It’s the story of Joanie Giblin that I use whenever my kids want to blow off a friend to do something that they think is better. In my house I just say, “Joanie Giblin,” and they know what I mean. Feel free to use this with your own children:
Claudia sat next to me in my sixth grade class. She was a school friend but not someone I hung out with outside of my elementary school’s brick walls. For some reason, she asked me to go away with her and her family to Nantucket. It was the last day of school before summer vacation. Did I want to go? Well of course I did, and I ran home to ask my mother.
My mother was at the hairdresser–like she was every Friday afternoon. It was her weekly escape where Rod, the owner, teased her hair into a perfectly coiffed up-do while the ladies gossiped, read fashion magazines, and drank champagne or vodka out of Dixie cups. She would stay in that shop for what seemed like hours. The ‘hairdressers’, she called it –nothing like the fancy urban salons of today. It was a long room with mirrors and chairs on one-side and 3 or 4 hairdryers in the back corner that looked like they would suck the brains right out of your head. Something from a b-rated sci-fi flick. The ‘hairdressers’ was next door to Fells Market where I, on more than one occasion was sent with a note to buy Kent cigarettes for my parents.
On that day when I got home from school, I ran out my front door and down the sidewalk of route 9 the whole mile to Rod’s place. When I threw open the door, the bell affixed to the top alerted everyone in the shop that someone was entering. The ladies stopped their conversations and looked up from their magazines.
“Mom,” I said leaning over with my hands on my thighs to catch my breath,” Claudia invited me to go to Nantucket tomorrow with her and her family, can I go, please.”.
“Tomorrow? Tomorrow is Joanie’s birthday party, don’t you remember.”
Joanie Giblin was my best friend at the time.. I walked to school with her every day and spent many afternoons hanging at her house, watching television or spying on her older brothers.
“Oh, I forgot. Well that is ok. I can miss it. I really want to go. PLEEEEEASE.”
Mom took a sip from her Dixie cup,“Who is this Claudia? I don’t know her or her family.’
”She’s in my class. C’mon mom, she is really nice.”
By now the ladies were bored with the exchange between my mother and I. They returned to chatting with their own hair stylists or talking to their neighbors. My mother was getting bored too. Rod’s place was her haven to get away from all things associated with children. I was the last of her 7 kids and she was tired of it all. Besides, my presence in the shop, land of the grown-ups, was starting to make everyone a little uncomfortable. She sighed.
“Well?” I asked
“Fine, she said, it’s your choice, but I don’t think you would appreciate it if you were Joanie.”
All I heard was ‘fine’. That’s all I needed. I had won. Joanie would understand, she was after all, my best friend.
The next morning I climbed into the front seat of Claudia’s wood-paneled station wagon. Since the car was packed tightly with suitcases, boxes, and hanging clothes the only seat left for me was in between Claudia and her Mother. When we got about 1/2 hour down route 3, Claudia’s mother turned to her and said, “Claudia, have you meditated today?”
“No, Mother (she actually called her that) I haven’t, yet.”
“Well maybe now would be a good time to do that.”
And with that Claudia went into a sleep-like trance leaving me awkward and about as uncomfortable as any 12 year would be ,sitting next to a parent she barely knows. It was about this time I realized that I hadn’t discussed how or when I was getting home from this trip. By the looks of the amount of stuff in the car, they were staying for the whole summer. I had left my comfort zone, and Joanie Giblin, without an escape route.
My stay on the island when from bizarre to worse. They lived in a massive Victorian close to the center of town. On the outside the house was beautiful, but inside it was cold and empty. I specifically remember the living room, a huge open room with bright wooden floors and white walls completely devoid of furniture except a white grand piano in the center of the room. Atop this piano was a framed picture of the mother’s Guru, her spiritual teacher. We were not allowed in this room, or many others if I recall. And according to Claudia we were not allowed to go to the beach; only adults were. So we played softball every day in her yard (this may explain why I am not a huge fan of the game, and have always preferred baseball).
Every day for hours, Claudia had to mediate while I was left to my own devices. Sometime I would watch her for a while, and sometimes I would sit up in my room. One day I discovered that Claudia was not an only child as I had previously thought. During one of her meditation sessions I wandered out to the garage. I found it was actually an apartment where her older brother and some of his friends lived. They had a fully stocked fridge and a water bed. It was the first time I had ever seen a water bed. I remember that they were nice to me though, and probably far more normal than the wackos I was living with, but I also remember that one night the cops showed up at the garage. We watched the flashing lights from the Victorian on the hill. At the time I had no idea what was going on but now I can only imagine.
Night time was particularly difficult. I was homesick and I cried and Claudia would yell at me and tell me I was a baby. I think she was second-guessing her choice of vacation-friend because every night she would try to engage me in a pillow fight, and when I didn’t fight back she accused me of being ‘no-fun’.
After what seemed like an eternity but was probably just a long-weekend, I called my parents crying. I was supposed to be staying longer but as luck would have it, the babysitter, who I can’t remember seeing much of before this, said she was heading back to the mainland and would take me home. My relief was palpable. Claudia was pissed. I was never so happy to board a ferry in my life.
What about Joanie? She never really forgave me for missing her party and after a summer apart, we were never as close. Then I moved away to Framingham and never saw her again.
I took a lot away from that trip to Nantucket. Besides a hatred for softball, and an aversion to Life Cereal(it’s all they had for breakfast), and the fact that those white braided rope friendship bracelets that she made me buy, make me queasy now, I learned a valuable lesson about friendship and keeping your word. Whenever I am invited somewhere that I think will be more fun than the plans I already have, I think of Joanie, and remember that sometimes the grass does look greener –until you get close enough to see the weeds.