A few weeks ago, I got an email from my friend Gwen’s daughter Mikayla, who asked me to attend a birthday party, via Zoom, for her mom. Once I said I would attend Mikayla said all the guests should be prepared to say a few words about Gwen. I began to think about what I could share since I have quite a few stories. Some suitable for prime time, some not. I started thinking about what would be appropriate to share and what I should still keep just between us, all these many years later. Gwen and I have an unspoken agreement: certain parts of our history will forever remain in the vault.
Gwen and I first met as undergrad students on the same dorm hall at the University of South Carolina. Years later, Gwen told me she was impressed with my wardrobe. That was funny to me. At that time, I was like most students, struggling financially to get by. Two advantages I did have was a sister who was an accomplished tailor who made my clothes and several employed older siblings who, along with my mom, supported me while I was in college and made sure I had what I needed to feel good about myself in that environment. Gwen was actually always the "fly" one: nails done, hair done and her outfit impeccably put together to top off her look.
While I had some financial concerns back then, Gwen did not. Gwen came from a two-parent family with only one sibling. When I visited her family home for the first time my experience was like visiting the Cosbys. Gwen’s family lived well, were unpretentious and treated me like a member of the family. I loved those visits.
After graduating Gwen and I became roommates and shared our first apartment. Gwen’s job after college paid well and I benefited from her success and her family’s generosity. Gwen bought food, cooked our meals and decorated the apartment. I too added to the apartment, but my contributions were quite meager. We were just two young women, trying to develop our careers, manage relationships and figure out our life choices. And we had a blast doing that.
When I met my now husband Nashid, most of my family and closest friends were surprised and not very supportive of the relationship due to our religious and age differences. It became even more difficult when Nashid and I became engaged and began planning for our wedding. There was opposition everywhere. But never from Gwen. Gwen consoled me and never wavered in her position that if I believed Nashid was the man for me, then I was making the right choice. Thirty-nine years later when I reflect back on that time, I am reminded of how Gwen ably stood up to the naysayers for me (I think she may have cursed one or two out!) and helped carry me through that very turbulent time. Gwen lived with me every day, knew me very well and she trusted my decision. The memory of Gwen’s support remains with me all these many years later. I’m glad I remember those challenges, because if my memory ever failed, I am not so sure I can trust Gwen to remind me. She may still have it in the vault.