Thursday, December 3, 2009

More about friendship

Had lunch with my friend Jim last week.

He was my high school English teacher. He is thirty years older than I. His birthday is either today or tomorrow. (I always forget.)

He was my teacher for three years in high school. We did not start off well. He likes to remind me that he thought I was pretty horrible until our class read “The Importance of Being Earnest” and I took the part of Lady Bracknell. (“Prism!”)

Somehow, we became fast friends. He took me to Wilkes Bashford, where I drank Campari while he tried on suits. (Yes, I was still in high school. It was the seventies. Things were different.) I cut P.E. so that I could hang out in the English office with him during his free period. Sometimes he would write the gym teacher (another of his close friends) a note: “Dear Miss Bertolosso, Please excuse Gina from P.E. today. She has a paper to finish.” (After giving me a withering stare, Miss Bertolosso would silently turn away. I think she was secretly glad I would not be in her class, in which, to put it mildly, I did not excel.) We would sit at his desk and gossip.

Lest there be any wondering: This was a platonic friendship pure and simple. Always. Neither of us had the slightest interest in the other sexually.

I went across the country to college, but Jim and I remained close. During the summers when I was home, I worked in a store he owned and “housesat” at his apartment when he went out of town. (He recently reminded me that I watered a plastic houseplant for three weeks without realizing what I was doing.) We wrote letters, talked on the phone. He came to my father’s funeral, after which we went outside and smoked cigarettes with my much-older and –adored cousin, also Jim. Inside, I was dying, but the Jims made me feel as though I would survive, that the world would still be there when I could manage to enjoy it again.

He traveled across the country to attend my wedding. He arranged for my husband and me to rent an apartment next door to his when I returned to Berkeley for graduate school. As his neighbor, I went to countless dinner parties at his house, where we snuck away to the kitchen and gossiped about the other guests. We forged a new tradition: I hung out with him on Thanksgiving morning while he cooked. We would drink Negronis and laugh ourselves sick.

He loved my children. He loves most children, but he especially loved mine. When my daughter was born, he made me seven gourmet meals, to be unfrozen on successive days. I cried when we ate the last one.

Now he lives in Connecticut, but he visits California once or twice a year. We always manage to get together for lunch or dinner at least once. We don’t drink the way we used to (and God knows we no longer smoke), but we still gossip. There is always a sense of the utter magic of it: how the two of us came together when it seemed as though we shouldn’t.

“This friendship—we’ve been good friends a long time,” he said in the car as I dropped him off last week. It was uncharacteristically sentimental of him to say so.

It is a wonderful mystery, as maybe all friendships are.


  1. Loved this edition. Very much. Josh

  2. This is a wonderful wonderful post, Gina.


  3. You know, I love reading all your posts...I reread this today when I read today's post and I was struck by two non-related facts: One, It is amazing and humbling as a teacher what impact we have, and Two, I am actually horrified to find out that I wasn't smart enough to get out of gym class with Ms. B. :) Lisa Anne

    That last bit and the jean size thing pretty much did me in!

  4. I am still laughing from the line about your watering the plastic plants for three weeks. Such love in this post, Miss Gina, such love. Thank you.