Susan Smith and Patricia Collins. Susie and Patty. We were best friends, starting out in kindergarten at Bowling Green School in Westbury and continuing through W. Tresper Clarke High School. We were the ones the teachers always separated on the first day of class. Sometimes during the first hour of the first day of class. Sometimes as soon as they saw us, threw up their hands and said, “Oh, no!”
We weren’t really that bad. We just never shut up. Ever. And we didn’t care how much trouble we got into, as long as we could make each other laugh.
We heard that teachers used to commiserate, “My God, you’ve got them both?’’ Susie and I considered that a badge of honor.
My mom used to say, “Why don’t you go to Susie’s after school?”
Susie’s mother used to say, “What don’t you go to Patty’s after school?”
Even after we went to different colleges, we stayed in touch. I went to Hofstra, and Susie went to Sullivan Community. She always loved it upstate, more than Long Island, and she married a guy from up there. I became the godmother of her daughter, Erin.
But then we drifted apart, through kids, divorces (both of our first marriages) and widowhood (my second marriage), and then we lost touch with each other. The old neighborhood in Westbury was no help; by then our parents were gone.
And then they invented the Internet and Facebook, and our sons got us together online.
I’m still on Long Island, near Exit 66 on the Long Island Expressway. I keep moving east. I lived in Manhattan in the mid-1970s. Then I fell in love and moved to Bayside. In the mid-1980s, I got married and we bought a house in Massapequa Park. Then I was widowed and moved to Patchogue. Now I live in Middle Island. If they open apartments in the Montauk Lighthouse, I’ll probably be the first tenant.
Susie’s still in Sullivan County, and remarried. She sent me pictures of her grandchildren and the deer and bears and turkeys who hang around her house. I sent her pictures of my dog and the traffic on the Expressway. And for three or four years, we talked about getting together. Then we finally did it in 2014.
I drove upstate on a Friday. It took four hours (the worst of which was getting through New York City, of course). And then my Carolla climbed her uphill driveway in the woods. Susie was filling her bird feeders.
“I can’t believe this,” I said as I got out of my car.
“Our moms are looking down at us laughing,” she replied, and we hugged.
We’re both retired and older. Susie’s a little heavier; my hair’s a little thinner. But it was as if we hadn’t seen each other in days, not decades.
I brought some Blue Point beer and Osprey’s Dominion wine, both from Long Island, and we sat on the couch drinking while her husband, Dwayne, cooked. She told me Dwayne tended to be quiet, so he wouldn’t mind not being able to get a word in. Which was good because, frankly, no one on the planet could have gotten a word in. We took pictures of ourselves hugging and grinning, and emailed them to our kids.
I had to go home on Sunday – after Dwayne cooked breakfast. Susie and I were not happy about splitting up again.
“I’m gonna miss you,” Susie said.
“Yep. Me, too,” I said. “Except now we’re friends again.”
“We were never not friends,” Susie replied. “Never.”
She was always right.
Reader Patricia Collins lives in Middle Island.