Wendy is my oldest and dearest girlfriend. We’ve been BFF’s since we were eight years old. She moved to Penngrove School midway through the 3rd grade. She was tall (Wendy is six feet tall), thin and had gorgeous long blond, perfectly straight hair. To my chagrin, all the boys in our class immediately fell for her. She was fun, funny and quite daring. She seemed to have perfect balance and timing for just about any activity – from tap to toe shoes. She could do and excel in just about anything you can think of — skiing, surfing, skate boarding, roller skating. She could ride horses and motorbikes equally well. She was the fasted girl in school — and was a great dancer and singer to boot. So we had a lot in common. Ha! Not! I was a smaller wanna-be compared to Wendy. Moreover, I had never even heard of most of her sporting activities before we met. But somehow I was able to hang out with her and hold my own. Sort of. If you count falling and crying a lot holding your own. Her parents took me water skiing for the first time – and had the patience to teach me how to get up on those skis while I begged to get out of the water. You can imagine my surprise and delight when I actually stood up and managed to fly across the lake on skis! I thought her dad was pretty cool. I had my talents too, I suppose. I was creative, a good artist…and of all her other friends I was the only one who had any talent as a dancer or singer, though I was nowhere near as good as Wendy, who grew up to be a local tap dance teacher. She spent hours teaching me how to tap dance for the 4th grade talent show where we “black berry boogied” our way to elementary school fame, at least in our own minds. As our teachers’ can attest, we were an unforgettable duo. Troublemakers with a capital T. Silly. Crazy. Tacks on teachers’ chairs — swallowed plastic bags — things I can’t even mention here. I think I lived to make her laugh. We were so crazy that we were officially separated and not allowed to even sit next to each other until junior high. I have so many pictures of us laughing — mouths agape. We just loved each other. After a brief separation for 6th grade and again for 8th grade grade, in high school we were back together again. Even though we would never be assigned a class together in high school (unless we arranged it), our lockers freshman year were right next to each other. We had each others’ combos…of course. She used to eat my lunch sometimes. Or at least my cookies.Wendy, all these years later…is still my best friend — even though we live 3,000 miles a part for most of the year. She was my maid of honor at my wedding, threw my “Hello Kitty” themed bridal shower and tasted my cake for me since I planned my California wedding from the East coast. She sent me the most beautiful baby girl clothes when my first daughter was born; and was on the phone with my mom from my hospital room crying her eyes out the day I gave birth to my first child. She still lives in my home town of Penngrove, though not at her mom and dad’s, but down the street. Best of all, she’s still here for me when I come home for the holidays and for the summer. She knows my daughters and loves them both; and I know her son, Logan, who is now 9 and just the cutest, sweetest boy. Her darling niece Hanna was the flower girl at my wedding. They are like family. On Christmas day, I usually stop by her parents’ house and we do a gift exchange. This year I came with my two daughters in tow. She gave me the CD to the new movie Les Miserables and reminded me that 20 some years ago, I took her to see the musical in San Francisco. I did? Wow, I’d forgotten.
Oh how I loved Les Mis. I guess you could say that I was a Les Mis junkie back then, in the early 90’s. One of my other great friends (Audrey aka Ochie) took me to see it first. Audrey was the original Les Mis junkie. We waited, per her request, outside of the stage for the actors to leave. She was in love with the girl who played Epoinie. I should have known then that Audrey liked girls. She hadn’t really come out yet. I think she was still dating guys back then. She’s now married to a woman who I introduced her to a few years back.
After Ochie’s introduction to Les Mis, I bought the CD and started singing the songs. I wasn’t a trained singer back then. Even though I don’t show it off, I now have a trained voice and can rock (pretty much on command) all the major songs in the show. But back then, without training, I nearly ruined my voice trying to belt out…”On My Own.”
Which brings me to my Paris/Les Mis connection. At some point in between my first viewing of Les Mis, I moved to Paris, France and spent a semester living in a dorm with about 50 other Americans who were around my same age, 17-22. This is where I met the girls who were to become my other two BFF’s — Nicolle and Felicia.
Nicolle and Felicia are like my sisters. I don’t know how I could ever function without them. Had it not been for this Paris trip, I don’t know if we would have re-met, because we certainly didn’t hang out in high school. Nicolle and “Flea” as we call her, were two grades above me in school, and because of that distance, our paths crossed rarely if at all. But the few times we interacted, it was memorable. Nicolle and Felicia are two of the most beautiful women in the world, and back when I was a freshman and even a junior, girls like these two were just like royalty in the school. Nicolle was in fact the Homecoming Queen that year. To me, they were the beautiful older girls – popular, beautiful, cool, older. In short, I would never dream of being friends with them.
Felicia looks like a light skinned Italian, and apparently she has Russian royal blood. Nicolle is French in every possible way. Someone once said that I look their daughter if they had one together. In 1990 the three of us, along with forty something other young Americans lived in a dorm outside of Paris. There was a bar in the dorm where we would order cafe au lait during the days and at night wine; and when we’d had too much wine, we would sit in the stair wells, smoke cigarettes, drink even more vino and try to belt out “On My Own.”
Years later, I finally learned to sing “On My Own” and “I Dreamed a Dream.” My pretty voice was finally trained. No more straining. No more breaks. I didn’t do anything with it after that. No auditions for musicals. I know?! But whenever I make a peep (I sing a lot in my daughter’s Gymboree classes) people often ask me if I’m a professional singer.
So as someone who knows how to sing and is a Les Mis junkie, I go to see the film with my dear friend Nicolle. My old friend from Paris and high school, who is now a high school French teacher and a mother of two darling girls. We kept leaning over to whisper how good Anne Hathaway is in the role, and how wonderful Hugh Jackman is. I reminded her that my oldest daughter, who is three, flirted with Hugh in a New York cafe one day; and how I go to his Laughing Man coffee shops all the time. I cried several times during the movie. 20 years later, the story resonates more to me than it ever did as a young woman who couldn’t yet sing. I was moved as an actress, who has studied “The Method,”and as a parent of two daughters who I adore and would die for. I was moved as a wife and a daughter; and as a friend. Speaking of “friends”, I was so happy to be sitting next to one of my oldest and dearest friends. As wonderful as motherhood and family life is, there are things about your old life that you do miss. Time with good friends. I live in New York, 3,000 miles away. I miss my friends, and I do cherish them for everything that they are….and for who we once were.