They’re my human Christmas cards, joy in the flesh and unwrapped, laughing presents exploding with a year’s worth of stories, relationships, work and secrets about places women find joy.
Dani and Dean.
It cannot be a coincidence that two of the most brilliant (not a word I over use), fearless and accomplished women I know were raised in large part by the same kind of women.
One black. One white. Each categorically inspirational in the examples they gave their girls and now my friends are 21st-century, leaner versions of their mothers.
Not because they’re competing with their mothers the sad and unmedicated way some grown women do, but because they’ve taken advantage of every opportunity their mothers laid out for them like school clothes the night before.
Post-post-graduate educations, worldwide travel, scholarship, leadership, big mouths, causes, children and a husband (Dean), and progressive stances on children and husbands (Dani).
It was Dean, Dani’s high-school English teacher, who introduced Dani, once a high-school history teacher and an aspiring journalist and now a journalist, to me.
I was never certain if Dani and I were supposed to affect the posture of master and teacher but she is my peer, publishing on such subjects as women’s reproductive rights and trans-national female change agents, among other subjects, in all the right hallowed annals like The New York Times, The Nation, bitch and some other places too smart for an old dog like me.
And when I think of the tirelessness and the unselfishness of mothers I admire because they most remind me of my own mother, I think of Dean who has a spookily intuitive way of anticipating the needs of her loved ones.
I rarely have to speak the heavy things to Dean.
When Dean gave birth to Francine Anne, my sister-in-law was grieving Kennedy Anne, her own baby soon to die from a rare genetic disorder. Born prematurely, Kennedy died the day she was supposed to be born. About the same time Darren, Dean’s husband and my friend long before he married Dean, called to tell me Dean and Francine were doing fine.
I went to their house and Dean met me at the door with Francine, swaddled in her parents’ love and adoration.
Without speaking, Dean handed me Francine and left the room.
I held Francine’s fuzzy white head to my cheek and wept so hard it looked like she was crying my tears.
How did Dean know I needed to hold a baby, if only as a temporary reprieve — not a substitution — from the loss of my own dead niece? How did she know words would be too trifling, too trite, too miserable?
And she listens.
Years before my mother died two days before Mother’s Day 2005, I’d mentioned in passing to Dean how much I loved zucchini bread. In the early days of my grieving, I languished, so paralyzed by grief that I barely ever moved.
I self-medicated with prescription Ambien and copious amounts of marijuana just so I could stay asleep because sleep is where I met my mother in fantastic dreams where she called out to me to come to her like she did when I was a girl playing in another part of the house.
Kathy! Kathy! Kathy!
When I wasn’t sleeping I was dead awake, as I called it.
But mostly I slept well into the late, late afternoons after staying up until dawn being watched by the television.
One morning? Night? I heard a voice calling me while I slept.
I dug deeper, assuming it was my mother again.
I didn’t want to lose the feeling.
It persisted until I woke up and heard it still.
It was Dean, standing beneath my bedroom window on a school morning holding aloft a loaf of warm, homemade zucchini bread wrapped in a tea towel I still use.
I came to the sidewalk in my pajamas and we embraced for a long good time right there in full view of morning commuters.
To this day, I eat zucchini bread because it reminds me of Dean’s lovingkindness.
Dani listens, too.
If you’ve been weathered by loss then you know the refrain: If there’s ever anything I can do, don’t hesitate to call me.
Bullshit, for the most part.
But Dani asked me what I needed.
I told her what I wanted, a simple request: smoked turkey with mustard and spinach leaves on marble rye from the now-defunct What’s For Dinner?
It was all I could eat and all I craved.
But I was busy being immobile and isolated, remember?
So Dani would call on her way home to Clifton from Clark Montessori where she was teaching.
“I’ma ’bout to swing past your way. Are you eating? Do you need anything?”
She brought those sandwiches until my craving ceased and when she did, she never stayed longer than I wanted her to because, like Dean, she intuited my needs and my biggest need then was to be alone in my misery.
Dean and Dani have waited on my sorry ass to return emails, phone calls; to reciprocate with updates, even when my life was in the crapper.
“So, what’s going on with you?”
If I sound like a miserable lout, it’s because I can be.
But, man, oh man, have Dean, Dani and I belly-laughed, bent at the waist, at some ridiculousness from Brooklyn to Boston to New Jersey.
Whether as a trio — as we will traditionally be while they’re home for Christmas — or as Kathy and Dani or Dean and Kathy, we share the Silent Language Of Us.
That is, our memories and bonds are so tightly tethered and there’s so much Us under the bridge that we can just shoot that look.
It says: Wait ‘til it’s just us, then we’ll talk about it, for real.
Soon as we’re alone we burst into laughter and it’s my favorite time because they’ve seen me crying enough.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]