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When we’re together, there’s both unbridled joy – and impending regret. Our visits are always over too soon.

The “we” in question includes me and three other women: My biological sister Ruthie and the set of sisters who grew up next door to us in our Philadelphia row home and who may as well be our biological sisters, save for the genetics.

Joycie, now widowed, had the audacity to move to Portland at this senior stage of our lives, breaking the geographical bond. Circumstances, specifically the Portland presence of a daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, made that decision the right one.

It’s tough to define, let alone explain, besties. They are the people we go to when we’re at our highest and lowest, and maybe not quite enough in between.

We know one another’s foibles, worst and best traits, and impossible dreams. They are the ones who will come running when needed – and have.

I’m not sure men are as good at cultivating and maintaining these rich, remarkable alliances. I say that not to be sexist, but rather because I think women are better at intimacy and trust because it’s in our DNA – or our socialization.

I’ve been thinking more about my sister and these besties since we recently reunited. My husband snapped some photos of us, despite our protests that we didn’t care to face our faces so much these days, now that we’re all social security/Medicare-qualified and then some. He refused to retreat, and now I’m glad.

I love Joycie, the oldest of our quartet, for her absolute honesty. “You’re being so foolish!” she chided me as we sat in my living room spilling our thoughts about everything from our parents’ deaths many years ago to how to apply mascara without poking our eyes out.

My foolishness, as the sole one of our quartet who is still married, is to bury my head in the sand about learning and practicing independence. I am a totally dependent wife, and we all know how dangerous that is.

Coming from Joycie, and knowing the love behind the scolding, I listen. And I sense a change – a slow one – coming.

Joycie’s sister Nancy, the baby of the group, will always steer us back to logic and reason when we stray. She’s had her knocks and knows that life can sock you in the jaw. She is the voice of reason.

My big sister Ruthie is our resident dreamer – brilliant and impractical but wise in her own unique ways.

Such different women. So unlike one another that this lasting friendship would seem unlikely. But we know otherwise. We are one another’s honor guard and protectors, decades after we smoked our first forbidden cigarettes and read movie magazines as if they were the Holy Grail.

We marvel that among us now are seven children and 11 grandchildren living on planet Earth.

My besties are the only people I would dare to ask about the last time they cried – and over what – and expect and get an answer.

I think of this era of Facebook friends, of the shorthand “connection” that passes for true friendship these days. And then I think of Ruthie, Joycie and Nancy and what we have. It’s a gift of a different order and species.

Yes, I wish they lived in the next house or across the street or across town. I wish we could take walks together and drink tea together and pig out on ice cream (except Ruthie, who would insist on a low-fat substitute). But we don’t have those luxuries that proximity brings.

So we settle for the next best thing: Being anchored by our past, by talks so fluid and free-floating that they are impossible to encapsulate, and by the notion that out there in this weary and battered world there are three women who would not be complete without one another, who love each other unconditionally across time and tempests.

August 2016
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