I traveled recently to Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, for some sisterly love. I went to meet a favorite friend, one whose history entwines with mine beginning the first week of our freshman year in college. (I am so glad there was no Facebook back then, when I was given to proposing crazy plans and she was given to uttering the word okay excitedly, curls bouncing, face shining. Some of these schemes did not end well, some of them forged treasured memories we still laugh over while waxing sentimental over too much wine, which nowadays is two glasses.) We have always been both bad and good influences on one another, drinking too much and laughing too loud, but also pointing one another back to those things which are essential; those things which should—but don’t always—guide us. It just is that way with those you love (and aren’t sleeping with): You point one another right back in the direction your hearts know you should be headed.
Compared to our carefree college years, both of us live corseted lives; mine as a hard-working single mother of three, and hers as what my father would have called a “career gal,” tight-lipped, tightly-scheduled, and tough. She had business in gritty Philly so I met her there and we took off our corsets together. We took in the Secrets of the Silk Road exhibit at the Penn Museum. (That was kicking our heels up, boy!) My sons are jealous and my daughter glad to have missed the exhibit’s two ancient mummies. One was the famous Beauty of Xiaohe, a well-loved and perfectly preserved female with distinctly European features. I’ve been rooting around the interwebs and it would appear that none in the scientific community confirm nor deny her genetic heritage, which itself speaks a volume or two. In political and diplomatic wrangling, first the beauty was coming along with the rest of the exhibit, then she wasn’t. In the end, a deal was struck and she came, and there she was in her dimly lit climate-controlled plexiglas case, serene. Her thick auburn hair cascaded over her shoulder and her vacant 3,800 year-old eye sockets were framed with thick lashes.
My friend and I also kicked around Reading Terminal Market, which like much of Philadelphia, feels haunted to me. (I have never been able to shake the film The Sixth Sense, which I never should have watched.) Philadelphia is the place for a self-respecting would-be foodie. My jeans were tighter when I came home than they were when I left. I brought home heirloom garlic, real tomatoes (at this time of year), handmade truffles, and cannolis from Isgro’s Bakery in the Italian Market neighborhood. I like New York City, but I love Philadelphia. I love the no sh*t way that people talk. I love the dirty streets, and the way the city always smells, not of car exhaust, but of pretzels baking, of something good to eat.
(I didn’t like Philadelphia nearly so much several years ago when my friend fell and broke her tibia and we spent several late night hours in an inner city emergency room. I didn’t like it nearly so much when I was pushing her wheelchair outside the hospital at one in the morning, looking over my shoulder and hoping to avoid some random act of violence.)
We returned to tool around Washington DC with the kids for a day before hopping the train back to my place. A houseful of well-loved friends gathered for laughter, good food, and flowing wine. We stayed up too late after everyone was gone or in bed. We sprawled on my big bed and told stories and we laughed so hard we cried. We brought the wine bottle. We giggled over old times.
In the morning, I dragged her out of bed early and we skipped church in favor of the drag brunch at Perry’s in Adams-Morgan. One of the drag queens asked a young celebrating bride-to-be if her betrothed was good in bed and had a large you-know-what. The embarrassed girl was vague. “Well does he at least have good credit?”
The girl nodded.
“You’re a smart girl, honey. I don’t think I like you.” My friend and I looked at one another and shared one last belly laugh before we returned to our corseted lives.
I hugged my friend when I said a sad goodbye, curbside at the airport. It sure is good to have a tankful of sisterly love.