When I was 16 she was born. I didn’t know it, our paths wouldn’t cross for another 30 years. She lived in one of those middle states that New England kids like me always messed up identifying on geography tests. I grew up divided between life on the ocean and life in a small town; she grew up in a small town that was not really like the small town I was in.
Life is funny like that–even when things sound similar on paper, they are very different.
Despite our very different upbringing, somehow we both developed (or were perhaps born with, but that is a debate for another day) a deep affinity for the water. Not, ” Oh hey, yeah, the beach is nice,” but a deep attraction to water in any form- rivers, lakes ocean- the more mysterious the better. Magnetic. A magnetic attraction that makes us want to be in it, on it, near it.
Life is funny like that–even when people are raised differently they grow up not very different at all.
I went to college, had a career, got married, moved around a lot, had three kids and, seven years before our paths would cross,I landed in a small town in the same middle state where she had always lived. She went to work, got married, had a baby, then another in a small town an hour from mine.
I played around on a computer when kids were sleeping and I didn’t want to clean; she played around on a computer when kids were…well, I never asked but based on knowing her, her chores were finished and a loaf of homemade bread was cooling on the counter.
One day, both of us were playing around on our computers when we landed on the same message board at the same time. Hidden behind our own masks of avatars and screen names we knew nothing about eachother except that we were both moms.
Life has taught me that even when people share a title or job that involves very similar actions, those people are often very different.
But different doesn’t mean bad, it just means not the same. We were very different people with different lives who shared a few things including motherhood and the same first name. To differentiate between us I got to keep our shared name, she put “Other” in front of it.
Other Susan. OS for short.
Our differences were still there but – and this really doesn’t always happen with me- I never thought about them. I never thought that she was younger, that we had different educations and different life experiences- I just loved her in that way women love eachother in slowly built friendships. That way we know we can be our honest, differing selves and be loved in return.
Sometimes it’s those differences that give us insight we never would see on our own.
Three years after we met Susan taught me something very important. She isn’t a writer, she’s a do-er. She’s one of those people who says, “I need an electrical outlet here,” and puts it in herself; who thinks, “that should be welded on,” and welds it; that takes a pile of fabric and creates a beautiful quilt in less time than it takes me to stitch a pair of curtains.
But I am a writer and in 2011 I was freaking out about it. I was about to start my column, filling a space previously held by a woman I admire a great deal, and I was terrified. Should I try to be funny like she was? Should I be sentimental? Should I write with a message or entertain with a story? I didn’t feel like I was up for the job (although I already had it) and terrified of failure and public ridicule.
Other Susan told me: ” Stop trying to fit yourself into a nice, neat little box! You don’t want to be be in a box. You want to be a giant ball of awesome that can bounce around and be whatever writer you want to be.“
I know her exact words because I wrote them down, printed them out and taped them to a file box I looked at every day.
Five years later they are still on that box, right where I can see them each and every day. In those same five years I have watched her bounce around and be a giant ball of awesome in her own life which is very different than mine.
Today, in my own way, I am celebrating her birth sixteen years after mine. I’m raising a figurative glass to honor the years she has lived, the woman she has become and the friend that I am blessed with.
And I’m sharing with you one of many lessons that she has taught me.
Happy birthday, Other Susan!