At the start of September of 2001, I was 23, and I had just started teaching high school full time, after a year of substitute teaching. I had met the other art teachers in my department only briefly before classes had begun, but I particularly liked the energy of the ceramics teacher, Gail. She was smart and sassy, and kind enough to take me under her wing.
A couple of weeks in, the calendar flipped to the now-infamous date: September 11, 2001. The school where we taught was across the water from the towers, the tragedy in clear view to us from the west side of the building as it unfolded. There was no protocol for this. No one was telling us what to do. Students were being kept in classes, teachers were relieving each other to call loved ones, etc. Gail and I stepped outside for a cigarette together. She was, if I recall, an unflappable (but not unfeeling) rock of a human that day. I felt like a baby. I had no idea how to be the grown-up in this situation. Gail held it all together. Somehow, we got through that day, that week.
LIfe resumed. The school year went on, Gail and I ate lunch together on free periods, put the art show on together, starting hanging out outside of work… and the friendship staring weaving itself together. On warm days we sat, side by side, on the benches in the projects, across from the school, and discussed things on a spectrum of minute to magnificent, professional and personal, artistic and asinine. On cold days we sat, side by side, in Gail’s car. She taught me how to teach. She is the Queen of Improv. I am the Queen of The Best Laid Plans. We reigned together. We became “besties” as the kids say, these days.
After several years of working (and sometimes commuting) together, attending each other’s life events and holidays, laughing and crying together, and pretty much becoming family to each other, I left NY for NE. Gail never judged my decision, never told me to stay or go, always picked up the phone when I needed to talk, always told me what I needed to hear (even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.) When I came back to NY with my infant son, Gail was amongst the first to see us and welcome us “home”. To Mato, she is “Gaga”… not quite Grandma, not quite an Auntie, but kooky and fabulous, and steadfast (as always.) He is ALWAYS happy to see her.
My oeuvre includes oodles of self portraits, and lots of animal references, after Frida, mi artista favorito… “selfies” as they are now called in the age of FB and Insta-G. In any case, I took this selfie recently, and used it as part of the invite for my 35th birthday party. Gail said it looked familiar. We talked about Andy Warhol and how he used the image, but that wasn’t what she meant…. A few weeks later, she texted me this picture of herself, circa 1980s? Yes, without ever having seen it, I made a self portrait very similar to one Gail herself had made years before. Here are the two photos, side by side. I love synchronicities such as this. Besties. Selfies.
As busy as life gets, it is always good to ride shotgun while Gail drives, talking about the past and the present, as we go forward, into the future, side by side.
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