The Beach Divas mascot sitting on the iconic Red Cooler.
“So, if these chicks have turned onto Stepford Wives or something, y’know perfect in every way, I am so out of here in the morning!”
Karen arrived first and delivered this ultimatum with one hand on her car and the other clutching her keys. I flew down the path at the beach house to greet her with a hug that was thirty-six years delinquent.
That Karen arrived first made cosmic sense since she and I had been classmates from first grade through twelfth. Sister Simon Peter to Sister Janet Riordan.
Memories are tricky things, but overall I remember many times catching and matching the impish glint in her eye just before participating in some Karen-instigated episode of pure lunacy. We little Catholic girls did uncivilized and unladylike things that could make a grown nun cry.
And we never hesitated.
She was, and is still, small, blonde, with a crooked smile, a wicked sense of irony and a massive cache of mischievous energy. The events of the years had not pulled that out of her at all. Not even losing her beloved husband to a heart attack too early.
She is still Karen, yes, and although in her company I only stopped laughing when I slept, I could hear her faint underscore in a minor key resonating with mine.
She didn’t leave the next morning. She is the Queen of Pentacles.
We six 50-something friends gathered again at the shore of our mutual ocean this abnormally hot summer.
It was the first High School Pals Beach Divas Weekend. Karen, Sue, Mary, Mary Ann, Des and I all graduated from Catholic high school together and met up again, as people often do now, on FaceBook.
This was an offshoot event born fully formed from an impromptu class “reunion” we all had in April. I just invited all the women, (sorry guys) every one of which seemed to need a break from life in general, to join me at the beach for the weekend. Five could make it.
The rules? None.
Advice? Bring a towel and Don’t Panic.
Here’s the funny thing: None of us were super close in high school. We orbited in circles that would sometimes intersect and bingo-bango, a funny story to tell and re-tell. We’re all raucous storytellers when given the floor.
But now, we are fascinated with each other. Karen may have said it best. We’ve all travelled parallel roads getting married, raising kids, shepherding careers, and now we have circled back to each other as these life phases slowly release us.
It’s a checkpoint, a tag-off in the ring, a long awaited embrace. A wrinkle in time.
And a reason to drink and eat ourselves into a stupor.
Sue, Mary and Des showed up next bearing the now iconic “red cooler” full of happy hour nibbles and booze, the holy elements of the weekend in addition to the beach, the pool and as many life stories as we could fit in.
Mary was our true north for the weekend keeping the party hopping. Tall and gorgeous and a true sun worshipper, the pool was her domain. Getting all sandy and salty was not her deal, so she hung at the “cement pond” more than the rest of us who didn’t mind so much getting salty and gritty at the shore. She did not allow me to wimp out, ordering me into the shower to prep for dinner out. I obeyed. She is powerful when she gets a notion. And dirty eyeglasses make her crazy. She whipped off both Des's and my glasses and Windexed them, never missing a beat in the story she was telling. We will all celebrate when her stumpy little ponytail grows out and she stops smoking those short Virginia Slims. I wore her silver earrings to dinner like Joni Mitchell in the song Carey…”I’ll put on some silver." She is the Queen of Cups.
Des was a firefighter. Titanium holds her spine together, her back broken by an adrenalin and drug addled man who resisted violently as she attempted to help him to safety. She was one of the first women to serve as a firefighter in South Florida with stories of ill-fitting gear and crude practical jokes played on her by the guys that would light up lawyers for years. She won them over by feeding their spirits and stomachs after all. She served up homemade food and comfort meticulously erasing their unease at having a female amongst them when people were burning to death. She gave us stuffed mushrooms, shrimp and fruit. And a heart bigger than describable. She brings the Holy Eucharist to shut-ins now. I am unsettled in her presence since my faith lost me. She has seen things that would crumble me into pieces. She is the Priestess.
And Mary Ann came last, just in time for happy hour. She has one of those Dorian Grey pictures in her attic since she barely changed since high school. Model pretty, petite, a cardiology nurse and tough as nails. She had done double shifts that week, coped with a car that blew up in flames, drove another car all the way to her daughter in college, moved that daughter to her new residence, and ended up with us late in the day spent. And, she brought homemade cakes. And beer margueritas to be consumed in special stemmed glasses. The cake baking and the margueritas may have cast her as the Stepford wife that Karen feared, but she never flinched as we peppered our commentaries with juicy curses and crude anatomical references even adding a few of her own. By vote, she got her own bedroom for the weekend by virtue of how hellish her week had been.
In a gesture of pure female friendship, she slapped my fumbling hands away, grabbed my hairbrush, and French braided my unruly wet ocean tangled hair saying, “I don’t get to do this very often. Got to show your friendship when you can!” She is the Queen of Swords.
Over cocktails and throw-your-diet-out-the-window food, we got to know a few things we never knew before like –
- Whose prom date fell asleep in the family station wagon sucking on the tip of his tie.
- Why one entire family had heads that were flat in the back.
- Why the Hansel & Gretel hotel on the beach had significance to one of us.
- Why one of us had a perpetually sunny disposition at school due to sparking up of certain kind of cigarette every morning.
- Why at the mention of one Catholic priest’s name, one of us cannot help but follow it up with “perv.”
- Why there is a black kid in one of our current family photographs.
- How one of us used to smoke cigarettes with a nun on the roof of the school.
- Why the best light is in the car for tweezing eyebrows and chin hairs.
- Who asked the innocent virginal red-faced Irish priest to elaborate on the notion of the orgasm as he tried to teach the “birds and the bees” class.
- How one of us got a carpenter’s nail imbedded in her arm at a school dance.
- How wasted we all got before basketball games riding around in a van named "Fred."
- Who’s got the biggest surgical scar.
- Who disappeared.
- Who divorced.
- Who died.
- Who snores.
Our mutual ocean had stretched out endlessly when we graduated from high school and set sail to make our lives.
The cards could not predict the tempests, doldrums, shark attacks and cyclones that would attempt to bring a drastic sea change to every one of us during those thirty-six years apart. We're too tough to let those things rock us, though.
For a short time, we navigated back to the shore from whence we launched, and made safe harbor. And not a Stepford wife to be seen.