Once upon a time, I was twenty-one. Youngish, blondish, smartish, and 100% superficial. It was my first or second day of law school at Columbia. I remember what I was wearing: black. All black. A black, summery shirt. Black capris. And pearls. Who wears all black and pearls on her first day of law school? Insecure creatures who feel like they have something to prove and pounds to hide. That's who.
Anyway, there I was. Barely legal. Starting over. At another illustrious institution. This time, in my home town. There were forms to fill out and books to buy and long lines on which to wait. There were lots of logistical hoops to jump through and roll eyes at. I recognized a few Yalies in the mix, but didn't really know anyone. After all those years of collecting friends, I had to start fresh.
I scanned the faces of my future. I studied this new law school species, of which I was apparently now a member, and thought: What brings them here? And in my snotty little head, I ran through viable answers. Their parents are lawyers. They want to be President. They want to be lawyers or judges. They want to open proverbial doors. Or, maybe, just maybe, like me, they just like school and don't know what else to do.
I looked around and around at the clustering groups. I listened to the swell of small-talk. And, in time, I spotted her. Let's call her Tree. She was tiny and gorgeous. She looked all of fifteen. She wore jeans and a t-shirt and a vast backpack and Puma sneakers. Boys and men swarmed like flies around her, soaking up the warmth of her sunny smile.
She will be my friend, I declared silently, a bit like a stalker, and a lot like someone who befriends people based on appearance. But as I studied this creature, her youthful energy, her infectious giggle, I confirmed my hunch. A future friend.
And I was right. I tend to be right about these things. I don't remember the details of our first encounter. Just that seemingly in a matter of minutes she and I (and a few other fun first year girls) had formed a little CLS posse. This girl was not fifteen, but twenty. She had flown through three years of college in the Midwest and landed with a graceful thud in big, bad Manhattan. She was fun and feminine and feisty.
Mere weeks later, my new girlfriends and I gathered at Nacho Mama's to celebrate Tree's twenty-first birthday. It was a silly and celebratory night and I doubt outsiders would believe that we were a pack of rookie law students. But we were indeed. Through three years of books and bitching and bar reviews, we sailed. Together. Always together. Eating copious amounts of "fat-free" tuna and drinking copious amounts of caffeine and wine. On graduation day, we huddled together in black polyester as the rain pounded down on us. That summer, we studied (she far more than the rest of us) and took and passed the Bar Exam. In the fall, Tree and I began work at the same firm, a place where she would last far longer than her pouty blonde compatriot. Fast forward a few years, she would stand by my side as a bridesmaid and then I would happily return the favor. And now, babies. Baby girls. It's all about baby girls.
And today. Today is Tree's thirtieth. Today she has an incomparable husband and a beautiful baby girl and the good life she has always wanted and always deserved.
Tree is the brunette to my blonde, the pink to my black, the Bush to my Barack, the order to my chaos. I will continue to stalk her and her sparkling smile for the rest of our good days.
Happy Birthday, Tree!