"I'll be in San Francisco. I'll stay only a few days. I can't wait to see you," Debbie, my old friend, says. She lives in Toledo, and is a widow. "We'll go to galleries; I'll take you to dinner. It'll be fun. It's been fifteen years."
"Fun," I say, thinking, as I get older, old friends are important. Connections are important. She'll take a taxi from the airport, bring a "few things."
"I have a very small apartment," I tell her. "But you can have my bed and I'll sleep on the couch in my office. "
"Not to worry," she says. "Can you believe we're seventy? We'll talk, talk, and talk."
"Uh huh," I say, thinking she's always been interesting, and she's a writer too. So for sure we'll have lots to talk about.
Thursday arrives. I put on my best jeans, and tie my thinning hair in a ponytail and make room in my closet. Debbie always was a clotheshorse.
The doorbell rings. I rush outside to the taxi. There she is looking chic as ever--porcelain skin, jet gray streaked hair cut in a perfect blunt, and wearing a black pants suit and a strand of pearls. We hug and cry and gurgle all at once. It's like a "minute ago," and what best friends we always were. We don't dare mention that we had a terrible fight and ended up not speaking the past several years. "You look fabulous," I say. "So chic."
"So do you," she says, her black eyes scanning my nebbish outfit. I schlep two of her Vuitton bags up the stairs and she, carrying the smaller bag, murmuring that her "arthritis," is bothering her and that she can't do any "lifting," rushes ahead of me. She is wearing high four inch Jimmy Choo shoes.
"Here we are?" I say, opening the door and leading her into my apartment.
"Very cute, like one of those attics in Paris." She proceeds to unpack several gorgeous suits and dresses in plastic bags and hangs them in my closet, pushing aside my few clothes. Her Chanel makeup and bottles take up my entire bathroom.
Over coffee we talk a while. She tells me about her former husband Walter. That she's "out there now." "I have to live."
"Let's order Chinese and watch the Iris Murdoch film," I suggest, feeling already exhausted.
She looks horrified. She doesn't eat "like that." Nor should I. "Salt," she repeats several times. She wants to "dine," at "Fleur de Lys." Oh well, she's paying," I assure myself. She looks dazzling in a beige French linen suit.
I call a taxi and at the restaurant, she floats from the car, rushing ahead while I fumble in my purse for my taxi vouchers.
In bad French, Barbara orders wines, and a wonderful dinner. It's fabulous. We talk about her travels around the world and her recent travels to Israel. She is interesting and informed on many levels. She then goes on about her need to find a new husband. "Gotta live," she says.
The bill arrives on a sterling tray. It sits.
"Well, it was a wonderful dinner," I say.
She waves her dainty hand. "When you visit in Toledo, I'll reciprocate."
She nods. "Yes, I have to teach you to live. Look at me, I learn, look, live."
I pay the high bill on my almost maxed credit card. I assure myself that this is once in a lifetime. She talks about her dating life with sixty -plus widowers. How depressing she finds it.
"These Jewish men aren't sports," she complains. "I'm not an early-bird girl."
The following three days she drags me to museums, art galleries, restaurants. She stays up all night smoking and watching Israeli films. She loves the new Israeli filmmakers. I'm exhausted.
I'm coughing and wheezing while she instructs me to "travel, learn, live."
"Please, don't smoke."
"You're too fearful of everything. You have to live," she replies.
Finally it's the last day. Debbie insists her "arthritis" is "acting up," so I schlep her luggage downstairs. She gives me a silver ring. "I'll wear it always," I say. We hug. We cry. We promise to go on a cruise together and definitely every Sunday we will call. What fun we had. She blows a kiss with her ringed pale hand and we wave until the taxi disappears into traffic.
Back in my apartment I open every window, and water the plants. I live.