I sit here giddy with excitement. My husband and I love to travel, and we are scheduled to fly out tomorrow for vacation. While I always look forward to time away, this time is different. I’m giddy because Jannie is coming! Everybody knows Gayle is Ophrah’s BFF and while I admire that, not since elementary school have I ever had one friend that I would readily point to as my BFF. My personality and proclivities lean more toward an assembly of women who have been there for me and offered unwavering support at various times in my life, times when such support made the difference between me swimming or lying lifeless at the bottom of the ocean. I get Oprah and Gayle, but that’s not my story and I am ok with that. To my dear sisters (my first BFF’s), my many first cousins and all the women special to me: I love you, but today I want to talk about Jannie.
Jannie and I met in graduate school. We were the only two African-Americans in one of my very first classes. So, when we took a break and she immediately scurried out of class, I did what most of us do when we see someone like us in a majority situation that seems a bit intimidating, we seek camaraderie and so I trailed after her. When I caught up to Jannie and introduced myself she told me she just found out that she would be getting a divorce. This was our very first conversation. Ever. She seemed shell shocked. I will never forget that look. I stumbled, not knowing what to say. We talked for a bit and then returned to class. During class I thought about Jannie and her concerns. I also thought about mine: I had just found out, the day before, that I was pregnant. (For those of you who don’t know what the big deal was about me being pregnant and going to grad school, remember this was right around the time we first were told we could "bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan." For married African-American women of my generation, we were navigating our own possibilities as women, all the while appropriately supporting our men who were constantly being told they were inferior. We learned to temper our decision-making, our intelligence and ambition lest we irreparably upset the delicate balance in the home caused solely by earning a degree and possibly more money. Oftentimes, we navigated these marital waters without having the benefit of role models in our midst to show us the way. So, yeah, it was a big deal for me. To those of you who now benefit from our swimming against the current: You are welcome and please remember to pay it forward.)
Even before I found out I was pregnant I wasn’t so sure I could manage the rigors of graduate school. This new wrinkle (the pregnancy), coupled with the considerable expense, the loss of income, the confused looks from family and friends, the demanding schedule and stress on my marriage made me doubt it even more. Jannie was going through a divorce and I was pregnant. What a duo we were. In fact, that is just what we turned out to be in those two years. A little shaky on our own but unbreakable when joined together.
Jannie would cry sometimes ( in fact many times). She had so many stressors: a young son at home, the guilt of a failed marriage, serious financial concerns and the loss of her social position (her husband was a prominent member of the community). Jannie would wipe her tears, go to class and utterly amaze me with how she exceled. During those times all I could do was listen and help her focus on the task at hand.
The stress of graduate school and the aforementioned correlating factors took its toll on my pregnancy. Near the end of my pregnancy, we were at school and I asked Jannie to drive me to the doctor. I didn’t feel well and knew something was wrong. At my appointment the doctor said my blood pressure was high and I needed to go to the hospital. When Jannie picked me up and I relayed the doctor’s words, she gently laid her hand on my belly and prayed the most fervent prayer that I have ever had anyone pray over me. After praying, she looked me in the eyes and said: You and your baby are going to be ok. Jannie said it and I believed it.
Due to our schedules and other priorities, we don’t talk as much these days. However, when we do talk, we pick up right where we left off. Depending on what is going on, we either laugh or cry. Whatever emotion is mandated by our authentic lives is what bursts forth, unfiltered. Whether I see her or not, talk to her or not, I know that she is there; always in my corner. I know too that I will forever be in hers.
I should add that both Jannie and her ex-husband reviewed this blog. Jannie's ex-husband is the fourth member and organizer of our vacation party. Alas, that’s a story for another day.