Tiptoe......................peeking through the gate

Zoe is Back


Zoe is back. We are working on the final chapters of her love story with God. Memories overwhelm me at times as we handle her life word by word and sentence by sentence, giving each of them the care reserved for fine breakables. It’s been 39 years since we met, and our friendship has endured more near breakages than I could recall. No other friend has filed away at my rough edges like Zoe. No other friend has so pressed into my soul and made me expose what is there and stuck around to love me afterward.

Today I thought back to the summer of 1976, after we had shared an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I was helping her drive to California where we would say goodbye. We traveled west Zoe-style, stopping at a river where she threw off her clothes and waded in. ( I sat in the car, hoping no one would see her…or me.) We dropped into Salt Lake City, because Zoe’s cousin lived there, and toured the Mormon Tabernacle, where a man Very High Up in the church became convinced Zoe was destined for a future in Mormonism. So was I, he said. He urged us to follow him to a special room where we all sat down and he made an impassioned plea for us to give his church a chance. And stay another two weeks, perhaps with him and his wife.

We slept in a cornfield. Or, rather, Zoe slept. I spent the night staring at stars while cornstalks poked into my back. When she woke in the morning, I was dabbing my face with a cotton ball dipped in a face cleanser. It was expensive stuff, so I used it sparingly. The bottle was nearly gone, and it needed to last another month until I could get back to Boston and buy more.

“What is that?” Zoe asked.

“Face cleaner.”

“Can I use some?”

I was trained to be polite, so what happened next was surprising. I hesitated. I probably even looked worried.

“What’s the matter? Why can’t I use some?” Zoe sounded a little on edge.

I didn’t want to tell the truth, so I hesitated again.

“What’s wrong? I want to know!”

This was awkward, and I wasn't going to look good.

“I kind of hate to share it with you, because I have so little left and I need it to last a while.”

Zoe looked disgusted.

That’s the problem?” she snorted.

I nodded.

“Why would you think something like that?” she asked, sounding more hurt than annoyed. “We’re in this trip together. Don’t you know if you needed more I would chip in? Why wouldn’t you just tell me what was up?”

So Zoe. She didn’t like anything hidden. Get it all out.

Another time we had a Big Misunderstanding, more commonly known as a fight. When it was all over, we did a post-mortem and agreed that one of us (and I don’t remember which) had been thinking ungenerous thoughts about the other of us. That wasn’t right, fair or good for our friendship, Zoe declared.

“Let’s have a pact,” she said. “From now on, each of us will always choose the generous interpretation of what the other is doing/saying/thinking.”

I nodded. There would be another pact at the end of that summer, a more important one, but I will save that story for another day.

My final Zoe anecdote happened yesterday. Ross and I left for a hymn sing in our little town while Zoe stayed home to work on her projects. When we returned a few hours later, waves of smoky air greeted us at the door. Zoe ran over. “I did a stupid thing while you were gone,” she said, grinning. I burnt the cabbage in the pot.” She held up the pot, which was black inside and out. “And that’s not all,” she said. She held up the steamer basket from inside the pot. That, too, was black.

Oh, well, I thought, the stinky cabbage smell will be gone in a few days.

“But then I did something else,” Zoe said. “Come over by the door.” She pointed to her feet. There was a char mark on the southern pine floor in the exact shape of the pot that was now black.

“The pot smelled awful and I ran to the door, but I couldn’t get it opened, so I set it down on the floor.” Zoe was laughing.

“And that’s not all, either,” she said, as my heart drooped.

“I ran outside with the pot and put it on what I thought was mud, but it was grass. I burned a hole in the lawn.” Zoe was laughing even harder.

“Do you feel like parents who left their five-year-old at home without supervision?”

Ross laughed and I nodded. Later, I vented a bit to Ross. Just a bit. It’s hard to be annoyed with Zoe for long.

Ross ended the discussion with a sentence:

“Zoe is worth it.”

Today Zoe apologized for laughing and made arrangements for our wonderful handyman to fix the floor. Today I could care less about the floor. Or the pot and steamer basket. Or the lawn.

Today I’m grateful for a friend who has stayed put for 39 years. Given what she and I have been through together, that is a miracle. Just ask our husbands.