Joy and Jill Went Up the Hill

Late last year there was a big old party at chez ginga, celebrating something that at many times never seemed like it could happen--graduate school graduation.

A raucous time was had by all. Among the guests was one of my advisors who had seen me through the whole strungout ordeal. He had been to several parties of ours over the years and made an observation that unnerved me: "Joy! It's like you threw over all your old friends and got new ones!"

Yeah, man. I took a look at my friends and thought "this lot ain't up to snuff. Time to get me some new best-friends-forever..."

The thing about graduate school is that you make intense friendships--the horrors of seminars on Milton, Comprehensive Exams, and the Abyss that is ABD being more than enough to make you cling to anyone in the wreckage--but then people do horrible things like finish and get jobs and move on... Unless you're like me, and then you have a kid, buy a house, get a job, and then finish your degree.

The party was filled with new friends--mainly our neighbors and fellow parents from our son's school. 90 percent of whom mercifully have no part in academia. But there among the few friends from the Old Life, the person who I could point out to my advisor and say "SEE! I DO retain friendships..." was Jill.

It was Jill I said goodbye to on a steaming door-stoop in St. Louis on Monday morning, and who I left so she could start a whole new fucking life as a professor, in a whole new fucking place that I live way too fucking far from.

It was Jill--one November day in 1992--who sat along with me through a punishing Old English midterm exam, and who enthusiastically agreed when I suggested a drink to the class. While the beardy-weirdies and D&D crowd scurried back to their books for the next onslaught of study, she and I tripped over to the bar across the street and slowly and systematically became drunk off our asses.

It was the day that Clinton was elected. The bar was chockfull of poll-watchers by the afternoon and Jill, 25 and freshly moved from Florida, was quite giddy having recently converted to a democrat-zealot. She had not yet had time to vote, and was becoming increasingly (and vocally) paranoid that she would be barred entry from the polling station due to her inebriated state, or that she would screw up her ballot because she was used to pulling levers and shit. "And-what-if-Bush-wins-and-I-have-a-hand-in-it??? OMG!!!!!"

I, on the other hand, had no such concerns. I had been in the country for a couple of months. And at 22 and fresh of the boat, I was still an avowed Labour supporter, and "what with me only going to be here for less than two years," was not too caught up U.S. politics, which was stupid anyway. I mean, reproductive rights was on the ballot forgodssake..how retrograde... how phillistine... Yeah, Michigan is nice an'all, but I'm not stoppin' long, right?

Fast-forward fourteen years, and here I am knocked-up with a husband, a child, a dog, a mortgage, and a fulltime job. Still in Michigan. Still in Lansing for god's sake. And while I can't officially vote, I consider myself a democrat through-and-through, and try and make up for my lack of suffrage by indoctrinating all who will listen (Read: "malleable minds of young freshmen..." I didn't say I was ethical)

So I guess you could say I'm stoppin'...

And through all the pitfalls and celebrations. The days of no-fucking-money-or-job, the days of "I got a job, a car, a wedding, a baby, hooray for me!!!!" and the days of "I have a job, a car, a husband, a baby and I'm freaking out!!!!" Jill's been there.

She bailed me out in the early days when I had no clue how to manage my money. She took her own life in her hands, and taught me to drive from scratch in her own car, on the wrong side of the road. She was the trusty soul who ski-ed on down the tallest mountain at Steamboat Springs to get me rescued when she discovered that when I said "sure, I can ski" what I meant to say was "I cannot ski At All..." She was there when I met my husband and she later bluntly informed him in private "O.K. You need to ask Joy out." She was also there three years on when we got married in England, running around like a crazy woman doing my mother's bidding the morning of the wedding (and when I say "running around," I literally mean driving on the wrong side of the road from church, to reception, to house and back in a massive Volvo station-wagon on minute and twisting country lanes. My mother had her transporting the cake, the buffet, the flowers, the programs, you name it.... Jill has still not forgiven me for the fact that she had to attend our wedding with unshaven legs...)

She was there at the Detroit airport to pick up my shellshocked parents the day I was scheduled for a cesarian (didn't happen) and there to hold our colicky baby for us when we hit rock-bottom...

One of the things that has kept Jill and I bonded is a shared sense of "we're still in Michigan??? WTF??" And both of us, while never imagining it, have grown to love this place, even while we have loathed and detested the nasty parts of the graduate school process that kept us here. When you are going through shitty portions of your life where you question everything about yourself, you seek refuge and deep empathy in your friends. And if you're like me, displaced from home and country, some of these people become your family. I married one of them to make it legal on that score, and Jill is most definitely the closest thing I have to a sister round these here parts.

Or rather not in these here parts. Anymore.

But that's OK. In fact, it's more than OK. It's fucking awesome. Because while I might be having a one-woman pity-party that she is moving on, and am also shit-scared for her starting over solo in a Big Bad City, this is what we were moving toward all those years ago when we sat through the gruelling midterms and tried to figure out why the fuck we were being required to learn Old English anyway. She's arrived, and I could not be more happy or proud.

Fuckin' A Jill! You did it. You fucking did it.


Kevin Charnas said...

CONGRATULATIONS TO BOTH OF YOU!!! And right on for having each other.

I stood by one of my best friend's side while she went through graduate school as well...through a move across country, her only parent's battle with cancer, which eventually led to death, an eating disorder and other health related issues. I eventually, literally moved across country to help her for a while...and have thus, as you, unexpectedly stayed.
I don't regret any of it...but man has it been a road that I didn't see coming....
probably better that way.

Her Bad Mother said...

I just 'lost' one of my dearest friends to tenure-track oblivion. BIG FAT SIGH.

Mom101 said...

Hooray for both of you, for the friendship, the accomplishments, the love.

Who can I write a letter to so that you can vote? We need more like you registered.

jenestill said...

snifff...I'm practically weepy for Jill's departure after your post.

Anonymous said...

Such a fantastic post. Jill, you rawk! She sounds like an amazing friend--a friend for the record books.

That is the saddest thing about grad school--the inevitable separation. Unless you move to University Landia like I did and then you have some friends left. But it's a non-repeatable experience, grad school friendship is.

Getting a Ph.D. is such a long and dragged out process. I'm glad you could celebrate it and you can celebrate Jill. Because, although I ridicule the whole thing, it's a fricking hard thing to do.

Anonymous said...

if Mom-101 will start a petition, i'll GLADLY help circulate it! for surely we need you, m'lady!!

i love that you had/have a friend like Jill... a relationship like that is one you will truly cherish for the rest of your lives. somehow i suspect she feels exactly the same way about you (tho' who could blame her for being pissed about those unshaven legs?)

great post, my friend, and let me say one more time, CONGRATULATIONS on your fabulous and wonderful accomplishment! Dr. Joy has a very nice ring to it!! xox

sarah doow said...

Congratulations to Jill - on the new start and, evidently, on being a top notch woman. And, Joy, a brilliant post.

Anonymous said...

That's awesome. Congrats to her, and to both of you, for friendship.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to you and to Jill!

As someone who finally finished my graduate degree after just over 6 years (with work, home, babies, etc. along the way) I know how amazing it is to have one person that's been with you through thick and thin.