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Today, I am especially grateful for old friends, even more specifically, one I’ll call Dean.  His real name isn’t Dean, but, as unnamed characters go, never since Eddie Vedder in Singles have I loved anyone who wore flannel until Dean Winchester from Supernatural.  My Dean in flannel was a lumberjack without an axe, earthy and sharp in all the right ways.

As far as named characters go, I don’t think I have loved anyone in flannel as much as dearest Dean, at least since my late teens. Come to think of it, Eddie Vedder, circa 1991, probably came close.

I have often kidded in the nearly thirty years that I’ve known him that he saved me from the KKK. The truth is less dramatic; he was my coward’s way of breaking an agreement to go on a date. Dean, Random Date Dude, and I worked together for a summer the year I turned eighteen. Random Date Dude and I were a working pair, and, when he asked me to see a movie with him, I, as flattered as an inexperienced eighteen-year-old in the 90’s could be, agreed with enthusiasm.

Merely hours after I accepted Random Date Dude’s invitation, he proceeded to lecture me on how a certain race of people were the source of all the world’s problems—even those we worked with and for. Too many babies, too much welfare, they were directly contributing to so-called white genocide. It was my first exposure to anyone quite like this. The tattoos I admired for their edginess I learned were less celtic-y and more white supremacy. I recoiled but could not speak.

Instead, at the beginning of our lunch break, I dropped my ass across the table from a mutton-chopped science major, Dean. I had spoken only a few words to him since we had begun working together, and yet, he was my target.  I then informed him, with all the confidence of a school principal, that he would ask me out, publicly, for the same day as my previously scheduled date, and I would accept, right in front of David Duke-y.

At eighteen years old, I somehow wasn’t assertive enough to stand up to Random White Supremacist Date Dude, but I was just assertive enough to tell Dean exactly what he would do and exactly how it would go down.

I am grateful Dean let a very strange stranger boss him around, and I am even more so that he stood for me when I was unable to stand for myself.

I am especially grateful for almost thirty years of friendship after that “incident.”

I am grateful for his hand that held mine for my first body piercing at twenty-one years old and my first tattoo at forty; I am grateful for the squeezes of those fingers that coaxed me just beyond my fear, allowing me to fulfill my dreams. I am grateful, too, that he tolerated the mania that immediately followed the piercing and the tattoo.

For my first real introduction Koko Taylor and to the blues and then to Lady Gaga and Nina Simone, I am grateful. For our hurricane-braving, Sunkist-and-Vienna-Sausage-laden trip in torrential rain to New Orleans to see Live for my first time, I am also grateful. I am grateful as well that he stood beside me at that concert on the very day I was fired from a waitressing job, as I belted out lyrics as they played their song, “Waitress.”

“come on baby leave some change behind

she was a bitch, but I don’t care
she brought our food out on time
and wore a funky barrette in her hair
come on baby leave some change behind”

 I am especially grateful that he was there the first time my heart was truly and utterly broken, and also that he was there as I attempted again and again to stitch it back together, often with disastrously dissolving threads. He was there for horrible relationships, terrible jobs, bad driving records, and dispiriting circumstances.

He was there, too, for the sheer joy of the perfect cup of coffee, exuberance of dropping bubble-gum parachutes off the top of  buildings, and the excitement of new loves.

I am grateful for the nights we pooled money for shared late-night fries at IHOP, half-decent meals at a local truck stop, extraordinary margaritas at our favorite Mexican dive, and all the silly and heart-baring conversations that ensued.

I am grateful he introduced me to the loveliness that was Ms. Mona’s. While the coffee shop was temporary, my passion for good coffee as well as his friendship, still stand.

I am especially grateful that my PawPaw didn’t shoot him when he mistook Dean with his tacklebox of facial piercings for the worst person I’ve ever known.

I am not particularly grateful that he named my Saturn “Babs,” a thing to this day I still do not understand, but I am grateful that he helped continue the tradition of naming our vehicles. For the many inside jokes cultivated over decades and the inescapable laughter that follows, I am very grateful.

I am grateful that, even though he didn’t attend my wedding, he offered me a joint as a wedding present. Had I been wise, I would have taken the joint and left the groom. I am also grateful that, four years later, he watched me with big eyes but no judgment as I danced in an open field to “Overcome,” yet another Live song, and began to put myself together again after having failed at marriage. 

I am grateful that, despite having not talked for months, he answered the phone at 4:15 one morning as I sobbed that my wrists had failed and that I would not be able to lift my dog into my car.  My dog had ripped her stitches wide-open, and I needed my vet to repair her post-surgical nightmare. 

I am especially grateful that, although we vehemently disagree on everything from pho to facts, he has always felt like coming home. I am grateful that, because of our political polarity, I have re-examined my beliefs and have been open to changing my mind. Because of my Dean, I have measured my beliefs again, deepened my understanding of them, and learned to articulate the “why” that is the platform of my convictions. 

I am also grateful that he is accepting of having a friend who is always, always right.

I am grateful, too, for the depth of our commonality and the shallowness of our difference. I am grateful that together, we are the tide. Whether contact ebbs or flows, we are still always present.

I am grateful that, even after thirty years of friendship, we have new things to experience for the first time together, and sometimes those things are socially-distanced raspberry and cream cheese king cake and the richest coffee ever in the middle of a pandemic. 

I am so very, very grateful that I live in a world that has Dean in it. 

I am especially grateful for that.