I’m feeling particularly grateful today. For so many things. This is one of my favourite photos – my bestest friend Jess and I. The top one (in white) was taken when we were about 16. Those were the days of innocence. Before greying hair (collars and cuffs), meno-pot and enduring the deaths of friends and loved ones.

Jess&Hy

Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything. Muhammad Ali

Our lives were crammed with ordinary activities – school, sports, pyjama parties (remember baby dolls?), squabbling with our siblings, drum corps practice and trips to exciting places like Lackawanna, New York for the Pulaski Day parade where we saw John F. Kennedy the year before he was gunned down in Texas. He was all tanned and handsome on the back deck of an open convertible.  Sneaking her dad Benny’s Export As and hunkering in the family room powder room blowing smoke out the window, emerging reeking of tobacco and all innocent – what, we weren’t smoking. Must be the fries you smell. Walking from school into downtown St. Catharines after class was done, using our saved bus money to buy French fries and gravy and cherry cokes at Diana Sweets. Feeding coins into the jukebox. Sock hops. Cheerleading. Skipping school and writing fake notes to Sister Bernita. Ogling our teacher Mr. Milo in physics class.

The guys in our class  – with names like Louis and Tony – boasted of uncles who worked for the Seafarers Union or who ‘knew people’ who could get good deals on household appliances (only slightly damaged). Those young men with the decks of smokes rolled up under the short sleeves of their white uniform shirts were the real deal. Characters from the Soparanos before the series was conceived, but without the panache of James Gandolfini and his cast-mates. Because of my later work with the police, I found out that some of them had, in fact, spent time in jail.

The second photo (in darker clothing) was taken when we were 46 years old. The smiles are not quite as bright. There are lines on our faces. We knew more. We had lived. We had survived what life threw at us. But see – we still lean in to one another. Our bodies are pressed tight from shoulders  to elbows. That the way we’ve always been. When I think of what we’ve shared since were were 16 years old my heart rises in my throat and I cannot speak. I am so grateful. It means more than words can express to have someone like that as a constant in my life. What did I do do deserve a friend like this? Whenever I’ve thought I was drifting or lost, I’d call her. In her darkest hours, she’d call me. We agree we could not have gotten this far without the other. Together, we are better women.

We’ve made a pact, too. When it gets to the point where one of us is turning into a forgetful, hunched crone who can’t wipe her own bum or laugh at a dirty joke, the other will take care of things.

My beloved friend Jess.