building. And it was. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I felt at home. Even now as I’m writing this, I find that it’s hard to describe. I had a sister back home, but here were eight more. I had friends, but here were friends that knew secrets and memories that my oldest ones didn’t. And they still loved me. Boy, was that new!
We spent most of that week in hysterics. It was like everything we did and said was funnier than shit. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard at anything – at just anything. The ugly laugh. It was like we had bottled up our hilarity all that year, only to let all that good energy out in a big guffaw to share among us, to let soar above us. Crowns and all.
The following year saw us at another Ya-Ya location, and last year they came to my home, which they decreed would be known, now and forever as, “The Libby Home for Wayward Women.” I loved it. Never in all my years had I felt so loved, or felt such a sense of belonging. It was like I had suddenly married into a huge family, warts and all.
And this summer in addition to seeing my old friends again, I finally got to meet a Ya-Ya who lives “across the big water” in the UK. We had never even talked on the phone, but when we got together we never shut up. We spent the entire evening and most of the next day laughing, talking, catching up. It was wonderful. I again felt such a connection, like I had known her for a long time – like we had grown up together or something. That same energy was there, and when I left, once again I carried it with me inside. It’s like when we get weak, and have moments that would try even the best woman’s soul, all we have to do is get together for a little while and create all of that healing juju – that good energy. And then put it in your pocket for when you need it later.
That’s what those yearly Ya-Ya gatherings are for me. My yearly juju replenishing. I don’t know why our friendship even works, I mean we phone and write occasionally and see each other only once a year if that. I don’t know why it works – I’ve stopped asking why. It just does, and that’s all I need to know.
The energy that exists when we laugh together is kind of like what I sensed when I was young and my mother and aunts were together at family gatherings. There they were, so grown up, so beautiful and fashionable (think 1970’s TV Cher, or Annette Bening in “Running With Scissors” with most of the crazy taken away – I said most, not all). I admired and envied their laughter, their confidence and brashness, and seemingly endless ability to coordinate their hair, their makeup, their clothes. They were so easy with themselves, and with each other – unafraid to say what was on their mind or who they thought should be told off. They carried casseroles in from the car like they were crowns on pillows. They poured wine from huge jugs of Gallo without spilling anything on the mint green couch. They wore false eyelashes without a hint of irony. They wore white lipstick, and used Jafra eye pencils like Way Bandy had done their makeup. Scarves around their necks, gold hoop earrings the size of basketballs.
Meanwhile, I watched, petrified of their confidence, a little quiet mouse reading my book, but watching it all over the top. Am I friends with the Ya-Ya’s because of what they remind me of? Or because of what I wish to be? Maybe a little bit of both. I do miss the energy of my aunts and my mother together – laughing, talking about things men could care less about. I wanted to be them when I grew up. They were something to emulate.
Of course back then I had child eyes. I only really saw what was on the outside – never realizing all the pain and sorrow and crosses that my mother and aunts bore. They never showed it. Kind of like the Ya-Ya’s. In knowing these women, I’ve come to love and respect them even more for what I’ve learned from them. They take on each life obstacle as it comes with pride. Because they can. They keep smiling when they want to cry. They are so non-judgemental it hurts. They give lots of hugs. They keep having fun because this is the only day they know that exists. They’ll kill you with kindness, but when there’s ass-kicking to be done, they do it and keep walking. They never look back, and they never regret.
Again, it all sounds so hokey when I look at it on paper. You can’t capture their courage and faith in words. I look at them and think, “How do they handle all of that?” Their lives seem so much more full of things I don’t think I’d ever be able to deal with or absorb. But they do. With aplomb. With laughter. With tears. They do it with sass. They do it with grace.