Monday, June 28, 2004

Angie, Angie . . . they can't say we never tried

I was driving in the pouring rain Sunday, when "Angie" came on the radio. Everything that Laura was not, Angie was . . . and is.

I met Angie the same year I met Laura, in 1991.

1991 was a crazy, crazy year for me. I had been living in a really small rural town with my husband of 5 years, and the marriage crumbled to dust in April of that year. It was his hometown, and I was the outsider, so he kept the house, I got the furniture, and headed a bit south to give us both some distance.

The town was small and southern and full of carpet mills, trailers on expanses of beautiful farmland, inhabited by hardened people that made their living from the sweat of their brow. Trying to connect with the locals was important to me, and a challenge that I never really mastered. Me, my college education, and corporate job gave everyone the unmistakeable impression that I was wearing a prom dress to the Waffle House. The people were very nice, but completely standoffish.

After I moved and had a couple of months to get over the crying jags, I was ready to venture out for the first time, really. I had been with my husband for years, I had grown up trying my best to live up to his standards of morality and propriety, so I had never really been out to any nighttime places before.

I was 25 and about to experience my first time in a bar, and this one was a doozie. It was a HUGE country bar, with a live band behind chicken wire, several bars, lots of people, and I was determined to make it through one night there just to see if I could.

In that dark, smoky bar, I ran into a girl from the ex's hometown. She had always been nice, and when she saw me, she acted as though she had seen a ghost. After the requisite "What are YOU doing here?"s and "Did I hear that you got divorced? What happened?'s, she invited me to sit with her and her friends, which I was really very grateful for.

The group of girls were there to celebrate a birthday. Angie, at that time, was celebrating her 22nd, and over drinks, and more drinks, we became fast friends. Angie was the opposite of me: she was a short, dark-eyed, teased blonde. In her drunken stupor, she said to me, "You look like a teacher, but I like you. Your ex is an asshole, but I think I like you." From the beginning, she was the kind of friend that fit into your life seamlessly, as though she had been there always.

Angie was still living in the ex's hometown north of me. It was her hometown, too. She was cute as a button, and so smart . . . she had married at 15 and come home a year later in disgrace, and was too ashamed to try to go back to school. Her life in the mills started that same year, as did her affinity for speed and Virginia Slims Menthol Lite 100s.

Over the course of a few months of "partying" with her, she and I talked quite a bit about what my plans were, and what she was doing. She was dating a loser, one that treated her pretty badly, and she was working at a convenience store at night to pass the time and come down from the speed.

One day, I mentioned to her that I wanted to find a little house or condo, something with 2 bedrooms, and that I wanted her to think about moving in with me. Something told me that if she had a chance to get out of that little town, she might have a chance to escape the shackles of that place and the attitudes and the despair that hung over the whole town like those constant clouds of curious smoke that bellowed out of the Union Carbide plant.

I guess she was so used to hearing about pipe dreams, she agreed that she would take me up on the offer, IF I ever got a house. She had never known a woman that was able to get a house on her own, it was beyond the means of most of the couples that she knew to get more than a double-wide, and that was with both of them working overtime at the carpet mill.

She was pretty shocked when I called to tell her I had placed a bid on a nice little place, a foreclosure, and that I would be moving in 30 days, and so would she. She was scared, and immediately backed out. She had gotten in hock with some little loan shark company where she had bought some bedroom furniture. The payments and interest were outrageous. She and I went to my bank and got a little $1,000 signature loan for her to pay off the sharks, move, and have a little buffer. I told her that she could try it for a couple of months, and if things didnt work out, she could go back home, no hard feelings. She did, and she stayed.

Over the course of those 2 years we roomed together, Angie got herself a job in a salon. She also took her GED, and passed it. Without stopping, she enrolled in college, and she earned her paralegal degree. I could not have been prouder of her than I was when I saw her accept her diploma. Her mother and father were beaming, and told everyone that she was the first ever in their family to attend college. It was a miracle to them. It was a miracle to me, too.

By that time, she had kicked the speed and had gained a little weight, as you do. Angie was lonely, and sure that she would never meet anyone nice. But things happen when you least expect them to. Angie met Greg the same month I met my husband. October 1994. It was love at first sight for them. She had a minor fender-bender, and he was the cop that responded to the accident. He was going to law school at night, and they were blissfully in love, and moved in together right away.

Just because we didn't live together anymore didn't mean we drifted apart. Angie stuck by me in the early days after my daughter was born. She came to my house every day to rock the baby while I cold called companies, looking for contract work. She loved my girl, and my girl loved her. I could not have asked for a better friend than her.

Time has marched on . . . her boyfriend and she married after years of living together. He practiced law and became a circuit judge. She ran his law office and now works at the courthouse in the middle of that hometown she had escaped from. The town has changed, and her place in it has changed, too.

No matter how much time goes by, Angie and I can sit together and talk, and pick up right where we left off.

I am so proud of her, and she is proud of me, too. But she hates when I mention that Rolling Stones song. You can take the girl out of the country . . .

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