Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Truth Bomb, or How To Be A Big Sister Even When You're Not

No one makes me laugh like Amanda Hamilton.  I’m talking about the kind of laughter that makes your cheeks hurt and tears stream down your face.  Amanda is that kind of funny. 

Although Amanda was always performing for others, she spent most of her time backstage.  That’s where I met her; we were on the stage crew together in high school.  Active in the local theatre community, school was more of an obligation than anything else.  Amanda was always smart, but school wasn’t a priority; Amanda had other things to do. Because of her involvement in the local theatre community she was often out late and therefore, often tardy to class.  She would bribe the secretary in the attendance office with Egg McMuffins in exchange for a late slip.  With her quick wit and the ability to turn on the Southern charm when needed, Amanda always seemed to be in control.

A senior when I was a freshman, Amanda was far more worldly than any other high school student I knew.  She had her own car, a late model white Volvo that was always filled with random props and costumes from whatever show she was working on, tapes (yes, tapes) of show tunes, and fast food bags.  She didn’t really hang out with other students, but she was willing to hang out with me.  She was like the cool big sister who was nice enough to let me tag along and smoke the occasional cigarette.  My first hangover was a result of a night drinking Zima at Amanda’s house.  We sang show tunes, spent our spring break doing local Shakespeare in the Park, and talked incessantly about moving to New York.

Her grand plans for New York were sidelined as she made an almost decade long detour along the Gulf Coast.  For someone who always seemed like an adult, she still had some growing up to do.  She shares with me a piece of wisdom passed on by a friend during those turbulent years. “She told me every woman between 19 and 26 should be locked away because they are insane, untrustworthy and likely to get you arrested,” Amanda laughs, “And that was true.”  

But eventually Amanda found her way to New York.  Along the way friends renamed her Maggie.  It became a reinvention of sorts, a way to say goodbye to her childhood. She settled in an apartment in Hells Kitchen, just four blocks from my own.  Every Sunday night we would get together for dinner and watch Sex and the City and Queer as Folk.  New York can be a lonely place despite the swarms of people, and Amanda provided the comfort that comes with familiarity. 

Amanda worked in IT while trying to find her place in the NY theatre scene.  Her impeccable work ethic, and her talent on and off stage, began to pay off.  She found her tribe and was soon an active member of the downtown theatre world, producing new work and winning awards. 

Eventually, she left New York for London.  We visit via Skype and before we know it, two hours have passed.  As always, there was laughter; but there were also a few tears along the way.  We talk about the loves that have come and gone, as well as old friends.  Amanda and my mom were kindred spirits.  As we talk, Amanda tells me about the first time they met.  It was in the school auditorium.  Amanda explains, “She looked at me like I know and I looked at her the same way, but we both knew nothing would be said about it.”  Amanda had not yet come out as a lesbian, but in my mother she found an ally. 

Now married to her first real love, a woman she met in Florida while in her 20’s, they live in London where Amanda does IT for a healthcare company.  The girl who coasted through high school is now a diligent student working toward her MBA.

We have the kind of friendship that comes from a place of genuine love and respect, so we can be honest with one another, drop the truth bomb from time to time, and know that it comes without judgment. She tells me that my mother still speaks to her sometimes, giving her guidance.  She remembers the promise she made to her just before she died, a promise to watch over me.  I’ve always felt safe with Amanda, like if I needed her she would be my protector. 

We marvel at the journey we’ve each had and how our stories are interwoven in many ways.  It’s a story about how two girls from Mobile, Alabama, who at times faced great obstacles, have managed to find our way in the world. 
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