Thursday, June 8, 2006

My Real Life Friend, Cecily

Road to Fall, 2004, Oil on Panel

I want to extend a big congratulations to my friend Cecily and her husband Charlie on the birth of their baby girl on Wednesday. They went to hell and back, a few times, to have her and I wish all three of them health and happiness.

Cecily and I were good friends for several years when I was a student in Philadelphia back in the 80's. I was out with a friend of mine, Tom Leonard and he started talking to Cecily and her friend and roommate Sara (I think he liked Sara a bit). Anyway the four of us closed the bar down and then went to hang out at their apartment, talking and drinking until the wee hours of the morning. Cecily and I found that we had much in common, including a rootless childhood, an absent father, poverty, weight issues, art (she is a writer), politics and we both had been on our own since the age of seventeen. So we became fast friends and spent much of our time at one (or both in a night) of two dive bars, McGlinchey's, her favorite, or at Dirty Frank's, my favorite. Cecily was opinionated, loud, brassy, fiercely loyal and passionate. She nursed me through a really awful relationship and its aftermath, not to mention a few bad flings as well and she listened patiently to my endless and pathetic rants. She and Sara had bashes at their house that were legendary, full of melodrama, music and dancing. I spent holidays at her house, she always had a houseful of friends and other strays over and we would all cook a big dinner. Once we spent days watching every movie (she had a VCR!) ever made by John Waters. But mostly we spent our time sitting at the bars, drinking. We knew everyone and everyone knew us. We never had to ask for a drink-the bartenders knew what we drank and we always sat in the same few spots at the bar. Yes, it was like Norm and Cliff. So much of our lives unfolded at McGlinchey's (we ended up mostly going there after awhile-a draft beer was only 25 cents and that was great for our 0 dollar budgets). I remember watching the 1988 Olympics there, a friend contracted AIDS and later died, others came and went. We had endless loud and obnoxious debates with other stupid drunk people. We were there on Thanksgiving night, and New Years Eve. We met a group of five or six Navy guys who we hung out with and we both had an infatuation with one or more of them alternately, for months. Sometimes all of these memories are wonderful to me, I loved having such a close friend, who I could trust and who cared about me. On the other hand, it's painful to think about, as I see now how we were both on a slide down in our young lives, down towards alcoholism and self-degradation. We treated ourselves badly, yet thought we were cool and bohemian.

I finished school in the spring of 1988 and spent several months looking for a job and trying to get illustration work. I would have had more success had I not spent every single night that summer at the bars. It was a extraordinarily hot and muggy summer, I had a lousy apartment, no money (I actually lost weight that summer because I didn't have enough money for food), no job and I was so unbearably lonely. It was the lowest point of my life and if it hadn't been for my friendship with Cecily, something to hang on to, things might have ended badly for me that summer. In the fall I happened upon a job and subsequently met my husband. I stopped drinking as much, and while not officially an alcoholic, I WAS thisclose, and I considered myself lucky to be able to just leave that lifestyle. I stopped going out each night, preferring Doug's company to drinking and degradation, and gradually I saw less and less of Cecily. I felt very badly about that and she was angry and resentful towards me, but I knew I had to get away from that scene in order to have a better life. I finally could see that there was something better for me, if I wanted it. Cecily, unfortunately had to go a bit lower, before she was able to turn things around for herself. I won't go into the details, as it's her story to tell, but the last time I saw her she had changed for the worse. Doug and I eventually moved away to Connecticut and I lost contact with Cecily. I managed to pull myself together, be a productive citizen and even have a family.

Around 2001 or so I got an email from Cecily. She had found me through my college's alumni page and I was so happy to hear from her. When she told me what she had happened to her since we last talked, I was so shocked, yet somehow not, by how much she had been through. We had email contact for several years and then about a year ago, Doug and I and the kids visited Philadelphia and Cecily and I had dinner and talked for hours into the night. It was like picking up where we had left off in the bar one night. Except without the beer and vomit. She was the same in so many ways, but had turned into a more compassionate, thoughtful and more insightful version of her younger self. I felt proud of her and was impressed about what she had accomplished personally and professionally.

But Cecily's struggles weren't over. She and Charlie have recently faced infertility, and the death of their twins and she has handled it all with guts and grace, which you will see if you read her blog. Her humor, humility and sheer determination have been an inspiration to so many people and she has thousands of loyal readers, all of whom are so thrilled that her baby has arrived safely, though not without a bit of drama. And I am so happy too, that my friend, who helped me through a bad time, even as she was in trouble, has the baby that she and Charlie have dreamed of for so long. They will be great parents and so appreciative of every moment.

Even if she does still curse like the sailors we used to know :-)


Shan said...

This is a wonderful post--a really beautiful, raw, honest tribute to friendship.

Tracy said...

Thanks, Shan.

Ed Maskevich said...

Opinionated, loud, brassy, fiercely loyal and passionate, these are WONDERFUL qualities to have in a friend. It seems that for most of my life this is the kind of person who is not afraid to talk to me and the kind of person I can talk to and with freely. Cecily is a wonderful gift from God. I would say cherish her but it is obvious that you do already.

Tracy said...

You are right Ed, those characteristics are good to have in a friend, if a bit challenging sometimes:-)

Thanks for your kind words.

Bart said...

Impressive post, made me silent.

Ann Kirschner said...

Hi Tracy---boy, did this entry take me back. I too spent a lot of time after work in the 1980s at McGlinchey's and Dirty Frank's. Those were the days when half the smoke in the bar could have come from me!

I too was very moved by your account of your friendship with Cecily---you are so fortunate!

On another note, I located two of the paintings I asked you about recently but now have to save up some moola!
Best, Ann

Tracy said...

Thanks, Bart. I think we all must have a history that has changed us somehow.

Hi Ann, oh those were the days, huh? Well not really, but they did provide me with a few good stories now. I wonder if we ever crossed paths, not that I would remember...