Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Gal Pal

When I got my first job, at a small publishing firm, a girl in a floral dress, named Julie, was assigned to show me around and introduce me to people.  I carried a little pad and wrote notes because I wanted to be sure I remembered everything she said.  She laughed at that.  “It’s not that complicated,” she said.  After I had been there for awhile she and I became friends…good friends.  We started taking breaks together and talking a lot.

At that time my wife was in graduate school at night so it was convenient to stop after work with Julie and other co-workers at various places.  Somehow it always ended up that Julie and I were the last to leave because neither one of us had anywhere else to go. We would discuss things and laugh until it was time to go home.  Over time our friendship became closer and closer.  We would do things like on a slow Friday, mess up our desks, fill up our coffee cups, turn on the radio and then go hang out at Harry Caray’s until the work day ended.  We were both in our early twenties and not always terribly responsible.  We had a lot of innocent but interesting adventures together.

 Julie was with me on the day my mother died.  On the Sunday prior my father gathered my siblings, my wife and me. He told us that the doctors had done all they could do and it was likely within the next few days she would pass.  It was obviously hard to concentrate on work after that. Julie came and checked on me every day to make sure I was alright.  One day, around mid-week, she found me on the roof of the building, smoking.  She didn’t say anything.  She just put her hand on mine and said, “It’s going to be okay, buddy.”  Shortly thereafter a girl from the HR department came up and said “Tom, your wife just called. It’s time for you to go home.”  Julie squeezed my hand and said “I’ll see you when you get back.” Julie came to my Mom’s funeral, and during the days I was recovering from the loss she did all that she could to work with my wife to make sure that when I went off the rails I didn’t go off too far. 

We both eventually left the company we worked for and moved on to bigger and better things but we managed to find time to go to movies, Cubs games, and local drinking establishments.  My wife and I helped her to move into the city from where she lived in Brookfield, and she helped us to move from our apartment into our first house.  She was one of the first people to visit when my son was born, and was at his first birthday party. At that event my mother-in-law asked who Julie was.  My wife just smiled and said, “That’s Tom’s gal pal, who he hangs out with when I’m not around.  She’s a good friend to both of us and I like her very much.” 

Julie loved, and still does love, the funny stories I tell about times when I look like an idiot.  Her favorite is the time I pounded on a convenience store door because they weren’t open as usual and I wanted a coffee.  I pushed at the door but could not get in. I could see the man who ran the store.  I waved raised arms at him and tapped my watch. He started waving his arms.  I kept pushing but couldn’t get in. I went down to look in the record store window.  A few minutes later I went back and continued pushing on the door.  I waved to him again, and he waved back gesturing me in. I tried again, but still no luck. Finally, in frustration, I threw my hands up in the air and walked off toward the elevated station.  A second later he came out of the store and started yelling at me. “Thomas! Thomas!” I turned around.  I said angrily “What?!”  He said, “Thomas, how many times you been in my store?  It is not push! It is pull!”  Julie still laughs at that.

One night Julie sand I stopped at Brehon’s Pub down on Wells Street.  As we were talking Julie said something about how she admired my relationship with my wife, and how she would one day like to meet a “good man.” She said she was starting to doubt that she ever could.  Because I am fundamentally an idiot, I said something that wasn’t terribly helpful.  A little while later the bartender came over and asked us a question. “Are you two a couple?”  We both shook our heads and said no.  He then said “The gentleman down at the end of the bar wants to buy the young lady a drink.”  We looked down and saw a cheery man with a big smile, giving a little wave. Julie raised her glass and we both motioned for him to come join us.  His name was Neal. He was from New York and in town to work telecommunications for the World Cup.  He was very nice.  He and Julie started talking and I fell out of the conversation equation very fast, so I went home.

I don’t know exactly how long it was that Julie dated Neal, or when it was he moved to Chicago to find a job.  I do know that he continued to be very nice and that I grew to like him very much; to call him a friend. The thing I remember most is the afternoon I got a somewhat urgent call from Julie asking me to meet her at Brehon’s after work.  I went.  Both Julie and Neal were there. I asked them, “What’s going on?”  Julie put her hand on mine, and said “We thought it was appropriate to be here when we told you that we are going to get married.” 

Julie’s wedding and reception were beautiful and I’m not sure I have been happier for a friend.  Unfortunately, after the wedding as I focused on my career, a new house in the suburbs, and a growing family, and Julie was focused on a new marriage, we gradually fell a bit out of touch.  We still sent Christmas cards to each other but over time we didn’t talk much at all, which made me sad.  Then one day I got a surprise.

I got a Christmas card from Julie and Neal that included a picture of adorable triplet babies propped up on a couch. I looked at the return address and realized that my close friend now lived less than five blocks from me.  Smile of the week.

I love that over the years our families have been able to have barbecues, and that we can still occasionally catch a ballgame. I love that Julie will stop by when she is out riding her bike, or that I can stop by and see her and Neal when I am out walking my dog.  I love it when we run into each other at the library or the drugstore. I love the day Neal took a walk, came by with a cigar, stopped in to talk and it started to rain, so I drove him back home and we drank a little beer on his back porch.  I love getting to watch the triplets grow up and go watch them at the grade school doing plays and pageants.  Mostly what I love is that whenever I see her, Julie still puts her hand on mine.  

I once asked my wife why she thought Julie always does that.  I asked her if she thought the shaking in my hands bothered Julie.  She said, “That is part of it.  She doesn’t want to see her friend struggle, but I mostly think it's because she cares about you, and loves you.  That’s how she shows it.”   I like that theory.

Some people don’t think it's possible for men and women to have close friendships. I vehemently disagree.  I’ve had a "gal pal" for more than 26 years now, and it has been great. I think it's wonderful how people find each other and connect. Sometimes you find someone you fall in love with and maybe marry, and sometimes you just find someone you want to hang out with, who you grow close to, who is a friend, and who over the years is nice enough to put their hand over yours, especially when you need it the most.