The Story: You know a friend really loves you for who you are when their Christmas gift to you is hand-made magnetic googly eyes to facilitate your obsession of googly-eyeing and photographing strange things wherever you go. Tiff is that friend. She knows me well.
Tiff and I met when she joined the social committee of the Manchester Young Professionals Network, probably in November 2005. What we can’t pinpoint quite as well was when we went from simply working together on a committee to the amazing friendship we have today. Tiff is one of the core members of my framily and one of the people I adore most in this world.
I remember Tiff very clearly from those early MYPN meetings. She stood out from the rest of the volunteers because she was enthusiastic, organized and accountable. She had great ideas and followed through on every one of them. She did so well, in fact, that we brought her onto the board of directors within a year or so. I worked with Tiff on that board for the next four years.
Over drinks, I literally got out a notebook and we started sketching out dates and milestones to see if we could pinpoint when we went from what I like to call friendquaintences, to framily. It would be easy to say that it was in August 2008 when she moved into one of Uncle Mark’s apartments right across the alley from me. However, I’m sure we had already made that leap by then or I wouldn’t have connected her with Uncle Mark in the first place.
For a few years, while she lived across the alley, we would literally stroll from one house to the other, in pajamas and slippers, carting wine or coffee or tea or side dishes or whatever yummies, depending on which house was serving breakfast, dinner, movies or companionship. It wasn’t uncommon for one of us to drop a text and say “dinner in 20” and the other one of us would show up in time for hot food and some conversation.
In May 2009, we started a tradition that I hope we continue for a very long time: a girls’ getaway over Memorial Day weekend. That first year, we went to Boca Grande, a barrier island off the west coast of Florida, somewhere south of Tampa. Our friend Julia’s grandfather had a house there and the three of us, plus Christina, went for a long weekend. We all had boyfriends at the time, so this was sort of a big deal to get away “just the girls.” This was also the trip where “porpoise-ing” became a thing (you’ll have to ask Tiff or Christina).
There are so many stories from this weekend but they start at the rental car pickup counter. Julia had booked the car so she was the one talking to the clerk. She finished the transaction and came to get us and told us the car was in space “61 and a half.”
We all second-guessed her and figured she must have heard wrong, but she assured us, the car was parked in space “61 and a half.” So out we go to the parking lot, walking across rows until we find the tiniest car you have ever seen, literally parked in a space marked 61 ½. Now, there are four of us. You know well enough that I’m a tall girl but, in this crowd (and I hate to say it), I’m the second shortest. Christina and Julia are both taller than me. And we’re four girls going away for a long weekend. Tiff is the only one among us who even came close to packing light.
So we drag, roll and hump our bags over to space 61 ½ and look incredulously at the car parked there. How the hell are we going to fit the four of us, plus our bags, in that sardine can? We’re not sure what the hell we’re going to do but we are, literally, in fits of hysterics over it. The four of us are laughing and howling and trying to figure out how we’re going to make this work with an hour plus drive down to Boca del Vista (phase one).
We loaded our bags into the car. We took pictures of the bags in the car. We loaded Christina into the back seat and took pictures of her there. We took pictures of the space marked 61 ½. We were having a grand old time and we had every intention of cramming ourselves into that car, right up until one of the managers, who had been watching the absurd scene unfold, walked up to us and said that this just wasn’t going to work and he was going to get us another car.
This was remarkable because, while Julia was at the counter in the first place, the man next to her was trying to get an upgrade to an SUV and the clerk kept telling him that they were sold out that day. The customer was being belligerent so I suppose it wasn’t a surprise that we ended up with the “spare” full-sized SUV that day, in which we enjoyed our ride all the way down to Boca (despite the cricket stuck in the air vent that was seriously freaking Julia out).
The following year, we took our antics international when we made the drive to Montreal.
For this most recent girls’ weekend, we broadened the group and extended the reach a little when Tiff joined me, my parents, Dave and his mom for an amazing trip to Paris and the Loire Valley. I’m sure it was this trip that inspired the aforementioned Christmas gift as I google-eyed many of Paris’ notable landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Versailles and a particularly reachable walk/don’t walk sign.
My standard google-eye routine is to “lick ‘em and stick ‘em” to whatever surface I’m trying to adhere to. After I’ve taken the obligatory picture of the googled item, I peel the eyes off and put them back into the little travel case that lives in my purse, ready to be licked and sticked again at the next opportunity. I suppose, when you mention it – and Tiff has – all those little spit-covered googly eyes with goo from whatever they’ve been stuck to and then licked and sticked again is a little gross.
The day I was googling the walk/don’t walk sign, though, Tiff put her foot down – literally. After I dropped one of the google eyes on the ground, she literally stepped on it and wouldn’t let me pick it back up. “You’re not picking that up and putting that thing in your mouth again” she informed me. I guess I was so intent on my mischief that I hadn’t even thought through the whole “germs a-la French sidewalk” all over my errant eye. Hence, the magnetic googly eyes that I won’t have to lick and stick anymore.
Aside from defacing international landmarks (or being an accessory to it in Tiff’s case), we ate bread and cheese, drank a good deal of wine and saw every little bit of everything we could fit into nine days in France.
Well, almost everything. Except the Catacombs.
The Catacombs are this cool (and a little gruesome) attraction in Paris where you descend six stories (!) into the depths of the limestone foundation of the city and walk a mile (or so) long path through a burial ground underneath the city. Now, when I say burial ground, what I mean is piles and piles and walls and structures of exposed bones arranged in artistic formations. Here’s a wall made of artfully-stacked femur bones! There’s a delightful pattern made of skulls and tibias!
We were all pretty excited to do this. We had tried to get in three times before we finally made it in on the morning we were leaving Paris to head to the country for a few days to tour vineyards and distilleries.
The fun begins when we step into this tiny limestone circular stairwell and descend a whopping 122 steps into the bowels of Paris. It’s single file, Dave, his mom, Tiff, my dad, mom and then me. I’m doing ok at first and then I start to be doing not so ok. I’ve lost count of the stairs, so I have no perspective of where we are. I’m dizzy from the tight spiral of the stairwell and I’m a little uneasy about the lack of windows/horizon/any point of reference. But then Dave calls out that he’s hit the bottom and I breathe a sigh of relief because I’m only 20 or so stairs behind him.
The stairwell exits into a little room with the story of the Catacombs on the walls, sort of like a museum. And we’re reading. And soon, two men walk up behind me (the next guys down the steps) and I can feel something rising in my body and my hair at the nape of my neck sort of standing on end, but the room is an ok size, so I’m feeling ok(ish). Then we exit this room, turn the corner and we’re in this little hallway.
Now, when I say little, I mean maybe four feet wide and seven feet tall. At first I just think this is the hallway to the next room. But then we take a few more steps, turn a corner, see a long, dark hallway extending in front of us, and then I realize that THIS IS IT. THIS IS THE WHOLE THING. The whole thing is a little dark, dank hallway-sized path six stories underneath the sidewalks.
And that was precisely when I started to panic. I have never felt panic like this before in my life. It had nothing to do with “fear” or any rational thought. There was nothing mental or logical or frightened about the experience. It’s not like I was afraid the catacombs were going to collapse while I was down there. That wasn’t even a thought. It was purely visceral. My body told me in no uncertain terms that it did not belong in that place. And then, this realization, HOLY MOTHER OF FRESH AIR AND SUNSHINE, WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING DOWN HERE????
All of a sudden, I could feel the weight of the world on me, like I was standing underneath a thousand feet of water and the weight of it all was pressing on every inch of my skin. Then my ears started to ring. Then I started having a hard time breathing. We are fewer than 100 steps into the thing and it’s a mile plus path under the city with the only exit being at the other end.
Now we get to the part of the story where Tiff becomes not only a hero but, quite possibly, a life saver. I stopped in my tracks and said I had to get out. I said I couldn’t go another step forward. Apparently the panic on my face was such that my parents didn’t even question me.
Tiff said she’d walk back to the main room with me, which I was thankful for. By the time we got back to that room, I was in such a state that she said she’d come back upstairs with me. At first, I tried to say no because I didn’t want her to miss the Catacombs, but I was unbelievably grateful for the offer and I’m honestly not sure I would have made it without her.
By the time I got back to that main room, I didn’t know if I was going to throw up or poop my pants. I was experiencing full-on systematic shut down and I had no idea what to do. There was an emergency call box on the wall and I pressed the button and some guy comes on and says something in French. (Oh, yeah, right. Language barrier. Fantastic during a crisis.)
So I tell the intercom that I need to come back up and he blah-blah-blahs something in French on the intercom and I stand fixed to that spot staring at the intercom not knowing what to do. I hoped that there was some magic second door with a regular set of stairs – or even an elevator! – that would appear to rescue me. That’s when Tiff grabbed me by the arm and said, “come on; let’s go,” and dragged me towards the stairs.
Remember the stairwell we came down? Now we had to go BACK UP the 122, tiny, tightly-wound spiral stairs, against traffic. I’m not even quite sure how I made it up, to be honest. I’m pretty sure I blacked out for some part of it. Tiff was just a few steps ahead of me, sort of clearing the way while I dragged my carcass back towards the light of day.
We’d encounter people every 15-20 stairs and then you’d have to squeeze by them on these tiny stairs. It was not pretty. And most of the people we encountered didn’t speak English so they’re wondering what the hell you’re doing and where you’re going and whether they should continue on. It was quite the mess and, thankfully, Tiff handled most of the international relations so I could just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, all the while not puking on said feet.
When we got to the top of the stairs and emerged onto the surface of the planet, into the fresh air and sunshine, Tiff had the wonderful idea of just sitting on a park bench while I regained my senses. I kept apologizing to her for ruining her experience and thanking her for bringing me back to the surface safely and, in perfect laid-back Tiff style, she just said something like, “it’s ok; I wasn’t that interested in it anyway. And, now you know why I’m the best chaperone ever.”
Indeed I do, my friend. Indeed, I do.
See, Tiff chaperones trips with the college students she works with several times each year. Through the years, she’s regaled us with stories of their misadventures and how she’s had to swoop in and save the day from all manner of antics and disasters – and she always does – as she did for me in the Catacombs. I don’t think either of us would have guessed that I would have needed her chaperoning skills on this trip, but I’m glad that they kicked in and I lived to write about it!
After I regained consciousness and could stand and walk again, we started making our way to where the Catacombs trail let out to meet the rest of our group. Along our way, we passed through a cute little neighborhood shopping district and happened upon a store called, simply, Undiz, and went in for a gander. So, while I missed out on the Catacombs and 250-year-old artfully-stacked skeleton bones, I may have ended up with a few ruffled Parisian bits as a consolation prize, which happens to be much more my style anyway.
The Drink: Out for dinner one night at Republic, we looked at the drink menu and saw that there was a drink called The Left Bank. Since our hotel in Paris was on the Left Bank, near the Sorbonne and the Pantheon, we decided that that was a pretty good, and thoroughly relevant, drink to toast our friendship.