That One Friend Who Really Gets You

That One Friend Who Really Gets You

I’ve been friends with Jane since we were 14. We met at a ridiculously named program – Project for the Study of Academic Precocity – for gifted high school kids, held over summer break on the Arizona State University campus. We were assigned side-by-side seats because of the alphabet. She was Jane Oh. I am still Laura Orsini. She lived in Sierra Vista – a small town about 190 miles SE of Phoenix. After the summer program finished, we exchanged letters. Written on paper. Which we mailed in envelopes. With stamps on them. The kind you had to lick. Jane was the most amazing letter writer. She would pen epistles to rival any of the Evangelists – except that hers were hysterical. I would read them, rolling on the floor laughing, and when my family would ask, “What’s so funny?” I would shrug and say, “Nothing. Why?”

Friendship is a strange animal. For one thing, I’m not very good at them. Long-term ones, anyway. I have friends now – people I live and work and hang out with here in Phoenix, a handful of whom I’m pretty close to. But while I still know people from my grade school, high school, and college days, I wouldn’t say I’m still friends with any of them. My way is to live in the moment – which means I don’t do such a good job of hanging onto people and things from the past. In certain ways, that could be a positive, I suppose. But it’s left a wake of used-to-be friendships behind me – not because of any specific falling out, but usually just due to growing apart.

Except for Jane.

She’s the one rock – the one person who goes back with me to almost the beginning.

And we couldn’t be more different. She was born in Korea, and her family moved to the U.S. when she was six or seven years old. It used to crack me up when people would ask her where she was from – racist people who see a “different” person and make an automatic assumption – and she would tell them, “Baltimore.”

She was also from “another religion.” I grew up Catholic – as far as my father was concerned, there were no other religions. All others were imposters, sad wannabes who had no claim. When I was 16 and went to visit Jane one summer, my father reminded me, “Be sure you get to Mass on Sunday!” When I told him that if I couldn’t go to Mass, I’d just go to church with Jane’s family, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. “NO!” he shouted, his face red and ready to explode. “If you can’t go to Mass, you don’t go to church at all!” What the fuck? How on earth would it be better to not go at all than to go to a different church? What I never told him was that I went with Jane to her church and she came with me to Mass on the Fort Huachuca Army Base.

Jane’s parents spoke Korean at home – she understood them, but always answered in English. They were always very nice to me, even though I seldom understood a word they were saying. At her wedding, I was one of two non-Koreans; the other was the husband of one of Jane’s friends, so he at least spoke the language.

While I’d never call them Tiger parents, Dr. and Mrs. Oh had definite ideas about how they wanted Jane to grow up and what they wanted her to do with her life. She was an amazing visual artist who was also the most center-brained person I’d ever met. She was equally as good at math and science as she was at writing. She would have loved to go to art school, but that was out of the question. Her parents’ first choice for her was to follow in her dad’s footsteps and go medical school. She said no way. Second was law school, which she agreed to.

We wound up living in the same city – Tucson, Arizona – for a few years after college, while she was in law school. But then she moved to California, got married, started a family, and our contact has been sporadic across the years. And yet it’s one of those friendships you read about in storybooks. Sit us down with two cups of tea and a couple [dozen] hours on the clock, and it’s like time hasn’t passed at all.

So Jane was one of the only people I initially confided in about my pregnancy. And from the start, she referred to Eric’s adoptive family as his “other family.” It’s one of the things I’ve most loved about her because it always made me feel more connected to him than I think I might otherwise have done. So that’s where the name for this blog comes from. Eric’s Other Mother. His actual mother, Kathy, is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met – and I have no doubt that she will be fine with this title.