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Kathy Bradley - Your true reflection can be found in a friend
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There are few people outside my family who have known me all my life, but Paulette is one of them.
    I was born in October; she was born the next May. Together with our parents and siblings we spent the vacations of our childhood wandering all over the state, and occasionally over the edges into the adjoining ones, visiting state parks and what we called tourist attractions. Our fathers worked for the same company. We bunked in the same cabins at church camp.
    Mama has lots of photographs of us. In nearly every one we have our arms around each other’s shoulders and our faces turned straight toward the camera — sweetly guileless, totally innocent and proudly uninhibited. Happy children.
    When we were teenagers, her dad accepted a promotion and a transfer that whisked them out of our daily lives to far-away Mississippi. I rode with them on the trip to scout out houses and it was a great adventure, the farthest west I had ever been. Still is.
    The summer after my freshman year in college, there was another trek across the deepest part of the deep South so that I could be one of her bridesmaids. But before I could don my pale blue dotted-Swiss dress and wide-brimmed white hat, we had to climb through the church’s bathroom window because somebody forgot the key. There is, much to our horror at the time and to our delight today, photographic evidence of breaking and entering.
    After that hot June afternoon we rarely saw each other. We wore matching yellow dresses when her sister got married a few years later and visited briefly at her grandmother’s 80th birthday party, but beyond that the only contact we had was the occasional Christmas card. While I finished college and law school and came home, she settled in Louisiana, reared two boys and helped her husband start several businesses.
    Somewhere along the line they bought a place in Florida, on the Gulf side, and a few months ago, when her parents were visiting mine and as we laughed and reminisced, I found myself responding to an invitation to meet them there by saying, “Just tell me when.” So it was that last week I found myself heading west on I-10 to Destin.
    One of the great blessings of my life is that I have a lot of friends. Mama likes to tell people that if I decided to make a cross-country car trip I could stay gone a couple of months and never have to stay in a hotel. She is probably right. The last time I counted, I’d stayed overnight in over 60 of my friends’ homes.
    You learn a lot of things by doing that, the main one being that the level of psychic comfort you feel while staying in someone else’s home is directly proportional to the depth of your relationship. Let it be said, then, that from the moment I stepped into the house at Destin I felt as comfortable as if I’d been at Sandhill.
    I had a lovely couple of days with Paulette’s parents before she joined us on Friday night. Saturday morning she and I, along with her 3-year-old granddaughter, Macy, took a walk along the sugar-sand beach. The late-autumn sun was sharply angled across the clear, clear water that gives the Emerald Coast its name and, despite the calendar having just turned to November, children played in the water while their parents stretched out in deck chairs, dozing in the sunshine.
    Watching Macy chasing and being chased by the waves out of the corners of our eyes, we strolled along the water’s edge and talked. Talked in tones that were slow and easy and cathartic. Talked about things and people from our shared past and from our separate presents. Talked about ourselves, where we had been and who we had become.
    That afternoon we said good-bye and promised to get together again soon.
    The photos I took on my trip, once developed, will show us, as before, with our arms around each other’s shoulders. The faces, though, will be different. No longer guileless or innocent or uninhibited. No longer the smooth faces of children, but the sculpted faces of women. Women who understand that — in the midst of a world that doesn’t always reward that which is authentic — one can always find a clear reflection, an undistorted image of who she is in the mirror of a friend.
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