I have delayed writing about Stephanie for weeks. People have begun to ask when I’m going to write about her. The truth is – I have no shortage of good things to say about her and why I’m thankful for our friendship. The challenge is trying to make my post succinct while conveying everything in my heart. I’m sure I’ll fail but here goes.
It is difficult to write about my relationship with Steph in a manner which adequately describes how important she is to me. She is my bestest best friend. She is the Elphaba to my Glinda; the Pooh to my Christopher Robin; the Thelma to my Louise. We finish each others sentences when we tell stories. My iPod “Steph tunes” playlist contains 311 songs. Steph is my soul mate – not in a romantic way but in a way that makes me feel complete when I am with her. I was blessed with five amazing sisters and was offered the opportunity to chose another – Steph is the sister I got to pick for myself. My father affectionately calls her “number seven.”
I have no memory of life before Steph. We met when I was three and she was four (she likes to brag about being older even if it’s only ten months). Our sisters were counselors at the summer playground program we attended. We were in the same kindergarten class. I remember putting my mat on the floor next to her’s for nap time. Several of my first grade school reports indicate I spent too much time engaged in conversation with Steph when I ought to have been paying attention. The school district tried separating us in future years but they never kept us from socializing.
As teenagers we sat next to each other in orchestra and chorus. Steph was in the drum line ahead of me in summer band and would carry my uniform and hat box as we loaded up the buses. Many times in high school my mother would ask what on earth the two of us could possibly discuss requiring hours on the phone after we had just seen each other all day at school. Boys. We talked about boys. And music. And Wham! And boys. And clothes. And boys. And hair. And New Kids on the Block. And boys.
Most nights during the summer were spent together at one of our houses. Steph lived two blocks down the street from me. We would decide where we would sleep and she would leave her house at the same time I left mine to walk towards each other. We would meet in the middle and she would help me carry my pillow and sleeping bag the rest of the way if we were headed to her house.
When I decided to be an exchange student I dreaded having to tell her I would be gone for our senior year. Steph claims she never forgave me, but the truth is I think she knew I had to get out of Bainbridge. Aside from my family, she is the only person I called from Australia. This was before the age of cell phones, email and Facebook. Calls required planning and coordination. I would get out of bed at 3:30 AM to catch her at a convenient time. Steph laughed at my “accent” and I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt.
Our life paths have been very different but no matter what happens in our respective worlds, I know I can turn to her for anything. We used to talk every day before texting and email. Now we only talk three or four times a week but not a day goes by without a series of messages between us.
Steph was my travel companion for over a decade for my Ms. Wheelchair America volunteer work. Not only did she make sure I was up and ready on time each day, she helped with any task with a positive attitude and level head. Steph almost always has a smile on her face. Her positivity and her ability to make the most of any situation are just two of the reasons I love her so.
In 2007 we decided we needed to go away for fun, not just Ms. Wheelchair America. Thus, Stephanie and Denise Wicked in New York (SADWIN) was born. Our SADWIN weekends involve Broadway musicals, parades, custom t-shirts and way too much walking – at least, Steph always claims it’s too much walking. I don’t know why she complains – most of the time she’s riding on the back of my wheelchair. Strangers look and laugh at us when she’s on the back of my chair, which always makes us wonder if they’ve never seen best friends hopping a ride before. Apparently, even though it’s normal behavior in our world, most everyone else finds it unique. We make friends wherever we go, and as we often say, “Who has more fun than us?!” She is my partner in cute.
Steph knows everything about me, including my attitudes towards my disability. She is one of the few people who has seen the tears and anger, the frustration and the hurt I am too scared to admit to the world. She always listens without judgement and understands my need to occasionally say “This sucks!” Steph knows I never stay in the self-pity mode for long and she is a safe place to be vulnerable. She challenges me to be honest with myself, even when I don’t want to be. Steph meets me wherever I am emotionally without qualifications or demands.
The two of us often say everyone deserves a Dee or a Stephie as a friend – but neither of us is willing to share. I am aware of what a gift her friendship is and I am grateful every day to have her love in my life. Thank you Steph for being my rock, for making me laugh until I cry, for understanding sometimes we just need someone to help us feel sad when we can’t fix things, for accepting me at my worst, for forgiving my selfishness and encouraging me to be my best. My world is full and complete because you are a part of it. For Good.