Within a couple of months of finishing high school, at the tender age of 18, I left my home in Melbourne, Australia, and flew to Paris, France, to take up a job as an au pair. After my first month away, I was desperately lonely and wanted to go home. My mother convinced me to give it another week and then, if I still felt the same way, she would arrange for my return. The following day, I met three women who changed my life. The first two were sista-Australians, Harriet and Anne, whom I met when all three of us were in the process of enrolling at the Alliance Française. The third was an American called Jodie, who approached us in a nearby café when she overheard us speaking English.
Over the following six weeks, Harriet, Anne, Jodie and I became inseparable, keeping each other buoyant as we stumbled and bumbled our ways around a new language and culture, tough (for some) jobs, love affairs (for some), occasional bouts of homesickness, and the rush of freedoms previously unknown. Our picnics by the Seine involved bread, cheese, chocolate, cheap wine and Broadway musicals. We went to movies and cheap restaurants, and hit the galleries on Mondays when it was free. After one memorable visit to the Louvre, we wrote to each other on postcards of The Three Graces, fantasising about imagined futures.
When the baby was born in the family I was working with, I was charged with taking the three-year-old and six-year-old to stay with their relatives in a castle in the countryside. Jodie came along for the ride, because who can resist staying overnight in a French chateau. There was another night, too, that I remember: a night of secrets shared as the sun set, a new light emerging from the darkness.
On Jodie’s last night in Paris, we took a bateau mouche along the Seine river and went to dinner at Chartier, if I remember correctly (which is still going strong).
We kept in touch, often at first, then less frequently, until we lost touch altogether. But thanks to the internet – to this blog, in fact – we reconnected again in 2009. We’d both partnered and had daughters. In some ways, we were both still trying to introduce the girls we were in 1985 to the women we have become.
When she found out recently that I was coming to the USA for the first time for the conference in Phoenix, Jodie wrote saying, ‘You’ve never been this close.’ ‘Close’ was still a three-hour flight from Seattle. But she made it happen. On 20 Feb this year, we met again for the first time in 32 years, at Phoenix Airport. Jodie was so excited, we came very close to leaving the terminal without her suitcase! We jumped straight in a hire car and Jodie drove us to Sedona, talking all the way, laughing at our attempts to catch up on 32 years. In Sedona, we walked to Cathedral Rock, before returning to our hotel to keep talking over red wine and Wild Turkey bourbon (Jodie’s tribute to our Thelma and Louise-inspired road trip), eventually falling asleep to the sounds of Oak Creek outside our balcony.
Tuesday we visited Monument Valley, a 13-hour round trip that took us through six climate zones, into the heart of the sovereign Navajo Nation, which we are fortunate to be permitted to visit: our guide told us the decision to open Monument Valley to tourism was won by a single vote, and there are still members of the community who would see us as invaders (with just cause, given what is transpiring at Standing Rock as I write). Despite our loquacious tour guide, we managed to keep talking, silenced only by the majesty of the landscape that unfolded once we reached our destination. No amount of movies (and I watched a lot of them in the lead-up to my visit) could prepare me for the sheer scale of Monument Valley, its vistas and its silence.
We spent Wednesday and Thursday at the Grand Canyon. I should note that Jodie had never been to Arizona before either, so both of us were experiencing these wonders for the first time. Coming upon the Grand Canyon felt, for both of us, as though we’d arrived on another planet. It took several hours for my eyes and mind to adjust to depths and breadths in my field of vision that I had simply never known before. I was struck dumb with awe: as a writer, it was a shock to be so continually lost for words. We visited several points along the south rim, watching cloud shadows dance over rocks shaped like temples. At sunset, we ventured a little way down into the canyon along the Bright Angel Trail, before the wind chill sent us to our hotel room for more conversation, wine and Wild Turkey.
Overnight snow put paid to our plans to trek the Kaibab Trail on Thursday morning. We ‘settled’ instead for walking the entire south rim trail; as we kept saying, every choice we had was good. We talked, paused to take photos, held each other when we slipped on the ice. We had several close encounters with elk, saw a flock of bright blue pinyon jays and spotted a condor on our westward walk. When it looked like we risked missing our tour bus back to Sedona, a couple from Minnesota came to our rescue, driving us back to the village.
Friday we returned to Phoenix to meet Jodie’s 16-year-old daughter, Caroline, who flew in from Seattle to spend the weekend. Jodie treated us to a wonderful hotel in Phoenix, and thanks to a great tip from an Uber driver, we ended up at a fabulous Mexican restaurant, Los Olivos, for dinner. Caroline retired early, leaving Jodie and to to keep talking…until 2 in the morning.
To say it was as if the past 32 years hadn’t happened would be trite: we’ve both been through major rites of passage since we last met. As the mother of teenagers, who has also lost both her parents, Jodie has walked tough paths that still lie ahead of me. I am grateful for what she shared with me this past week, and for the benefit of her wisdom and experience.
But to rekindle what was a significant friendship 32 years ago, and experience the intimacy and joy of that friendship all over again… Again, I am lost for words. ‘Gift’ comes to mind. Likewise ‘grace’. Words with religious connotations that make me squirm, but that go some way towards describing how precious this past week has been.
I don’t usually blog about stuff as personal as this, but I’ve chosen to do so for two reasons: to thank all those back in our respective homes who encouraged and supported Jodie and me to spend this past week together; and to encourage anyone reading this who has a friend they miss to make the time to reconnect.
Life is short. Seize the day. Seize a whole week if you can.
As for me and Jodie, we’re already planning our next reunion.