Your essays serve as a true testament to the bond between women, and the importance of sharing our struggles, triumphs, and strengths, through our stories.
After careful deliberation, two women emerged as winners.
Below you can read their stories and post comments, if you feel inspired.
THE DIVA AND THE PRINCESS–By Beatrice M. Hogg, MFA
(Picture shown above)
On July 26, 1984, I met my best friend Mary. To most people, we appear as different as night and day. She is white and blonde. I am African American and not blonde, even though I have dyed my hair blonde a few times over the years. Mary loves to wear makeup; I hate it. She is a city girl, raised in an affluent section of Pittsburgh, PA. I was raised in a coal-mining town about twenty miles southwest of Pittsburgh.
We met at classic rock night at a bar in Monroeville, outside of Pittsburgh. I was twenty-seven, lured to the bar by the opportunity to listen to some of my favorite music. Mary was twenty, with a fake ID, accompanied by her friend Stephanie, the only other black person in the bar. The three of us became friends, but Mary was the one that I respected and trusted. After I had a permanent falling out with Stephanie, Mary and I became closer. In 1985, we went to Toronto for her twenty-first birthday and a few months later we went to London. We traveled to rock concerts in Toronto, DC, Cleveland and Rochester. When we weren’t on the road, we spent weekends eating pizza at my apartment and watching music videos on television. I came up with our idealized rocker personas – she was the Pale Princess of Passion and I was the Dark Diva of Delight. We hung out so much that we seemed to know each other’s thoughts. When I was at home thinking about her, she would call, and vice versa. When we were together, we seemed to take the words out of each other’s mouths. We had our private jokes – certain words or phrases would cause fits of laughter.
In 1987, I decided to leave Pennsylvania and move to Northern California. Mary planned to join me after three months, but her mother got sick and she stayed in Pittsburgh. But she was only a phone call away. We continued to talk at least several times a week, sharing our lives from a distance. In 1993, she had a son. About a year later, her father died of brain cancer. In 1999, I went back home to be a bridesmaid at her wedding.
The marriage didn’t last, but our friendship remained strong. We were more alike than people thought. We were both lapsed Catholics, who spent hours on the phone crying as we watched the funeral of Pope John Paul II together. Sometimes our lives seemed to run on parallel courses. But we never lost our love of the music that brought us together. It didn’t matter that we were now middle-aged women, as seeing our favorite bands took us back to the days of big hair and road trips.
I always told Mary that as long as I had a home, she had one too. When she lost her job and apartment in August 2011, I invited her and her son to stay with me in my one bedroom apartment in Sacramento. Six weeks later, she went back home to see her dying mother. When she returned to California, she was a different person – filled with grief over her mother’s death and missing her son, who decided to stay in Pittsburgh. We were both unemployed and looking for work, but with no success. After I was evicted in December, we went to LA to look for work. When the friend we planned to stay with reneged on her offer, we found ourselves homeless on the streets of Santa Monica. I would not have survived the next six weeks without her. No matter how bad things got, I wasn’t alone. I drew strength from her presence. In spite of the dire circumstances, we could still laugh together. But she got tired of sleeping on a cot at the Emergency Shelter and she asked her ex-husband to buy her a ticket back to Pittsburgh. I felt lost and betrayed. Was this the end of our friendship?
But even betrayals weren’t enough to break our bond. After a few months, she found a job and I went back to Sacramento to stay with friends. But we continued to talk on the phone at least several times a week. A few months ago, I won a VIP trip for two to Los Angeles. Immediately, I called Mary to tell her about the trip WE had won. This fall, we will go back to LA, staying in a four-star hotel with gift cards and museum passes to finally experience the city as tourists.
Today is July 26, 2013. Little did I know that when I walked into a bar twenty-nine years ago, I would find my one true friend.
Best Buds and Burned Hot Dogs
By Susan Sundwall
“I’ll have a hot dog,” says my friend, Karen, “and I want it burned.” Looking the waitress dead in the eye she says, “And I mean burned.” I love it when she orders hot dogs. It reminds me of the flint in her character, and heaven help the waitress who doesn’t bring that hot dog to the table black!
Karen is a breast cancer survivor. Each woman who goes through the horror of facing the Big C has a story. Karen’s is unique in that she had begun her high school teaching career at approximately the same time—her second career.
Years after our friendship had ripened into a lifelong relationship, Karen began to have health problems. First came the scary lumps, then the tests and biopsies and finally the need for surgery. But a few days before she was scheduled to go in she instructed her husband to take pictures of her in flattering poses. I wondered if I’d have the guts do something like that, let alone have that reminder around.
It took a few surgeries to get it all done and then came implants. She called me from the hospital. Many people were helping, praying and doing, but picking her up after this final step was my part. Her family allowed that I could do this for her. Now she was ready to come home and figure out how to live with her new ‘Frankenstein’ body as she wryly referred to it.
In her hospital room she rolled over and opened one eye. “Hi, you got here quick.”
“Hey, you rang, I came.” I was a little early and what she didn’t know is that I’d been sitting quietly watching her sleep. “Howya doin’?” I asked.
“Better,” she said, moving slowly. She pulled herself into a sitting position, looked at me with quiet intensity and said, “Well, I know you’re dying of curiosity, so have a look.” She lifted the hospital gown and revealed the handiwork of her surgeon. I didn’t quite know where to throw my eyes, but curiosity won and she didn’t even wince when I remarked that she didn’t look ‘too bad.’ I’m glad she showed me. It brought it home to me how fragile and tough, all at once, the human body and spirit are.
Karen’s period of adjustment didn’t last long and when she was well enough, she returned to school. Her chemo treatments had caused her hair to fall out and in the classroom she used soft, colorful turbans to cover her head. A true mark of her courage was a classroom incident she mentioned to me. It was during the second Woodstock in 1996, and many of her students were into the whole idea of the celebration. The farm where the Woodstock Festival had taken place was only fifty miles away after all. The kids were used to seeing Karen with the turban, but one day, when it was rather hot, she decided to take it off. She was aware of how this might affect the students, but when one boy asked her about her baldpate, she simply stated, “I was at Woodstock over the weekend and decided to shave my head to fit in. Cool, huh?” I’m not sure, but I think she told me she had to reach over and shut the kids’ mouth.
When I stated that my own health has always been good, that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my own sorts of trials. For one thing I never finished my education. But knowing someone like Karen, who had a Titanic battle with cancer while seeking her degree in biology, makes me realize it’s never too late to better yourself regardless of circumstances. She has never allowed me to feel inferior because her accomplishments have been different from mine, either. I am eternally grateful to her for that.
Karen is a remarkable friend and has been a best bud for years. We shop, lunch, attend church, play cards on Saturday nights with our husbands and philosophize together about the trials and outrages of life. We both know the One who got her through this. I have a mental picture of Karen hanging onto the mighty hand of our Lord with one of her own while gripping the gurney taking her to surgery with the other. But she’s now finished ten full years of teaching and is retired with a less worrisome daily routine. And the cancer? It may come back. I could get it and so could you. But I have an advantage; a friend whose beat the odds so far and is moving on with her life. And I’m going with her, looking forward to many a leisure lunch hour in her company, burned hot dogs and all.
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Keep writing, and keep the faith. 🙂