You don’t realize when you are 14 years old that the friendships you are forming could very well be the ones who hold you up 35 years later during the hardest time of your life. Without trying to sound like the Breakfast club – we had a soccer player, a gymnast, a cheerleader, a math dork, and an actress! How we all came together I will never know but high school would not have been the same without these girls.
I met Denise in 8th grade on the stage; we loved singing, dancing, being extras in all of the plays. You don’t want to kareoke with us because we WILL certainly hog the microphone! I then talked her into managing the 9th grade basketball team with me – uggg, I can still smell those nasty uniforms. My gorgeous friend, Stephanie, who later moved to Texas—-and then luckily found NC State with me again in 1990—, introduced me to Rise (Ree-sa) at the pool the summer before our freshman year. Rise had long beautiful brown hair and an expense account at the pool. We could buy a snowcone and not even have to pay a $1! I knew right then and there I was going to add her to my best friend list. Sarah moved in from Roanoke and I finally had a new friend who lived near me as most lived in the neighborhood closest to the school. We met halfway between houses to play tennis, who knows why?? Steph and I had played tennis before but I was no Martina Navratilova – sounds like something one of our moms would suggest. So what the heck, we had bikes and tennis rackets so that was that. She was also a great addition because she had something called a BETA video tape player, which is strange now that I think back because Mr Chow, Sarah’s dad was definitely not known as a spendster – in fact far from it! We could rent movies and actually watch them when we wanted. Her house quickly became the house of choice for sleepovers. Soon, she would be one of the first of us to get the very cool VCR player and the movie store was right around the corner. Debbie was always after school at soccer practice or field hockey practice. I can’t for the life of me remember how we met but I sure remember how she met her husband!
We were true 80’s girls – blue eyeshadow, AquaNet hairspray, walkmans, Madonna, Belinda, INXS, Duran Duran. We rode our bikes to meet each other for sleepovers, neighborhood hangouts, and trips through the McDonald’s drive through.
Debbie was the first of us to get her license and would proudly drive around to each of our houses picking us up in her family’s Brady Bunch station wagon. We would holler “SHOT GUN” and then argue as to who got to sit in the front seat until we discovered “GUN SHOT” which was our call to sit in the wayyyyyyyyyyyyy back facing backwards. This could very well have been where my first true heart to heart prayer to God took place as we crossed the Nickel Bridge in Richmond in this tank with Debbie behind the wheel. Ironically, as you will come to understand, I believe Sarah was beside me. Looking back, so scary to think about riding around withoug a though of seatbelts, but it was a different time. I guess it’s no scarier than youth these days on their phones texting and on their phones while driving!
Denise was the second to get her license and found an ORANGE (yes, I said ORANGE) little Datsun Hatchback for probably $500 or less. It fit her personality perfectly! She had never driven a stick before but when we had that license in hand, we took off checking out every road we could with YAZ blasting from the tape player complete with full instrumentals from the electric synthesizers. At the bottom of the Arch Road hill, we stalled and then stalled again backing up traffic as we tried to turn into Shenandoah – and just laughed and laughed. A few years later we all just cried and cried when we had to drop her off at the junk yard but we did save the “Gee Wiz” license plate!
When Rise got her license in May of 1987, we were pretty well versed in getting around on our own. She drove her mom’s cool Toyota Camry, shiny red, THE TOMATO as we liked to call it. We would ride around yelling at kids on bikes saying “get four wheels” and then belly laugh all the way around the neighborhood. The TOMATO was the best but totally recognizable as we found out when we were at my house, instead of school, in the middle of the day (don’t tell my kids or my students) and my neighbor called my mom, “Liz’s friend’s RED car is in your driveway.” I think Betty and Dan got a call that day too and of course, we were all grounded! Good times in the Tomato!
Sarah drove a fun Subaru with “Mrs. Chow” on the license plate, short for Mrs. Cholewinski, her mom. We still call her mom “Mrs. Chow” to this day! Because we lived close to each other, I rode with her to school. One day we “accidently” missed our first period class and actually passed the real Mrs. Chow on the road! We saw her but luckily she didn’t see us – we were getting quite good at this driving thing. HAHA!
FINALLY, that October, I got my license. I love to drive so I was super excited to have the freedom although being the last definitely saved me all sorts of gas money which, if you know me, delighted this cheapskate to no end! I drove my parents’ monster late 70’s-early 80’s tan BUICK La’Sabre complete with “airplane” lights, as Denise called them, on the front of the outside of the hood and room for about 10 teenagers! The headliner hung down in the center and I used a telephone book to sit on to see over the steering wheel. I was forever searching for change in the cushions of the couch or the recliner to use for gas. I’d literally stop and put $2.00 in change into the car because I could hardly bear spending the money on gas. My dad remembers this all too well as he found himself more than once hiking to the gas station after running out of gas on the way – we lived less than 3 miles, if that, from the closest gas station. Without a cell phone in sight (or even invented), he had no choice but to go at in on foot! SORRY, DAD!!!!
Back then it didn’t matter where we were as long as we were together – Pony Pasture Park, Maymont, Chesterfield mall, McDonalds, that place we went to dance that none of us can remember where it was and we wern’t allowed to drive to, Kings Dominion, Moorefield before it was Moorefield, Shenandoah, Scottingham, Stonehenge, Edge Hill, “the hill”, the tent, and who knows where else. We walked into each other’s houses without knocking helping ourselves to each other’s pantry goodies (all generics fair game except the UTZ BBQ Chips and, of course, all the ice cream bars we can eat) and fought to see who played Super Mario Brothers first after school. Being a teenager with these girls was just fun!
Before all the “kool” couples started putting their names together (Brangelina, Bennifer, TomKat), we started the trend! Circa 1988 we put our names together to call ourselves LARDARISE (lair-de-reese) and from that moment we were bound. Throughout our high school years, we all ended up sticking together but also finding our own circles since we were involved in completely different activities; but, when it came down to it, we had a glue that binded us in a very different way.
Graduation came and we all went our separate ways and all to different colleges ending up from Ohio to Florida. Sarah was the first of us to go and our memories are clear waving to her as she pulled out of her driveway to head to Miami. Her uncle was the first to tell us that we would move on and find other friends. He added that if we were all still friends in 5 years, he would buy us each a train ticket to visit each other. 35 years later we are still waiting on that ticket and are closer than ever.
They say the best of friends are those you don’t talk to in “forever” then get together and it’s like you never skipped a beat. With 14 kids between all of us, it has been increasingly harder to get together especially with the distance between all of us. Some of us would go for years without seeing each other and months without talking but at the drop of a hat, if one of us needed something, we all tried to do our best to help in our own way. Now, however, in the world of texting, there’s not a day that goes by in our group text that we aren’t going back and forth sending messages.
Our text group was a lifeline for me following my diagnosis. Yes, I would keep everyone informed as to what was going on but mostly I could just enjoy sharing everyday life with the rest of them – business as usual.
I believe you are who you are deep down inside. Yes! Of course, you can and will go through changes and different seasons that require you to wear different hats but your core is ultimately the core of YOU and YOU, uniquely. These girls know my core – they knew me in all of my glory as we navigated the seas of those crazy teenage years before all of the layers started adding up disguising us from ourselves. ‘
Miranda Lambert sings, “I thought if I could touch this place or feel it; This brokenness inside me might start healing”. Sometimes in order to make sure CANCER does not break me completely, I have to remember and know who I was before all of this and who better to remind me than a group of girls singing with me to the GO GO’s.
“Out here it’s like I’m someone else; I thought that maybe I could find myself.” Looking down the barrel of a terminal illness can make you feel in an instant like “someone else” – these girls find me at times even when I don’t know or, for that matter, they don’t even realize that I’m lost.
WOW! That’s impressively deep for this beach girl, don’t you think!?
I like to think about God’s plan like He is playing a game of chess. Chess is made up of intricate moves to meet one common goal – getting to the King! A professional chess player, (oh wow, if you haven’t seen A Queen’s Gambit, watch it!!) starts His plan from the very first move, ultimately putting all of the pieces exactly where they need to be when you need them most. God put these girls in my path from the very beginning.
He knew that I would need Sarah, now wife to Pastor Tim and one of the most faithful women I know, to help me continue to see that Jesus is walking beside me through everything these last two years. As she sent in a song, because she gets me like that, this battle belongs to Him. Trust in Him to take it!
He knew I needed Denise to give me the belly laughs for a break from the gravity of treatment, side effects, and my own thoughts that can scare the pants off of me at times. Kimmel, Phallan, Letterman, take note, this girl needs her own show!
He knew Rise would be the picture of support and the friend to call for anything and everything at anytime. She takes on this roll for so many and although I know it is exhausting for her, I’m so glad she’s mine!
And finally, making me cry the most as I write this, He knew that the friendship between Debbie and I would ultimately help to mold a forever bond between our families as her husband, JD, is Kenneth’s best friend and roommate from college. I want, more than anything, to know my family is taken care of through all of this and JD, along with Debbie, will be beside Kenneth and I every step of the way, physically and emotionally. Like I said, I remember everything about where Debbie and JD met long ago at a little old pig pickin’ at the Pierce house.
I thank God every day for these beautiful girls and our friendships that will last a lifetime. This year we will all turn 50!! Whaaattt?? Time flies! Normally, at 50 you hear the old adage of “We’re so old!” or “It’s awful getting old!” Well, let me change your mindset. While I face the fact that my cancer could rear its ugly head at any time, my new perspective is “THE OLDER THE BETTER!” Each year is a gift and I intend of celebrating many more with these crazy ladies one year at a time.
Matthew 7:24-26 pulls it all together for me…..
THIS IS “The House that Built Me” – relationships built on rock, given to us by God and reminding us of all what God has done for us and does for us everyday. He has His hand in everything and starts even before we know what we will need. A reminder to build our “house” on the Word at all times surrounding ourselves with those who only want the best for us! His super strategic chess moves have been leading us to the King from the very beginning! Take note of the CHESS moves happening all around you. God is making sure you are being taken care of even when you don’t think you need to be taken care of!
Thanks RVA for the childhood memories and for these girls!!