My best friend’s walkie talkie name is Bumblebee. Our friend Trixie (also her walkie talkie name) nicknamed her years ago, and I’m not exactly sure why, but it fits.
Bee is everything a best friend should be – warm, funny, smart, loyal, generous to a fault, willing to run her ass ragged when you get married and the caterers are short-staffed, nonjudgmental, candid, and appreciative of a fine two-buck chuck and Ben and Jerry’s peach cobbler ice cream. If she wore a size 9 shoe, she’d be perfect.
Bee and I met in the fall of 1990, the year we both traded in our acid-washed jeans for grungy flannel shirts and began attending Humboldt State University.
We lived in the Westwood part of Arcata and each of us had one side of a duplex connected by a wall and a carport overhang. At first we’d see each other in the morning and evening, say hello but not really talk much. We had roommates, boyfriends, friends and vices that kept us occupied in our own separate spaces.
But on Halloween night, through the magic of overindulging in alcoholic beverages, we became bonded and have been friends ever since.
I’m not sure how I ended up on Bee’s side of the carport that night. It might have been the fact that she was legal tequila-buying age while I hadn’t quite reached it yet. At any rate, there we sat on the living room floor chugging 40 ouncers of Miller beer punctuated with a tequila shot now and then…..a combination nothing good could ever possibly come from. Bee had a friend named Mike who was the bass player in a grunge rock band that was playing at HSU that night, so we put on our black skirts and clunky doc martens and headed out.
Most of the rest of the night is a bit….fuzzy around the edges, with a few completely dark spots. I remember kissing a man named Rumsey who was sleeping in the bushes beside the library. I remember Bee lifting her shirt and flashing the cars driving by. Mainly I remember the really loud, really bad music that we pretended to like because….well…Mike was hot.
So hot, in our completely obliterated state, that we decided the best way to clinch our new-found friendship was to have a threesome with him. We asked him, and not surprisingly, it took him about 1/8 of a second to agree.
The three of us walked arm-in-arm back to his house, Bee and I playing the adoring groupies the entire way. “Are you girls really going to do this?” he asked several times. “You’re serious?”
The first order of business when we got to his house was to retreat together into the bathroom for a little primping and plotting. I sat on the edge of the bathtub watching Bee while she reapplied some lipstick and fluffed her hair. I was much more innocent in those days, but figured Bee was more experienced and could show me the way. “I’ve never done this before,” I giggled to her. “How does it work?” To this day, neither Bee nor I remember what the answer was. All I know is that at that moment, coupled with the drunkenness and the nervousness, it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard.
I covered my mouth with my hand and plugged my nose to stifle the inevitable snort, but it was no use. I was so completely riddled with laughter that I couldn’t stop no matter how hard I tried. I attempted to get up but my legs wouldn’t follow my brain’s instruction. Eventually I laughed so hard I fell backward into the bathtub, peed my pants and passed out.
Hear that noise? That’s the sound of all the random “You sound hot” emails I receive from horny Humboldt men grinding to an abrupt halt.
The next morning I awoke feeling like someone was smashing my skull with Mike’s bass. Some kind soul had apparently helped me out of the bathtub during the night, led me to the couch and covered me with a blanket. With the one eye I could open through the stabbing pain, I looked up and saw Bee coming out of one of the bedrooms and tried to smile at her. “Hey, did you have fun with Mike?” I mumbled. She started laughing. “Nah, I ended up making out with his roommate all night.”
We linked arms and walked unsteadily home swearing that we would be best friends the rest of our lives. And we have. Over the last 17 years we’ve seen each other through marriages, divorces, bad haircuts, illnesses, achievements, failures, key lime pie incidents, weight gains, weight losses, deaths of loved ones, a gazillion prank phone calls and everything in between. For some of those years we’ve lived near each other, and some of them we’ve lived at opposite ends of the state, but we’ve always managed to stay as connected as if we were actually sisters.
The last year has been exceptionally hard for Bee. After recovering from a nasty divorce from a boy who refused to become a man several years ago, she began seeing a man who, although he was less-than exciting, had a good job, owned his own home and seemed to really love her. Things moved very fast with Dan. Within the first month she had moved in with him and was helping to raise his daughter. Bee is the nurturing type, and she liked the security that Dan offered. They became a family quickly. She seemed really happy, and I was happy for her.
After about a year, though, things began to change. Bee didn’t seem very happy anymore; in fact, most of the time she seemed downright miserable. When I asked her about it she was elusive. “Oh, everything’s fine. I’m just tired,” she’d say and change the subject. She was obviously unhappy with Dan and her life with him, and she started spending much more of her time alone escaping into a computerized fantasy world and less time with the people who cared about her – including me. I invited her to go places and do things, but she rarely wanted to. Days would go by and suddenly I’d realize that I hadn’t spoken to her at all. I felt like not only was I losing Bee, but that she was losing herself. I worried that unless she made some changes in her life that she would never resurface, but she didn’t seem to be willing or able to.
It is almost always easier to stay where you’re at than to make a change, even if where you’re at is making you unhappy and unhealthy. This is especially true if you’re a woman…and past a certain age.
Bee, now in her mid-thirties, is certainly past that age. Even in 2007, there are certain expectations for women in their mid-thirties. We are supposed to be coupled by now. Married, preferably. Children should be in the picture. We should be volunteering at elementary schools or working at respectable jobs and throwing dinner parties and kids birthday parties and admiring our husbands as they put tacky Christmas decorations on the front lawns of our houses that sit on streets with Neighborhood Watch signs.
And if we don’t? If, at 38, we find ourselves single and childless; if we can shut up our inner voice that tells us we’re not worthy, look into the mirror and say out loud,
“I reject the vapid and hypnotized mainstream and the orgy of uninspired fucking that goes on there and I am FABULOUS because of it!”
Well, there’s still the voice of our mothers whispering into the deepest darkest cavities of our ears and our psyches, “You should be giving me grandchildren by now. You’re going to die pathetic and alone. You are such a disappointment.”
And then there are the looks of those that reside within that mainstream; looks that are a combination of jealousy, fear, and worst of all, pity.
So I understood why Bee hung on – why she clung to an “acceptable” but unfulfilled life. I knew that one day she would figure it all out – whether that meant staying where she was or shaking it all up and moving down the road.
Three days ago I found myself in the middle of my fourth Red Tail Ale in Bee’s brand new apartment – the one where she lives alone above an art gallery in old town. I was telling her about the very odd and interesting family reunion I’d just been to. Bee was drinking too, and we were trying to hold off on dinner even though we were both starving, just to enjoy the beer buzz a little longer.
A couple more beers, three prank phone calls, four stories that started out with, “Hey, remember that time…,” three rounds of the classic tune “God Bless My Underwear,” and six trips to the bathroom later, we were rolling on the floor clutching our stomachs with laughter wondering if that burning smell coming from the kitchen was the turkey meatloaf or the baked potatoes. I looked over at Bee and realized that she no longer had the vacant look that I’d become so used to seeing in her eyes. She looked beautiful and radiant and perfectly happy. For a split second, we both stared at each other and became almost serious.
“You know, ” I started, “If anyone asks you what happened to you and Dan and you don’t want to deal with the questions or the LOOKS or anything….”
Bee interrupted me. “I can tell them that I’m part of a polyamorous threesome with you and Squirrel?”
That wasn’t really where I was going with that statement, but it occurred to me that it would certainly shut someone up in a hurry.
Welcome home, Bumblebee. I’ve missed you.