The first time I met Jeanine, she was wearing a bright yellow SuperDance T-shirt, cut-off knee length jean shorts a la "Dirty Dancing" and those pointy-toed patent-leather puffy bow shoes that all the popular girls rocked in 1991.
"This girl is cool," I thought and immediately landed myself a best friend. We were 14 and it was that easy. Nice clothes, cool shoes, same homeroom, let's hang out.
On Sunday, as she sat next to me in St. Clare's church and held my hand while the priest baptized my son, I started reflecting on how many other times Jeremiah's fairy godmother (Erin's words) has held my hand over the past 19 years.
"I love you," she whispered to me on the morning of my wedding, both of us all primped and pretty, mascaraed and hairsprayed, crying like morons right before I walked down the aisle.
"I can't believe I have to go live with a boy now," I answered, turning our tears into giggles, smooshing her makeup back into place with my thumb.
It wasn't the first time we were blubbery, lovey-dovey messes and it certainly wouldn't be the last. Our friendship has survived countless milestones over this two-decade run: weddings, funerals, break-ups and more. Throughout it all, my bond with Jeanine has only gotten stronger.
"She picked on you yesterday, so she can't do it again today," she said to me countless times during freshman year of high school, holding my hair on the bus stop every Tuesday morning, while I emptied my nervous stomach onto Hylan Boulevard in wretched anticipation of being totally embarrassed in Mrs. Gerathy's first period Global Studies class.
"We will definitely be friends forever," she recited to me in poem-form as we stood arm-in-arm in black velvet dresses at each other's sweet sixteen parties, lighting best friend candles, bawling our eyes out over some inside jokes and completely nonsensical 16-year-old stories.
When whatever-his-name-was cheated or dumped or lied, we cried and laughed and then cried again on the phone until 2 a.m. We covered our ears and hid in the bathroom when her mom tried to tell us all about the birds and the bees. We came pretty close to burning her house down when our 15-year-old-selves decided to make pancakes from scratch for the first time without any previous experience. Ever.
We wore white caps and gowns and held hands on line during graduation even though the nuns threatened us with rulers to keep our arms straight at our sides. And in college, we partied and puked and danced and promised to always close down the club - even when we had gray hair and grandchildren.
"Nothing is ever going to be the same," she told me when her mom died ridiculously young 12 years ago, as we both sat Indian-style on her living room floor, sobbing uncontrollably, polishing the cream-colored shoes that her mother would be buried in the next day.
She was right, of course, but every October we hold hands and wear pink and relive some of the happier moments as we walk in a circle at Clove Lakes Park.
"Can you believe we've been friends for this long?" I asked her recently when we connected for one of our marathon phone calls - one of those catch-up ones that covered everything that happened in the previous week or so.
"It's crazy," she replied. "I can't remember a time when you weren't in my life."
In a word, our relationship is intimate. I know why she hates flowers. She knows that from far away, it looks like I have six toes, but I don't. She'll beat up anyone who makes fun of that. Even if she fights like a girl.
When I ask "how's life?" and her "everything's great" has a little squeak at the end, I know for a fact that everything indeed is not great. I also know that if I called her with a problem in a snowstorm, when her house was on fire and all of Staten Island was enduring a massive flood, she would drop everything to come over and make my life right.
We even managed to make ourselves related somewhere along the line - my sister married her brother. We set it up. Mostly so that we could spend holidays together for the rest of our lives.
"So happy you're up here with us," I whispered right after they doused Jeremiah's head and Jeanine helped me pat him dry - both of us naturally tearing up and laughing a bit over little man's outfit. (That seersucker suit and side-cocked pea cap is total proof that the two of us should not be allowed to go shopping together alone.)
"I love you," came her reply as she pulled me in closer and smacked a big one on my left cheek.
"Love you too," I answered, reaching down, grabbing both of her hands tight, my mind racing through all of the laughter, tears and memories that we've shoved into these days, weeks, months and years.
And that's when it hit me: These years that I've spent being best friends with Jeanine were filled with so many wonderful moments. And each one has been so special because she was along for the ride.
Can't wait to see what the next 19 will bring.