My friend Pat called a week ago. As usual, I showed up.
“Don’t you dare gush in my obituary,” she said.
“Have you ever known me to gush?” I snapped.
She said no, but fixed me with one of her legendary hard looks that could peel the scales off a fish. People paid her big bucks to stare at their soon-to-be-ex-spouses just like that. They probably squirmed the way I did, even though I’m a non-gusher by nature and my conscience was clear.
Late this morning, Pat summoned me once again. She looked paler, weaker. “What have you written?” she asked.
“I’ve written you a damned good obituary,” I said. “And you know what? I didn’t gush once.”
This time, her gaze was softer and unfocused, her voice hesitant. “What does that mean — to gush?” she asked.
But I’d really rather focus on beginnings than endings. Pat and I met in 1976, when we were both newly minted lawyers and younger than we appreciated. We were the only two fulltime female attorneys at the firm, which was run by a bunch of rowdy, middleaged male trial lawyers who loved to drink, smoke, gamble, swear and win big cases.
Pat and I had the difficult job of trying to hogtie and haul these guys into the 20th century. Right offhand, I wouldn’t have called them neanderthals, but they just weren’t ready for women as equals in the workplace. So I fired off a memo demanding pay raises and well-hung male secretaries and signed Pat’s name to it, since she was more senior than I was.
After that, everything got a little out of hand, what with the dildo in my desk drawer and everybody stealing my low-rent bourbon, then complaining about how cheap and rock-gut it was and why couldn’t I pony up for George Dickel if I really wanted to drink? It was that kind of wilder time and the city of Austin was smaller then. A certain lieutenant governor could leave a bar and unload a pistol in the air and people might gossip about it a little, but it just wasn’t that big a deal.
Anyway, Pat and I went shopping at lunch, which is where we always got our best ideas. We would try on clothes and insist the other buy whatever looked good on her. Then, if we changed our minds, we’d get the law clerks to take back our purchases. Life was good. Pat had already introduced me to the concept of amortization, which meant that the more frequently I wore something, the cheaper it became. It was a complicated mathematical formula and it helped enlighten me.
So, we talked about our current problems with the law firm. My husband and I were moving away and I was about to leave. The managing partner of the firm had told some of the other guys he now saw the wisdom of having smart female lawyers in the firm. To replace me, he intended to find another smart woman — only, this time, one with big breasts. (It was the 70s, I keep reminding you, the 70s. Things were different then.)
Only someone like Pat, who was a little older than I was and more experienced in the ways of the world, could have understood how important it was to make a feminist statement at our law firm — and how that somehow involved hiring a hooker to interview with the good old boys at the law firm. The logic was … well, I’m not sure what the logic was. In a law firm that usually began drinking at 5 p.m. sharp, the off-hours logic could grow a bit hazy.
So, we hired a hooker, cooked up a resume for her, and advised her to wear understated clothes. She came, she interviewed, but she didn’t get the job, since somebody had tipped off the managing partner. But hey, our panache was duly appreciated.
That was more than 30 years ago. We’ve all gotten more serious and sedate since then, and we make our feminist points in subtler ways. But Pat and I have been friends ever since, talking and laughing and shopping together. If anybody had my back, it was Pat. She’s been the diehard kind of friend who would commit a felony for you, if necessary.
I told you I don’t gush — and I meant it. But I can also tell you that sayings like being heavyhearted at a time like this are accurate. A long friendship is ending. Something has diminished in me, and I can see that nothing will ever quite be the same in my life.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite earlier posts about my friend Pat