It isn't always about the grand gestures, though, like the "rocks" who drop everything to feed your family, walk your dog, and hold your hand when the cancer goblin comes knocking or the affair is exposed. It isn't just the old-time pals who are familiar with your every little secret and know instinctively whether to ask the hard questions or just be still and make casseroles. We find the everyday modest and mundane movements crucial as well—the colleagues, neighbors, and lunch pals who check in from time to time or suggest a run or a cocktail at the precise nanosecond of need, the ones who patiently indulge our love, work, and ethical quandaries de jour, or gift us with tiny windows of release through seemingly "nothing" coffee breaks, strolls, or two-minute phone chats.
I think of my sister Stacy in this light. Some of us poke fun at poor Stace because she literally calls our mother, me, and her legions of friends around the country up to two or three times a day while carpooling in her minivan. (My other sister, Tricia, escapes this attention by pretty much avoiding the phone altogether.) I really don't know how Stacy does it. Oftentimes, I'm sure I can't take the few minutes in my busyness, so I cut her off with a Maybe later. Other times I scold her for chitchatting on her cell while driving or ordering coffee. It's dangerous! It's rude! Your politics are crazy! And sometimes, yes, I ignore the call because I know I can take her for granted; she'll still be there for me. But you know what? Those calls—actually, the mere fact that she even thinks of me—really do leaven the day with a blast of comfort and familiarity that each of us on the receiving end would be devastated to lose. In the final analysis, women in our lives so often grant us the validation we crave by simply reaching out and showing up. I can't put it less tritely or more lyrically than that. Women like Stacy are our winking, blinking, beckoning lighthouses, ready and waiting for us in the shit storms and the calm.
Of course, nothing worthwhile, as they say, comes easy. A number of women in my survey emphasized how even the best of their friendships have proven high maintenance and weathered (or not weathered) some appreciable ups and downs; we're human, after all. Take my old friend Teri and me. We couldn't be more different. We've definitely ridden out the roller coasters (like, say, ditching each other in New York on our way to see Madonna in '88 over something trivial that neither of us can now recall). We've moved around so many times it's nothing short of a miracle that we remain tight. Yet, we can live thousands of miles apart, go for weeks or months without talking, and still finish each other's sentences or be struck by the same obscure cultural absurdity, confident that there's only one other person out there who'd truly get it. The woman knows all my quirks and secrets and hasn't bailed on me yet, not even when I've held out on her emotionally (which is most of the past twenty-five years), not even when I nearly killed her in a hideous motor scooter accident, not even when I've proven a lame godmother. At this point, we've become such a Beaches cliche, it's ridiculous. And I take none of it for granted.