If you’re like most of the women I know, there are days when you look in the mirror and think, “I look good today.” And then there are the other days when every line seems to show and every sag casts impossible shadows.
Guest blogger PHYLLIS COLETTA reminds us that aging can be a fun and interesting process (it certainly beats the alternative!). And with our girlfriends around us, we can embrace our birthdays and have fun.
I just dropped off my two college girlfriends at the Denver airport after our Third Almost Annual Wet Dawgs Reunion. There is nothing that renews my soul like hanging out with chicks who have known me since the 70s. It’s like bathing in the River of Jordan, sometimes almost literally.
We are the Wet Dawgs because our first attempt at this connection was grandiose and we decided to climb Mount St. Helen’s which is pretty much like walking on the moon. It poured for hours and by the time we got back to our base camp and piled in the car we were a little cranky and smelled exactly like wet dogs – thus the name.
This year it was my turn to host the Dawgs in Colorado and I no sooner hit I-70 West after scooping them at the airport than we unloaded. Within 20 minutes – this is typical of women – we had discussed Diane’s creeping menopausal depression, Liz’s fear of financial devastation, and my endless Cowboy Bob stories.
“I’m trying all the natural stuff,” Diane leaned in from the back seat, “But some days I just can’t take it anymore!”
“Give me the damn HORMONES!”
We applauded both her commitment to doing the natural stuff first and then caving in to the tried and true medical way. We compared our menstrual histories and horror stories about the 50-something female body.
“What the hell is this belly?” I asked while speeding down the highway and grabbing the alien that has taken up residence on my navel.
“I got one too!” Liz chimed in.
“Look at this!” Diane said as she undid her seat belt and whipped up her shirt.
This is why we love our girlfriends, especially the ones who have been around since about the Civil Rights Movement. We have been through divorce, death, trauma, tears, babies, men troubles too complicated to touch, and now we are aging together, probably badly.
“A real estate illness?” I asked, “You gonna die from a house listing?”
“No!” she responded, “That disease named after the guy, you know.”
“Yeah,” Diane chimed in, “He played football or something then couldn’t breathe. How would you like to have a disease named after you anyway? What was his name?”
And so on.
I assured Liz she probably wouldn’t contract MLS and she then revealed that her blood pressure was out of control to the tune of 250/134.
“Geez!” I almost ran off the road, “You’re gonna stroke out! Who’s gonna wipe your sorry stroked out ass anyway?”
“See, that’s why I worry,” she said, “But it’s okay. I got medication.”
She pulled out a semi-garbage bag. “I give up. I take meds. I even have a pill splitter.”
We spent the weekend biking, running, hiking, eating pizza, sitting in the hot springs, catching up on the kids, siblings, and two remaining parents that we had followed for decades like a mysterious soap opera. After one hike, Diane piled in the car looking like a mentally unbalanced homeless person. She was sweaty, her skirt slightly askew, with the wide brim of her hiking hat folded way up high on her forehead. The look was accentuated by flip-up old lady sunglasses. I started the car and stared at her.
“Yo Diane,” I said, “You look breath-taking.”
She tossed her head back.
“But not in a good way.”
I’m not sure why or how they put up with me and I am astounded they still like me. I’ve been nothing but the smart-ass for 35 years. When Diane unfortunately confided that she thinks about death “every five minutes” I rolled my eyes.
“For the love of God Diane,” I extolled, “You are gonna die. Get over it.”
For some reason Liz thought it was wise to reveal the fact that she didn’t know how to swim. After 35 years you still find out this kind of stuff. I was shocked.
“Oh, come on!” she said cheerily, “I doggie paddle!”
As if this was something to be proud of. Previously I had volunteered to take care of Liz when she was old but I rescinded that offer as soon as I heard about the doggie paddling. Later in the weekend, though, I relented and again committed to being there for her to wipe her drool and pull out old lady chin hairs.
“The guys will be dead,” I announced, “And there will be no health care. Nursing homes smell no matter what you do, so we need to have a Red Tent.”
This is a concept named after a book by Anita Diamante about Jacob’s tribe of Israel. When they would set up camps as they wandered endlessly, (because the guys wouldn’t ask for directions), the women would raise a Red Tent, just for women. When the menstruated or gave birth, they all shared the red tent, calming fears and sharing girl wisdom. This is my vision for old age, me and my girlfriends in some house somewhere, a modern day Red Tent. The last one standing gets the house, I think, and nobody will be allowed to be too talkative or obnoxious. We will just be old lady girlfriends, eating and farting our way into the sunset.
See, what guys don’t understand is that girlfriends are like the Mafia. In utero we pinky swear across the cosmos to our soon-to-be-BFFs that we will take a bullet for each other. We sort of take an oath that we will bring secrets to our grave, and never break The Girlfriend Code. In The Family of girlfriends we can say anything, do anything, and still be universally embraced and loved. No outsider can penetrate the Girlfriend Mafia because there just ain’t no mountain high enough. The only “heat” we pack is menopausal and we don’t carry guns, just pouches. When my girlfriends are miserable, I wallow right there with them. In my mind and heart, they can do no wrong. The Girlfriend Mafia will never, ever be invaded by guys and we will never forgo our life of crime, usually involving story-telling and overeating.
My husband, Cowboy Bob, was extremely gracious and even engaged with my friends when they were here but he was mystified by the depth of our love and acceptance, the ease we have with each other, the joy we find in our friendship. As we roared with laughter over coffee, he’d just stare at us, unable to get the joke. I don’t think men have anything that resembles the Girlfriend Mafia and they might be a little jealous of so faithful a circle of love. Funny, we get married thinking the guy will be our best friend but soon realize – to our horror sometimes – that they’re really not all that interested in our “feelings” and whatnot. This is where the Mafia comes in, where you can escape to the Badda Bing that is the refuge of hard core females and just let it rip.
I will take their worries and secrets to my grave, I would gladly lie down and die for any one of them and yes, I may end up being the last one standing in the Red Tent, having faithfully and cheerfully wiped their old lady asses, even Liz, as she doggie paddles her way out while succumbing to MLS.
PHYLLIS COLETTA is a recovering litigation attorney, former high school teacher, current EMT, writer, erstwhile cowgirl, and soon-to-be Zen Buddhist chaplain. Her life has been full of adventure and her books are available at www.books4broads.com. She raised three amazing sons as a single mom and now lives in the mountains of Colorado with her third and final husband, Cowboy Bob, and their dumb but faithful black lab, Chopper.
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