Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nick's Tavern, the North End, Maria and my FRIENDS

I'm part of a group of friends that try to get together for poker once a month; it doesn’t always happen that often, though, but we try. Sometimes there’s too many of us to play any seven-card games, and sometimes we just have enough to play Whist. It doesn’t matter how many are there—it’s always loud and the majority of the conversation would probably offend many (Italians tend to have unique ways of saying everything). And we eat, play poker, and laugh. And laugh.

And laugh.

I met them all in 1991 through my “First Ex,” Michael, when he and I owned a bar in the North End of Boston. He was born and raised there, and so were they. I was the outsider. They were strange creatures who lived with their parents until they were 30 (what???) and got their driver’s licenses well after the 16 and ½ that my own demographic peers and I salivated waiting for. I know what they thought of me, too; they’re not shy, either.

I’m not unfamiliar with the Italian ways. I’m Italian. But my family moved out of the city when I was 6 to a suburb south of Boston and I became more of a “weekend Italian.”

For whatever reason, they liked me and accepted me as one of their own (who can question their judgment? They’re crazier than I am!). Unless you’ve ever barged in on an ‘inner circle’ of a small neighborhood, you won’t understand how big a deal it was when Mike and I split up and they remained friends of mine (I’ve written before about the “custody battle” he and I had over Maria. It was HUGE. None of them were supposed to stay friends with me because they were “his friends first.”)

We had Nick’s Tavern for almost 7 years. It was the best little bar. You could almost have called it a “family” bar. Of course, taking our toddler Deren for walks in her stroller downtown and Faneuil Hall could be a little embarrassing when she would point to and loudly announce all of the beer and liquor signs she saw.

Those years were also the roughest for me. To say my relationship was rocky is downplaying the truth. I’ve written about that before; I won’t elaborate now. I’ll just say we were fighting a lot of demons.

And his/my friends kept me sane—well, they just kept me.

After Mike and I split in ‘98 and I moved out of the city again in 2001 it was harder to stay in touch. I married my “Second Ex,” Adam then, had another child…you know how it goes. It wasn’t until Michael’s mother passed in 2009, when we were all together at the funeral that we planned to start playing poker again, once a month at Maria’s house in North Square.

It was exactly like they say, that "no time at all had passed". Because Adam and I were driving 40 miles from Taunton, they would accommodate our schedule first. Michael came to a few of them, but his schedule prevented him from making it to too many until last year.

This was taken in May of 2013 at Maria's new place (and 3 years after Adam and I split up). How many other women could be playing poker between her two exes like this and look happy? And we were all with "our" friends. Of course, everyone else said the guys were smiling because they didn’t have to put up with me anymore! Maybe so, but everyone is smiling. I really should frame this.

Maria passed a year ago last week. The day of the funeral was surprisingly warm for October, and after the reception we spent the remainder of the day sitting around a table in front of Starbuck’s on Atlantic Avenue and we just talked. And, still, we laughed. They made fun of me—and themselves—for allowing an ‘outsider’ in. I love all of them, no matter what they call me. J

We played poker again tonight, for the first time in a couple of months, making extra effort to be able to get together this week, for Maria. We laughed all night. (Turned the air blue, too.)

Friendship is so very important. I can’t say that enough. With them, and because of them, I can laugh at many things that happened during those years. How many people can look back at periods of their lives that they considered their darkest and laugh—really laugh? We have some great memories and we are making more. I’ve said ad nauseam and will probably continue ad infinitum how grateful I am for the friends that I have around me, and how lucky I know I am.

My father finally retired and now has time to spend with friends; he talks about this new chapter of his life, how much he enjoys it. When I hear how excited he gets I sometimes wish he had this sooner. That only underlines to me the importance of having good friends, and being able to spend time with them. I’m constantly pushing my older daughter to go out and make friends all the time, because I don’t want her to miss out.

You will never be alone when you have good friends. Whether you see each other all the time or only sporadically, you know they’re the good ones when it seems like no time has passed since you last saw them and you always pick up where you left off. Donna and I have been together since we were 6. That’s 41 years now (she LOVES when I say that)! And I have a close circle around me now of real friends comprised of high school classmates, co-workers and Friends I Met On Facebook. And I have my North End friends. And the friends I met when I worked in Mississippi for 2 months two years ago and we still keep in touch. (They may be surprised how often I think of them. I had a great time with them.) And I have friends that I can only keep in touch with on the Internet, because of the distance we live apart (and even job schedules). I love Facebook. Did I mention how lucky I was? I am, truly. I may say that a lot. Deal with it. It’s the truth. The people around me are good people. You all played a part in who I am and how I am (credit or blame, you decide). And I really do love you.

To my North End friends: you are a wonderful and insane group of people. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you for the constant laughter. I love you, you “____”! (I will not insert their word here; it’s even worse than my favorite word ‘fuck’!)