My Friend, Astrid

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There are all kinds of friendships that can come your way if you’re lucky. There are new friends, and they’re always exciting. Other friends are friends you’ve known forever, the ones who knew you way back when and love you still, in spite of and maybe because of everything. There are still other friends you have at critical points in your life with whom you lose touch afterward. Maybe your paths cross later and it’s nice but there’s no need to resume the same kind of intimacy you had before. Then there are the friends who dart in and out of your life-woven tapestry in repeating pattern. You may not see them for years, but when you do, there is no awkwardness, no searching for common ground because it is there, as though you’d just spoken with them yesterday.

I was out late last night. I know. It was the middle of the week, what was I thinking? It was fun and I did manage to haul my sorry self out of bed in time for dance class, to the grocery store after that. Once at home, I had a snack and planned to spend the rest of the day cleaning, doing laundry and cooking something decent for dinner. I peeked at Our Salon while snacking then got down to the business of housekeeping.

I’d just thrown chemicals into the toilet when Mack let me know that someone was at the front door. It was Astrid.

Astrid is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s probably the most down-to-earth woman I’d ever met. We met at the school gate when our kids were little, and for a few years while the kids were in elementary school we saw a lot of one another and had a number of memorable adventures.

There are three stories about Astrid, who I always call “Astrid” and not “As” like everybody else does, because to my Anglo ear, “As” sounds too much like “ass” and I just can’t do it, which illustrate her character better than a photo and a biography could.

Reading is Fundamental

We’re sitting in Astrid’s kitchen, drinking coffee. She shoves a school announcement to me from across the table

What do you make of this?” she asked.

So I told her.

What do you make of it, then?”

I can’t read it.”

What do you mean, you can’t read it?”

I can’t read very well. I’m what’s it called, ‘dyslexic’.”

So you ask your foreign friend, the one with questionable Dutch what it says?”

Well yeah. I knew you wouldn’t laugh.”

Astrid was one of those kids who fell through the cracks in the school system here.

She speaks Dutch, German and English fluently, but it’s all by ear. Don’t ask her to spell and/or explain grammar. If you wan’t an Ikea flat-pack put together in no time, call Astrid, she’s a whiz at reading schematic drawings.

Over the years since we’ve been friends she’s worked on her reading skills and they’ve improved. By the time the Harry Potter craze rolled around, she read the books in English. It took her forever, but she did and I was really proud of her when she told me she’d finished the first one. So I gave her a shot to the arm and she kicked me in the butt.

Christmas Absolution

By some crazy happenstance, both our families moved from our old neighborhood to the same neighborhood in another part of town in 2003. We moved in October, they moved in just before Christmas. I’d stopped by for coffee at their new place and Astrid was at the top of a wonky ladder, painting the hallway. It was two weeks before Christmas and I was in a panic because I was superbly underprepared for the impending holiday: I hadn’t baked any cookies, the shopping wasn’t finished and I hadn’t written my Christmas cards yet.

Astrid leaned down from the ladder, raised her paint roller in absolution and said, “You know, girlfriend, nobody says you have to send Christmas cards. Coffee?”

Its weird, but it felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

I didn’t send Christmas cards that year. Nobody died.

The Break In

I’d just dropped the boys off at scouts and was looking forward to a few hours of quiet on my own at home when I’d discovered that I didn’t have my house keys.

It was 5: 30 pm., November cold, and my husband and MIL were both out of the country, so there were no spare keys in the Netherlands. I was faced with a choice: gape through the window at my house keys sitting on the kitchen table where I’d thrown them 15 minutes earlier and cry or seek help.

Astrid sprang to mind. Like many of my friends (and most of my relatives), Astrid has a mysterious past. I walked the few blocks to her house and found them just sitting down to dinner. They invited me to sit down and spill my tale of woe. “Well,” said Astrid’s husband, “shall I grab the tool bag, or would you like to do that while I clear up here.”

The scruffy, dusty tool bag contained a variety of orthodox and unorthodox tools one could use to break into a house. Astrid didn’t say, but I’m thinking they came straight from Fagan’s lair. The only window open in our house was a narrow transom. I now know that a skinny assed thief with a modified screwdriver could theoretically break into the house via the transom and exactly how fast and easy it is to do the deed. It was amazing.

So Astrid and I haven’t seen much of each other the past few years but we met up at the grocery store . Well I saw her standing in the juice section and I gently rammed her in the rear-end with my shopping cart. She turned around ready to knock somebody’s block off, saw it was me and started laughing. We stood and talked in the middle of the aisle for 45 minutes (much to the chagrin of the other customers) and resumed the impromptu coffee visits a few weeks ago.

 * Image found at Google

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