This post is dedicated to my beautiful friend with whom I have shared many years filled with joy, love and sadly, heartache. I do not write in judgement of her, instead I am honoured to be included in her life. Her strength is an inspiration, and her honesty is brutal and refreshing.
I arrived at her home to find her already waiting on her porch. She was expecting me, and she had dressed for the occasion, radiant in a sundress and kitten heels. Her corkscrew curls were coiled tight and a shiny slick of hairspray had secured any strands that threatened to disrupt the perfect image of the woman, mother and wife who stood before me. What does one wear when they are being admitted to rehab? I wondered.
‘Hi petal,’ my chirpy sing-song attempted to disguise my concern, ‘look at you, don’t you look great.’
‘Hey poppet,’ she twirled, ‘you never know who you may bump into in these places. Oh hang on a minute I’ve just got to pop back and get something that I’ve baked for you.’
‘Oh Athena you’re an angel, I’m glad one of us learned to cook.’
As a child I managed to perfectly time my visits to Athena’s home just as her mother had pulled something delicious from the oven. I was accepted into their family and treated like a daughter, though more like the daughter they dreamed of than the one they found in their own. I was polite and quiet in her mother’s presence; in contrast, Athena was headstrong and argumentative, refusing to accept the repressive values that her mother bestowed upon her.
‘Thank you Soula, dinner was amazing, I better get home now or mum will be worried.’
‘No don’t go, you no finish. Look,’ she swept an arm across the dining table laden with kourabiedes, my favourite Greek biscuit.
Little crescent parcels were filled with almonds and laden with icing sugar and before I knew it I was devouring a plateful, intoxicated by their sweetness. ‘See Athena,’ Soula sang, ‘She is a good girl why you no be more like her?’
‘Mmmmmm your mum’s the best,’ icing sugar fell from my mouth as I passed the plate to Athena.
‘Sweet’s aren’t really my thing,’ Athena replied.
Years later I was to discover Athena’s “thing.” Unrelenting days at home with newborns and infants while her husband was building up his restaurant empire saw Athena seek respite in the bottle.
‘Just one wine, I mean this is the only thing that makes me feel like a grown-up,’ she said, as our children played in her expansive garden. ‘Did you ever think our life would turn out like this?’ Her question hung and I imagined that we both had a different answer. ‘You know I finally got away from my mother and now I find myself still locked in a home waiting on everyone hand-and-foot while Nick gets to actually have a life.’
‘Oh petal, at least we’re in this together,’ I laughed and pointed to our kids playing outside in the mud.
Our friendship was sealed on the first day of high school when we sat together: A girl from the wrong side of town and a Greek immigrant’s daughter among the throng of blonde-bobs. Athena was loud and spirited, she the type of friend who would tell you if your bum really did look big in that dress. I idolised her; she had a large, vibrant family and this was reflected in her energy. When she had married and had children I saw her as the poster girl for motherhood; I thought she had it all and I wondered why she needed little quiet me in her life. Little did I know how much she would really need me.
I arrived home from the rehab hospital to find my husband cooking dinner and my teenage son solving algebraic equations at the dining table. My home was measured and muted. ‘Are you okay? Would you like a wine? he asked. ‘Actually, not tonight, I think I’d prefer something sweet,’ I said, peeling the plastic from the plate of Athena’s kourabiedes.