December 16th is Lisa’s birthday. Lisa is my forever friend from age 14. We talked every single day from 1986 when I moved to her school until our graduation day in 1989… and many after that. An early winter birthday meant Lisa was a full half-year older, which was huge in the teenage timeline. When we met on my first day at the new school, I knew she had the skinny on all sorts of things from bangs to boys– possibly even banging boys. Lisa knew stuff.
“No no no, don’t sit next to those guys… come over here,” she waved with a smile and a laugh, and absolutely no concern for “those guys.”
And I knew we’d be close right from the get go. We had both erased “Yaz” into our canvas-covered binders and matched our Mia ballet flats to our sweaters. Her expertly applied Maybelline played up her clear blue eyes that complemented her perfectly permed and scrunched brown locks. Lisa was sexy. (Still is.) Every teenage girl should have a Lisa, unless she is a Lisa, in which case she might need a Britt. Lisa pulled me out of my middle child good girl persona to experiment with rules, limits, beer (blech), boys, and hair products.
One boring day in high school, Lisa convinced Scott (a senior!) to lend us his Jeep and me (with a study hall and easy-to-evade science teacher) to skip. The fact that Scott let two unlicensed girls drive his very cool Jeep off campus during a school day is testament to what boys will risk for the slimmest possibility of nookie. After spritzing ourselves with perfume at the mall and pretending to be college kids at the McDriveThru, I started wondering if we should head back to school. Lisa reminded me that I was a straight A student, would never get caught, that I’d never get into trouble anyway because I was so blonde and smart and good, and then drove directly to the curb at my house and started honking the horn.
See? Your mom isn’t even going to come out of the house. And even if she did, she’d never think it was you in the car. Because you are AT SCHOOL. Can’t be you. Relax.
And so I did. Pulling myself out from under the dashboard and pulling away from my driveway, we opened all of the windows and let out primal screams of joy and youth and freedom. And then we returned Scott’s Jeep, took our respective buses home, and immediately called each other on the phone to re-live the day and discuss how Scott was cute but, like, eww, not like that. Poor Scott.
As I watch my dearest friends’ daughters grow tall and gorgeous, I wonder if they’re a Britt or a Lisa or one of “those guys.” Can I even hope that they have the confidence of Lisa as a high school freshman? Never giving a shit about “those guys” and always completely certain she could sweet talk a boy out of his car, or anything else? This is how I want these girls to sashay through the halls of high school. But who knows this at such a young age? How do we infuse our daughters with an unshakable sense of their worth and power?
Maybe we should share our Lisa stories—the ones that reveal we didn’t always make the best choices, but that they were our own. The scariest and most fragile moments of youth can happen at the whim of thoughtless others when girls do not realize they have superpowers. Friends like Lisa would never let them doubt or forget their smarts and beauty and youth and abilities. Friends like Lisa make sure our co-conspirators for any bit of afternoon naughtiness are the ones who know us best and love us most.
Today is also the dreaded Cancer-versary, but this year I remembered it was Lisa’s Birthday first. It’s a Lisa-versary! Instead of succumbing to the seasonal blues associated with this calendar date, I’m taking a moment to remember how Lisa has always made me feel pretty, powerful, and fun. Years later she also showed me that breast cancer couldn’t take that away, either. Through her own treatment, recovery, and aftermath Lisa still approached life with a joyful passion like few others. With one in eight of us in the Shittiest Sorority, the odds weren’t entirely unlikely that we’d grow up to be cancer-ed in exactly the same way. Fitting somehow that my older, wiser buddy would get the skinny on it first. I was the physician, but Lisa knew stuff. She sent me a box of hats, socks, chocolates, and notes that were a perfect balm to the terror of the time.
Happy Birthday to my kind, crazy, sexy, wise, and hilarious friend. May all of your daughters be blessed with a Lisa—unless she is a Lisa—in which case… lucky you.
Lisa and me… with all of our original parts… prom 1989