Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy birthday, Ruthie

How we discovered our mutual love of fountains, I'm not sure. Frolicking in fountains became a signature mark of our friendship not long into our first year. Guess we stumbled upon it, much like our friendship. In college, we shared a few classes, mutual friends, and not much else. I assumed we weren't each other's "type" for whatever reason; in other words, I liked her, but assumed our personalities would never connect enough to move from acquaintances to friends.

Then we moved into an apartment on the edge of Chinatown with one of our mutual friends at the end of summer the year we graduated. At first we shared a space, shared bills, shared a few groceries. After awhile, we'd take late night outings to Uwajimaja, huge Asian grocery store down the street, for mochi ice cream or to our favorite bubble tea joint. She was crazy enough to suggest on a whim at 10pm that we head to our favorite fountain at Fischer Plaza, on the corner of 5th Ave and Denny, to finish our night off with a refreshing romp. Around her, my crazy, spontaneous, childlike side would light up like a lamp. I felt like me.

One of the last experiences we had together as roommates involved hosting a refugee family of six from Somalia in our two-bedroom apartment. They showed us how to eat spaghetti with our hands and we spent the night on the living room floor, rolling around on a queen-sized blow up mattress with four little kids that stole our hearts.

By the time we moved out, off to different places, I was sad to leave her. An unlikely friendship had blossomed under my very nose. Several years later, I drove with her cross-country to Mississippi, car loaded down with her belongings. We naively devoured cherries from a roadside stand upon our entrance to Idaho, spitting the pits out her sunroof and laughing when they'd drop straight back down into her car, and then paid dearly for it by the time we hit Boise. We called her sister passing through tiny towns on a desperate hunt for a Starbucks, asking her for some assistance via internet.
In Utah, we pulled off at a questionable little motel owned by an Indian family, the same night an Indian wedding was taking place. I'd decided I wanted to dye my hair red, so she helped me transform myself. We sheepishly left pink towels in our motel room when we left. In Lincoln, Nebraska, we jumped for joy when we found a fountain downtown and took pictures playing in it. Further along, after like 100 miles of signage alerting us to an upcoming attraction, I begged her to stop off at Ozarkland. An eclectic tourist shop, as it turned out, we wandered the store snickering, pointing out various tempting souvenirs we'd love to buy for friends and family.

I said goodbye to her in Mississippi, knowing she wouldn't be back to live in Seattle for a long time. She spent several years there earning her MA in teaching, then accepted a job offer for a teaching position in Guatemala. On her winter breaks at home, we began the tradition of taking crazy pictures for Christmas cards we'd create at Bartells, a local drugstore, and pass out after Christmas. The first year, it was us in the Seattle Center fountain, wearing rainboots and holding umbrellas. The next year, us on a scooter with ugly stuffed Yorkshire terriers peeking out of our purses.

The summer my dad died, she was in Guatemala. In fact, the day I'd taken her to the airport at 3:30am was the same morning I received the phone call about his fall from a ladder while painting. After his death, knowing she wouldn't be able to return so soon from Guatemala, she offered me something incredible. A ticket to Guatemala. It was my perfect opportunity for a brief escape from the shock of grief, so I took it, gratefully. We spent a month together, exploring the markets and cafes and fountains of Guatemala City where she lived; and farther, to Antigua, where we stayed several nights in tree houses up in the hillside overlooking three volcanoes; and the bustling town of Panajachel along Lake Atitlan, where we zip-lined through a nature reserve with our cameras, fed bananas to spider monkeys, rode a rickety wooden ferris wheel and traveled around town in a little tuk-tuk (taxi). My last night with her in Guatemala, I showed her the slideshow we'd used for Papa's memorial service. We held each other and cried, and then drank huge glasses of red wine.

What began as an arranged friendship of sorts, has grown over the years into something so sweet, so unique, it's hard to contain it with words. I cherish this gift of friendship, her loyalty and honesty, her ability to draw out sides of me that others may not see, her enthusiasm and support of my dreams over the years, her willingness to cry with me and then laugh until more tears stream down our faces.

I love my Ruthie.