My Best Friend Deb & Why Women At Woodstock East Was So Important to Me
by Ann Voorhees Baker, founder
Women at Woodstock
I’ve started to write about Women At Woodstock East 2013 a dozen times – and stopped, because I can’t really talk about what I experienced without first talking about my friend Deb. And for the last month I haven’t been able to talk about Deb, even via a blog post.
So I’ll start by saying that when Suzanne Braun Levine stood up to moderate the discussion in our Friendships & Intimacy workshop on Day 3, what she said caused me to nosedive into a deep sadness I’d been trying to tamp down for the past three days, and at the same time her words delivered to me a small gift of forgiveness – simply by knowing that I was not the only one. Suzanne remarked that she hoped that in the future, divisions between life as a mother and life as a professional woman won’t be so sharply demarcated as to cause rifts in friendships among women during the child-raising years. Yes, that was exactly what had happened to my friendship with my best friend Deb.
Deb and I met on our very first day of law school and formed a bond in the following days unlike any other I’ve had, and our friendship endured – in high spirits – through the three years of school that followed and the years we coincidentally ended up living in New York City, donning our “lawyer costumes” every day, as she liked to say. We met for dinner after work at the Brass Moon Café, The Plaza, Deluxe, the Oyster Bar, Carmine’s, Café Lalo. She was my bridesmaid, second only to my sister, at my wedding in St. Paul’s chapel on the Columbia campus. We and our husbands cooked together – the ultimate New York Yuppies enjoying four professional salaries, drinking expensive French wine recommended by Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, eating smoked mussels and saga bleu, roasting a goose with brandied prune stuffing, crumbling stilton onto water crackers and sipping tawny port. One of those nights Deb tried a “gourmet” chili recipe and we didn’t eat until 10:30, each with a half cup of the stuff at the bottoms of our bowls when it cooked down to nothing. Ever after, whenever a waiter at some “must try” restaurant put down a paltry serving of something, all we had to say, dourly, was “Oh, Deb’s chili,” and she would fume.
One of our favorite ways, Deb and I, to spend a Saturday afternoon was to go to Balducci’s without our husbands – especially without hers, who always whined about spending money on something so unnecessary as lovely food. He would literally moan as we put a little box of miniature pear-shaped tomatoes into our basket, or asked for glaced apricots, or a slice of taleggio, or told the butcher we’d like a quarter pound of bresaola. How many times did we gather our meats and cheeses and a fresh baguette, run to her apartment to watch movies on her VCR, and consume everything with a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes (hers)?
We took vacations together, bringing our husbands and one or two other couples we were close to. Our first real “adult” vacation was to a cabin I’d found in the Times classifieds and rented sight unseen (so before the internet!) located on “Lake Desloation” (for real; the typo was even on the town sign). Deb walked in the door looking carsick, and set down a bag with a block of American cheese, a pack of hot dogs, and Wonder hot dog buns that her cheapskate of a husband had made her buy for their contribution to the weekend’s repast – and she burst into tears when I cried out, “What the F&*#!!” Of course we’d both known that this was going to happen, and I’d heated up my resentment in advance, while she’d carried the dread of my sure anger, along with her bag of low-quality groceries, all the way up the Thruway. The cabin turned out to have curtains instead of doors to the bedrooms, the “fire pit” was actually a rickety tinny barbecue on wheels, and the promised rowboat was technically a rowboat, but bent in such a way as to travel only in wide circles. She rubbed my face in these faults mercilessly. “Nice cabin, Ann. Great set-up.” The shabby disgrace of the place inspired us to leave the beer bottles rolling all over the floor when one of us accidentally knocked over a trash sack, and we just kept adding bottles as our days went by. We moved in slow motion on our way to the refrigerator or stove, shuffling through the the sea of clanking glass that all of us, by unspoken agreement, refused to pick up. For years after, Deb loved to expound upon the cabin’s virtues with ever more elaborate detail, for the entertainment of friends new and old, while I glared at her. My cabin was her chili.
On days when I would call and Deb was in one of her melancholy moods, she would greet me wistfully. “Hello Ann, old sock.” She and I knew our family histories, relationship foibles, fears and triumphs, insecurities and conceits as if they were our own. I was known, completely. Deb was the absolute opposite of loneliness.
The Inevitable Rift
I got pregnant with my first daughter during our sixth year in New York City, and Deb said jokingly, but at the same time sadly, that we weren’t going to be friends anymore once I had the baby. When my daughter was born, she gave me a beautifully wrapped gift from an expensive boutique on the Upper West Side; a tiny little dress and booties set – soft and fleecy, all in black.
Her words of doom were a self-fulfilling prophecy. In another year, my little family moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio, I gave up practicing law, and I was indeed focused on my daughter. Deb and I tried to keep in touch – but the rift had begun and grew only wider. We never fought or “broke up,” we just sort of fell away. She took vacations with her other friends. We camped every year in the Adirondacks with another family with young children. She got a hairless cat and named him Cyril. I had a second daughter. She made annual forays to London, home of her beloved Oscar Wilde. I started making trips to Michigan and Kentucky for horse shows in which my daughter was competing. She started doing stand-up comedy at small clubs in Manhattan. I started publishing a regional parenting magazine.
She never once visited me in Ohio. I think the idea of witnessing in person my Shaker Heights Mom life was just too much to bear.
We stopped talking by phone. I essentially ignored Deb, and she me, in the way that one does a distant grandmother. Secretly I felt she thought she was too cool for me. And she was, in many ways. But it was alright. We both knew that our friendship was solid as concrete, and it would be fixed later, when this was all over – the child raising and the divorcing and the moving again and the remarrying and all of it. We would reconnect again.
We emailed sometimes, and we saw each other only very occasionally when I would come to New York City for one reason or another and we could spend a day in our old stomping ground. Every six months or so, then eight, then in time measured by years, one of us would send an email and we would start it invariably with an insult or something embarrassing or shameful. “I baked a cheesecake bigger than your head. And ate most of it.” “Today when I sat down on the A train, I honest to god thought that the people opposite me were smirking – at me. And for some reason I turned around, and there right behind my head, peering in the window, was a reprehensible middle-aged man, eyes wild, hefting his two cupped hands high behind my head as if wielding two big cantaloupes. Such was the nature of today’s compliment. Apparently my breasts are so remarkable as to be worthy of public parody.”
Her last email to me was just one line: “Write to me, bitch!”