A Friend by Any Other Name
Shannon, Terry Miller, The Christian Science Monitor
This is my bad news/ good news friendship story. The bad news was that I somehow misplaced my dear friend Gail. The good news is: I found Isabelle.
Gail and I became buddies because of my/her shirt. We met the September after the winter I inadvertently donated all my summer clothes - every sleeveless shirt, pair of shorts, and bathing suit I owned - to the Salvation Army (a swift but painful lesson in the value of labeling boxes).
The first day of college, I noticed a girl with a red bandanna triangled over her blond hair. What really caught my eye, though, was her shirt - or should I say "my" shirt?
She was wearing my favorite of the oops-to-the-Salvation-Army summer shirts. It was undoubtedly mine, for it sported a telltale sign: a small, nearly unnoticeable faint pink South America-shape stain near the hem. I knew that stain well.
As it happened, the stranger in the familiar shirt and I ended up in the same career program, taking classes together. In one early group conversation, she mentioned that she hated her name, Gail, and was shopping around for another. (She was seriously considering "Diana.") She described her dog, Bear. She mentioned that she'd worked at the San Francisco Salvation Army before moving north to attend college.
Aha! I blurted, "Did you buy that cream-colored, sleeveless, knit shirt there? The one with the embroidery and the pale pink stain? Size 'small'?"
Gail stared at me, mouth open. "Why, yes, I did - as a matter of fact."
"I can't believe it ended up in San Francisco," I said after I told her my story. "That shirt is more well-traveled than I am!"
The two of us were rather taken with the whole weird shirt coincidence. We found other quirks in common: We both loved to cook. We adored whimsical old houses. We loved big placid dogs. We both had more houseplants than furniture.
Gail was the type of friend who, when she had a dime and I didn't (during our dirt-poor college days), shared her red-licorice rope with me, even-Steven. We wore the same size, of course, so we had frequent clothes-swapping parties. I always felt prettier in clothes Gail had swapped to me. She taught me to cook a cheap comfort-food dish I still make: "Naked Spaghetti" - noodles slathered with butter, Parmesan cheese, and garlic. Best of all, I could tell her anything. She was the best listener I'd ever met.
At our last clothes swap before graduation, she gave me the shirt that had been mine and then hers - and had brought us together. I kept our shirt for years, long past the time I quit wearing it. I'd occasionally take it out of the closet to remember my friend Gail. …