Interlude Chapter: Confessions on **Gina
Gina was my very first best friend. She lived only one street away from me in a freshly painted white house with sculptures and multi-colored and aligned flowers adorned outside. The inside was even more glorious and beautiful with the latest technological gadgets, most modern furniture, fancy paintings, other glittering assortments, and toys galore that made me gape and gasp. The beauty and comfort of her home and life seemed to sharply contrast with mine. I will never remember how Gina came into my life, but I will always believe that she came when I needed someone to introduce me to the magic and wonders of a childhood life.
Our friendship began with our love for the “Baby-Sitters Club” book series. We were so obsessed that we came up with the idea to create our own baby-sitting agency. We went from door-to-door to promote our agency. Our neighbors looked at us with an amused gleam in their eyes and nodded agreeably when we explained our agency and our childcare services. A day later, we gave up this idea and returned to reading and swooning over the characters in the book series.
Our friendship manifested into other small and treasured moments. Gina said I taught her how to curse. When she announced the foul word for the first time, she was rewarded with a harsh scolding. She said I taught her how to blow the largest bubble out of a sugary and syrupy wad of pink Bubblicious bubble gum. She claimed I was a crybaby when I dropped a bowling ball on my foot at her bowling ball birthday party and howled and bawled like a banshee. According to her, I refused soothing comfort and threw such a severe tantrum that I was forced to return home instead of enjoy the rest of her party. Gina was the one to try to teach me to skateboard. I was wobbly placed on her fluorescent pink skateboard and I went sprawled on the pavement after she merely gave my body a gentle nudge. I cried, and she picked me up again. Even back then, she was able to pick up the pieces that I believed were left to stay there in all their shards.
Gina hid me in her basement from my sister when my sister was performing her sisterly duty of picking me up from my friend’s home. As I crouched in the dark in Gina’s basement, I eyed her drum set and toys, stuffed animals, and trinkets decked out haphazardly on the floor. I thought that it would be so wonderful if I could stay there in the basement forever. I heard Gina say to my sister in a confident and high-pitched voice as she guarded the door: “Mary’s not here. I don’t know what happened to her.” I grinned at her announcement, hugged my knees, and closed my eyes. I could already see Gina and I just playing with toys forever. My sister snapped: “I know she’s in there. Open the door.” Before Gina could say anything, my sister turned the knob, yanked hard on the door, and dragged me out. I squirmed and whined all the way back home with my sister’s iron hold grip on my wrist.
There was only one very distinct memory I had of us that meant the most to me. Gina and I had a tradition of walking each other back and forth and side by side to each other’s houses because we never wanted our time together to end. It did not matter if we were wearing bulky parkas and had our tongues stuck out to catch the falling ticklish snowflakes or if gusts of heavy winds whirled dark red and orange autumn leaves around our ankles. It did not matter if the heat from the sun burnt us or if the bees chased us as the first bud of flowers bloomed when Spring arrived. No matter the season, we methodically walked back and forth and side by side. When we finally arrived at the other person’s home, one of us said: “Okay, now it is my turn to walk you back home.”
After I met Gina, my school life transformed into a whimsical and wonderful world filled with laughter and joy rather than anti-social awkwardness where I sat on the sidelines. I sang the song-like rhymes as I jumped rope. I could not help but laugh aloud when I most often ended up tripping over the rope. I skipped around the playground. I experimented with the various playground equipments at recess time at school. I hopscotched on the pink and yellow chalked boxed designs. I chatted, squealed, screamed in delight, giggled, and played games with my other classmates. I forgot about the realities of my family and health problems. I was living my childhood life to the fullest.
As Gina and I transitioned from childhood to adulthood, Gina went from red-framed glasses to purple contacts to now simply chocolate brown contacts with her eyes heavily outlined to make her already large eyes even more luminous. Her silky dark brown hair had already undergone numerous colors from a frosted blonde to light brown with tinted strands. She often complained that her hair was frizzy and combated this with an upscale flat iron. As we grew older, we had just about nothing in common but still kept in contact. She was quiet, serious, and shy. She went through a phase of somber poetry and dark clothing while listening to head-banging heavy metal music and careening precariously on windy roads in her black and speedy Jetta car. I was the chatty goofball that cracked stupid jokes and laughed loudly at myself or at nothing at all. I was the voice of logic and practicality, while she was completely spontaneous, unexpected, and adventurous. Somehow, we made our time together work as we followed through with our tradition of meeting at an American diner with our all-American meals where I often chattered endlessly and she listened quietly. My lips puckered into a fish kiss with a straw in between my lips when I drank a velvety vanilla egg cream or devoured into my hearty cheeseburger with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese topped over crunchy and golden French fries. Gina was the complete opposite and a poster child for a health magazine with her colorful fruit cup assortment and grilled chicken sandwich—without the actual sandwich or bread because she had an aversion to carbohydrates of any form. When we were together, we fell into easy conversations about the past, mediocre conversations about the present, and questionable conversations about the future. When we were together, we slipped into an even easier ability to just enjoy each other’s company without talking. Time would go by in a comforting silence between the both of us as we listened to the murmur of other people’s discussions or her latest heavy metal song that was blasted at the highest volume when we were in her car. With her, silence was golden and everything simple from the twinkling stars while she zipped around in her car to just being with one another meant more than anything.
A secret that I kept for as long as I knew Gina was I had a putrid green jealousy of her and her seemingly picture perfect family, particularly after the downfall of my family. I never told Gina this weighted secret that sat on and in me. I mistakenly thought she had the perfect life from the surface image of her classic nuclear family: Mother, Father, her younger brother, her, and their lovable and cuddly dog. I saw my family and my health problems as a completed jigsaw piece with ugly and mismatched colors and shapes as the picture. Meanwhile, her family seemed so put together by money and exterior appearance. I was wide-eyed when I gawked at her flawlessly manicured home that suddenly seemed to pale in comparison to my brick red house. Her Father freely providing her with crisp green U.S. dollar bills for material goodies made me think that money was really able to buy happiness. I felt a stinging sensation of envy that her Father’s money went to such fun items like Italian brand named clothing to that sleek black car of hers that came equipped with seat warmers and glowing purple and red lights that automatically turned on when night replaced day. Meanwhile, I believed that my Father’s money seemed to go to my health bills and the forced financial support of both my sister and me without my mother. It was not until 20+ years later of being friends with Gina when I learned that no one was perfect and sometimes those who appeared the most perfect of all were ridden with imperfections.
Unlike other people my age and even myself, Gina played the parental role in taking care of her mother who suffered from multiple sclerosis. She drove her mother to and from everywhere, gave injections, and was simply yet most complicatedly always there for her mother. Before or after our late night American diner escapades, she was there to provide her mother with the support she needed for a debilitating disease that received little care or concern around the world compared to other more well-known and media-covered illnesses. Even during our time spent together, Gina checked on her mother. Gina also kept her Father and brother in check with cooking meals, keeping silent when she needed to keep silent, and doing all that she had to do to maintain the peace and to hold everyone together. It took me years to see that Gina did not have the perfect family or life, and she really was one of the most selfless and giving people with her sense of responsibility and putting her family and others before herself without a complaint ever mumbled or muttered from her mouth.
In my eyes, Gina was and still is one of the most special people in my life. The greatest gift she ever gave me was my very first taste of a beautiful and sweet childhood friendship at a time when I already felt overly aged from my broken family and health problems as well as overly fearful that these health problems would resurface and blow up in my face. Until I met Gina, my childhood was rotted with memories of an unhappy family, snippets of painful health episodes, and awkward school days with other children. With Gina, my childhood became a wondrous and beautiful time that was filled with laughter, book series, bubble gum-blowing, skateboarding attempts, and simply walking just side by side in the magnificence of Mother Nature. She also made me remember the happy and good times with my family before it became ugly with my parents fighting and my Mother leaving. I began to value and see just how beautiful my life was with my health back and my Father and sister who engulfed me with their own brand of love, care, and concern. And, lastly, Gina made me see that money and freedom from any physical health problems did not equate to freedom from any problems at all and, rather, every single walking and breathing human being that walked the face of this earth had problems—even someone who looked as perfect as Gina and her family. Often, what we are envious of is what we see on the surface rather than what is really experienced beneath the surface. It was only from her that I learned that the grace and beauty of a human being was not by being perfect, but rather by just being human: perfectly imperfect in every way.
When Gina and I were children and fell into our custom of walking to each other’s homes, it was never about the arrival but it was about walking side by side with one another as friends do. This is the same as life. Thanks to Gina and my very special friendship with her, I understood that life’s best and worst moments were meant to be experienced with a loved one rather than alone and it was always the process of being with that loved one and learning that mattered more than the end result.
**denotes created name to protect privacy of individual