I've known her all my life. In fact, she knew my story before it had even begun in a way all life stories start well before someone's birthday. I grew up thousands of miles away from all my grandparents, so I adopted family friends as surrogates. These men and women came to everything important of mine -- birthdays, graduations, going-away parties, and most of them were at my wedding. Including Carol.
She is such a strong, happy woman, and she has a thirst for adventure, which I've always admired so much. My childhood memories are saturated with her, and when I'd come back to California from Texas -- three times a year to visit my dad -- I'd always see her. She'd take us to dinner or have us over, and we'd sit and talk for hours, in her San Francisco flat, settled so close to the park.
It's funny what you remember from when you were a kid. I remember her art work and her steep stairs and the pictures on her fridge and her glass cabinets and her old, sweet dog. When I was visiting her last summer, I climbed those steep stairs and smiled.
She came to my wedding, and we had a nice dinner together a couple days before the big day. It was just family, close friends, small, nice. When the bill came, things got hectic, and Mike and I -- to make things easiest and get us out the door without problem -- paid for more than our share. We paid for such a big chunk of the bill, it ate up a lot of the money we had budgeted for the trip. Carol heard us whispering about it in the parking lot. "We need to tighten up, so we'll have enough to last us the week." The next day, at our rehearsal dinner, she pulled me aside and stuffed some money into my hands. "You shouldn't worry about anything this weekend, especially cash. Take this. Enjoy yourselves." She meant it. She never mentioned it again.
When I visited her last year, a day after BlogHer '08 wrapped up, I brought along a blogging friend, someone I'd never met before that weekend and someone who needed a place to stay too. Carol didn't find it odd or strange. She welcomed her with open arms and took us to a funky little place for dinner. After that we sat in her front room, talking for hours, about baby names and my dad's infidelity and brothers and sisters and life.
She told me again, as she always does, that if I ever needed anything, ever, ever, ever, I just had to let her know.
She's forgiving in the way actual family never is. If a year slips by without calling, she eagerly answers the first after-the-silence email. She always compliments, always gives, without feeling used or taken advantage of because it's all so genuine, it's all so pure. These kinds of life-long, deeply-devoted friends always see us the way we hope the whole world sees us.
I brought Natalie, my best friend, to California nearly six years ago, and Carol took us out for fancy burgers in Haight-Ashbury. Now, whenever I talk with her, she asks how Natalie is.
I'm taking Kyle to California for Thanksgiving. It's overflowing with people I want him to meet and I don't know if they'll get a chance to see him as a baby otherwise. He's changing so much, and I want people to have memories of my son in his first year. I've already booked a date with Carol. She's usually my first email, after family, when it comes to visiting. She offered to pick us from the airport. "Do you need a place to stay?" "No, no. I'll have to get a car because of Ky's car seat. We'll stay with Dad, but thank you." "Let me know if things change. Let me know if you need anything."
She went on, "I see on Facebook that you handle motherhood with such humor. That's the key. You're doing great." She tells me this from afar, from thousands of miles away, from opposite corners of the country, but she means it. She means everything she says to me.
Carol has a smart, charming, kind son, who's in his senior year of college. He's her only son, her only child, and she built such a beautiful life for them that he's turned into this wonderful young man. He was also at my wedding, and I've known him all his life, too.
I wonder all the time, every day, who will be Kyle's Carol. What friend of mine will become his stand-in family, the person he calls for dinner when he needs a familiar face and doesn't want to feel guilty for all the Christmas cards he never sends. What person in my life will become invaluable in his? Who will always see him the way I hope the world sees him? Who will watch him grow and then offer to pick him up from the airport when he travels? Who will tell him he's talented and doing great, even if he might not be, even if he might be tripping his way through his first year of fatherhood? Who will love him always and evermore, not because they have to or because they share last names and DNA but because they simply feel their life is better for loving him, knowing him?
I wonder who it will be.