My Best Friend Was Born in 1942.
In fact, it’s her birthday today. Her favorite snack was a saucer of beets from the Broadway Diner — but it had to be just the right amount because too little and you’d be getting right back up to get a few more slices of that slimy, red disc, but too much? What are you trying to do? Get her fat? Her secret talent was the ability to fold a fitted sheet with the speed and efficiency of an assembly line worker, an act that was truly a sight to see. She loved Denzel Washington, or as she affectionately referred to him as “my man Denzel” (because naturally she was on a first name basis with a man she had never met). Naturally gifted with numbers, she did her own taxes and only got scolded by the IRS once. And despite being as tall as a small child and as heavy as a wet rag, her petite stature did not preclude her from having the mouth of a longshore fisherman from the south side of Boston.
My best friend was my grandmother, which is a phrase many might be embarrassed to say but for me? It’s a point of pride. We had an instantly magnetic, nearly inseparable bond for as long as I can remember. We were attached at the hip, so much so that sometimes I’ll be walking around in Jersey City to this day and someone will recognize me as “Ellen Zadroga’s grandson” to which I nod and pretend like I remembered them. And then when I asked my grandmother who that person was later in the day, she’d tell me the smallest, most intimate detail about this person that she remembered from as long as forty years ago.
The way she remembered this catalog of people was a testament not only to the outreach she had in the city that she knew and loved, but also the way which she genuinely cared for others. These people weren’t always just a friend or a coworker. Sometimes they were people she hadn’t even met. But they were all someone my grandmother had, in some way, shape, or form helped with a favor. A favor that she had no expectation of being returned, but that she selflessly did from the kindness of her own heart. Her compassion and generosity were just a few of the many lessons she imparted on me while she was here.
She stressed the importance of going after what you want, no matter how long it would take or how difficult the journey would be, because the end result would be something you’d be proud of. When I applied to grad school, I kept it a secret from her until the very last minute because the thought of leaving her and flying across the country was too much to handle. But when I did finally confess my plans, she reminded me of that initial ideal. She told me that she knew I didn’t want to be sitting around her house working a part-time job; she told me that, while she didn’t understand the exact workings of the entertainment industry or what the Hell I would be doing, that it is what I wanted to be doing and that I needed to chase that dream while I had the opportunity to. I went on to graduate with a portfolio of work that Grandma knew every detail of. During my trips home, I would catch her on the phone bragging about all the writing I’ve gotten done and the cool things I got to do at my internship. Knowing that what I was doing was a source of joy for her, a talking point for her, made the separation easier. Every time I opened up a new document to start a new project, I started with her in mind. Most of what I do in life, I do with grandma in mind.
Three days prior to her passing, we ended our phone call in a way we never have before. Normally we signed off with a “love you, talk to you next week,” but this time was different. This time it was “love you… good bye.” As much as I wish I could have seen her or spoken to her one more time, I cherish the serendepitious nature that I was able to say good bye.
Happy birthday to my best friend, I miss you already.