Susan approached me cautiously at first. She was a brand new mother, finding her boundaries and striving for balance. She was brave and bold and confident. Wicked smart and self-possessed. In contrast, I was an eager puppy, lonely for female friendship in a new town, craving and seeking an exemplar of womanhood that I could emulate. I was newly married, newly graduated, newly employed, and in complete awe of her intuitive way with children, cosmopolitan experiences, easy way with creativity and innate understanding of the natural world. I thought she was everything I was not. And in many ways, she was. And is.
Slowly we discovered each other. We told our stories. Then we told them again, with more color, shading, and nuance. And then we told them again, analyzing our actions, then the actions of others. Connecting our stories. Finding the parallels. Synthesizing our experiences and linking them to universal themes... from the mundane to the sublime. Through much laughter and some tears, we experienced epiphany after epiphany over years of lunches, hers made by her mother in law, mine, by the lunch ladies. (We are both still suckers for a school lunch tray heaped with turkey noodles, mashed potatoes, and gravy).
Soon, we became two. The NPR ladies. The organized one and the creative one. Aliens/Pack. Sometimes, we were one word. Pett/Loughrin. Susan/Jen.
Books infused our stories. We traded books and discussed them constantly, furtively. We found ourselves in constant, running conversations that picked up immediately where they left off. Sometimes my private thinking even felt like a conversation between us, with me predicting her responses to my queries. The conversations were grounded by thematic archetypes and sprinkled with leitmotifs. We were continually surprised and astounded by how our current reading life and our "real" lives were so interconnected. We read voraciously, often noting and thinking about how the other would respond to a plot point, theme, character, or a particular turn of a phrase.
Our husbands became friends. We became friends with each other's husbands. My husband and I adored her son, a wise-eyed old soul. They sang for us. We cooked for them. We were all so happy to have each other.
But then, it was time for me to go. I was heartbroken to leave. She was afraid and guarded. . .that she let herself be vulnerable and now I was off and away. I reassured her repeatedly. . . I am good at this part. I am good at keeping bonds close.
Fast forward sixteen years.
She now has two teenage sons. I have four young sons, one of whom is named after her eldest.
We are still good at this.
The conversation continues. The book sharing continues. The talking and thinking, listening and laughing, analyzing and distilling. It all continues.
So when she told me to read She Matters: A Life in Friendship, by Susanna Sonnenberg, I did. I savored the stories of friendship dissected, of intimacies, misunderstandings, and betrayals. I reveled in Sonnenberg's honesty and fearlessness. I have so many, many things to talk with Susan about after finishing this unique memoir chronicling a lifetime of women's friendships.
Everytime she recommends a book, I read it. Because what she reads matters. And she matters. She matters very much.