4 friends, 16 years of friendship, over a million conversations, over two million shared tears (to be mathematically precise about 1.999998 million tears between the two girls probably over the loss of a boyfriend, and 2 full tears shared between the two boys probably over the loss of a favorite Playboy magazine), close to five million laughs, about a eight thousand secrets, about a hundred items of shared clothing (the sharing of the underwear happened only between the boys, we girls had our standards) and oh, probably five thousand shared hopes and dreams.
Over the years, the four of us have stayed in touch – landline, cell phone, blackberry, email, snail mail, networking sites, flikr, alumni. Our friendship has not only stood the test of time, it has done something far more tenacious, it has kept up with technology, waited patiently through dropped signals, hung tight through lost cell phones, stayed alive while buried under spam, waded through multiple (and redundant) email addresses, found it’s way to new postal addresses and has lingered on through marriages, babies and divorce.
We were meeting again after 8 years. This was so exciting. Beyond exciting, it is exhilarating. While I know every little thing about these 3 people, seeing them in person after so long would be so much more gratifying than an email or a photo or even a phone conversation. I know their personalities like I know the back of my hand, I know what makes them tick, I know what makes them laugh and I know what makes them love. I know them.
There is Lila, tall, gorgeous, talkative, the most generous person I know and with a sense of humour that could make a comedian laugh had he not already been so completely occupied fantasizing about her.
There is Nishant, naughty, too cute for his own good, quick on the rebuttal, can tease you till you cry (or till you promise AND attempt some damage to his anatomy), he was the bad boy whom every girl with the slightest mothering instinct wanted to reform. He is still wonderfully incorrigible.
There is Rudy, affectionate, trustworthy, by far the best looking guy in class, Mr. Clooney meets Dr. Phil, the girls (er, some teachers included here) went to him with problems ranging from class politics to PMS, secretly hoping that he would stop being everyone’s best buddy and start being their special friend. Couch philosopher and Mr. Popular.
It is one warm winter’s evening (only in Mumbai!) when we all meet at my house. Nishant walks in first. The years have been very kind to him. He still is cute as hell, still boyish and ‘endearingly immature’ (he assures me that this is a well practiced act to get the attention of girls under 21, a fine art that can only be achieved by the very astute male and includes a bit of bad behavior, some corny jokes, outstanding pick up lines and a complete lack of responsibility except when it comes to protecting the girl of his attention from the attention of other bad boys) and still as irritating as a gnat. We hug. His 6 ft frame warmly envelopes my 5.2 ft one in a familiar embrace. It feels like coming home. Hug over, we punch each other in the gut, insult each other’s looks and settled down thrilled that we have not really grown up all that much.
We’ve just popped open a beer when Lila breezes in. Seeing her pictures on email or Facebook does not prepare me for seeing her in person again, her huge beaming smile, her dimples, her tremendous height, her infectious giggle and the unmistakable smell of 5th Avenue perfume that has surrounded her since 1993. Just seeing her can make me happy. I don’t mean just plain ole happy, I mean supremely happy, I mean a kind of happy which does not let me stop smiling. We hug, her 5.10 ft frame stooping down to literally lift me off my feet. What was it with me and tall friends anyway.
Hello my nymph, she grins. No it’s not what you think, you rotten reader, it’s got nothing to do with any nymphomaniacal sort of things, this nymph purely refers to the young cockroach that I probably resembled through much of my college days. She was the only one who could get away with calling me that. That’s another idiosyncrasy – my closest friends get to insult me the most and I love them all the more for it. Strange, huh.
I ask about her children, she asks about the love of my life. I tell her about life in Mumbai – exciting, satisfying, hurried, tiring. She tells me about life in Vermont – comfortable, happy, lonely, frustrating . I show her my love handles, she shows me her thighs (both equally as out of shape might I add). Nishant lets out a deep sigh of bliss. The friends’ reunion has officially kick started.
Drinks are poured, snacks are served, gossip is exchanged, we talk about old flames and new loves, marriages and deaths, old habits and new jokes. We unanimously agree that children are born to us only to teach us a lesson! We talk about old teachers who thought they were such hot stuff while they made our life living hell. In truth the only hot stuff about them was that they could make our lives living hell!
“Did you hear about Glen”, Lila asks? Glen was Lila true love right through 5 years of professional college. He was 3” shorter than she was and had a frame tiny enough to make him look like her son. Yet she had the worst case of puppy love.
“Turns out he got married to two women at the same time”, she says.
“What??”, Nishant and I exclaim. Nothing beats gossip like really hot and true gossip from someone who relishes telling it.
“Yes”, Lila says in trademark style with lips smacking and arms waving, “he first married the girlfriend, then married a girl that his mother found and finally got caught when they both wives showed up at his surprise birthday party!”
“Yup”, she says grinning, “the surprise birthday party turned out to be a surprise for all three of them. Apparently the official party organizer has not gotten a single referral from THAT party.”
“Oh oh oh, what about Josh”, quips Nishant. “Turns out he is gay.”
“No way”, I say vehemently.” Josh was ever so hot. And sensitive. And not callous like the rest of you low EQ bulls. And his personal hygiene was always so darn good.” (Don’t ask, I once shared rooms with him for 3 days for out of state inter-collegiate competition. I came back with encyclopedic knowledge about deodorants, nose hair trimmers and hand sanitizers).
“G-A-Y”, spells out Nishant. This from a man of the famed heterosexual variety who had once on a bet, worn the same underwear for a WEEK and then proceeded to dust it with talcum powder and wear it for another 3 days. God had obviously given him no appreciation for the finer points of life, clean underwear included.
“Excuse me”, I say, “you telling me that if you’re a guy and you’re caring and sensitive and clean and in general not a complete pain, it means that you are gay?”
“G-A-Y”, repeats Nishant.
This was obviously an argument I am not going to win.
“What about Rudy?” I ask quietly. Rudy had had it pretty bad the past few years. He had his marriage break down, he lost his brother, he lost his job, he was living testimony that sometimes not everything turns out fine despite being an absolute gem of a person. Shit happens. Even to the best of us. And Rudy is one of the best and one of us.
The door bell rings. I open the door to find Rudy outside. I don’t recognize this Rudy though. He is gaunt, with sunken eyes and a stooped back as if he has aged sixty years in the last sixteen. I hug him as tight as I can. He is close to 6 ft tall and yet I feel like the taller person. I have never seen him look so beaten. I search for the lively and fun person I know so well and come away empty handed. Lila hugs him. She doesn’t know what to say either. Sometimes mere kindness is grossly inadequate. And as we girls struggle to find the right thing to say, Nishant shouts “You bastard”, to Rudy and gives him a huge bear hug that lifts him off the floor and brings him close to suffocation. Rudy breaks into a huge smile and we all go back to being our normal abusive selves.
As Rudy takes us through what his life has been for the past five years, we all say what we can to try and make this just a tiny little bit better for him.
“Focus on the positive. You have a loving family, funds to support you for a while and a great personality. You will move on and you will come out stronger”. This is me, at my preacher’s best. It gets a weak smile from him.
“Ya, you still have fantastic sex appeal”. Ah, Lila. She always knows the most important thing to say to make you feel good about yourself. This gets a bashful smile from him.
“She just wasn’t right for you.” I say, but what I actually want to say is, “what kind of crazy woman would leave you? What? Was her brain eaten by locusts and her thought process now managed by her large intestine? How else could she leave you?”
“Forget not being right for you”, Nishant says as he struggles to find the right words, “she was also a little squint, walked like a wrestler and had a nasty snarl. Think about it, if you get a boxer terrier, you won’t notice she’s gone at all”. Nishant, Mr. Sensitive. But it gets Rudy to guffaw loudly and I think he finally sees the answer to getting through the worst phase of his life – a little love therapy, a smatter of bad jokes and some light truths.
Over 6 hours, 32 beers, 80 songs from the 1990s (yes, all hot numbers in our college days, and yes, I do plan well, thank you) and 45 cigarettes, we make new memories of the 4 of us. Older, not necessarily wiser, new personalities traits, some bad habits, some good mistakes, and yet the sense of friendship between us is stronger than ever. As we part, we make a promise to meet five years from now. I tell Lila that by then my love handles will probably be love pillows. She tells me that her thighs will probably obliterate her calves and extend to her toes. We decide to have a competition to see who will look more pathetic in five years. Nishant generously offered to check the said body parts in five years in order to judge this competition fairly. Rudy says he will play second judge and is open to extreme bribing, which sets off a whole new animated discussion about whether he is more susceptible to women or liquor, or would he prefer a new dictionary of swear words to greet Nishant with. I personally think he’s leaning towards the latter….
16 years of friendship, gone so soon.