I may be the only person who still calls Allison “Zal.” Her father gave her the nickname and it stuck for me. When a mutual friend was searching my phone contacts for Allison’s number, she couldn’t find Allison because of course I have her listed in the Z’s.
Zal is one of those friends I don’t remember meeting. She has just always been a part of my life as a “forever friend.” We were in Brownies together in elementary school. I remember playing board games with her every day at recess in 3rd grade after I had surgery and was not permitted to go out on the playground. She stayed inside with me every day so I would not be alone. We were in every class together from 4th grade until the end of 11th grade. Our high school was not accessible so Zal would go with me from class to class, carrying my books and helping me through the halls, waiting while I used the stair climber to move from floor to floor. We parted ways and attended different colleges for undergraduate school but both attended the same college for graduate school.
We have always shared a love of music. Zal played viola and I played first violin in the same string quartet for many years. We took piano lessons from the same teacher and routinely played duets together. Once we learned one part, we would change and each learn the other part – often arguing in good humor over who played which part better. We were in orchestra together and attended All County and Area All State music festivals together. We sat next to each other in chorus. We both played bassoon and split the “good” parts between us in concert band regardless of who happened to be 1st or 2nd bassoon (we alternated that distinction pretty regularly). Both of our mothers worked at our high school so we couldn’t get away with too much mischief. But, we did manage to sneak down to the music room for our fair share of “lessons” when we should have been in study hall.
Zal is generous and kind. Looking over old cards and letters recently, I realized she has always been free with her compliments and very expressive about our friendship. I don’t know that I have been as reciprocal, which makes me sad because if anyone deserves friendship accolades, she does. Zal always selflessly supported my desire for public speaking and performance, even though she was far more talented musically. She once told me she felt like the song “The Wind Beneath My Wings” was written about us because I inspired her. The truth is, she has been inspiring me for decades and I don’t know if she truly realizes what an inspiration she is.
Zal lives in Florida now with her husband and their two sons. If we are lucky, we get to see each other once a year when they come to visit family and friends in New York. We met up just a few weeks ago when she was visiting for her birthday. Growing up we always celebrated our birthdays together because they are just six days apart (she reminds me each year of how I’m getting old before she is). This year we celebrated together for the first time in nearly twenty years by attending the Albany Symphony concert. As we sat in the theater, listening to the bassoon solo at the start of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, I was overcome with gratitude for friendships which last through time and distance. We may not see each other often, but when we do we pick back up right where we stopped.
Thank you Zal for always being my hero, for inspiring me to be less selfish, and accepting me in spite of all my flaws. I’m blessed to have your love and support as a rock to lean on.