When I was 12, I met my best girlfriend, Betty. She was older, but we immediately hit it off. One time, she came to my house dressed in a huge bunny suit. She gave me an Easter basket, and as she left, she kept the suit and the gigantic bunny head on, her yellow Volkswagen Beetle’s sunroof wide open to accommodate the ears. My mom and dad and I stood in the driveway, laughing.
She worked at Lagoon, so I got to spend lots of time there. I also ran errands with her as she visited all the park’s vendors, purchasing uniforms, hot dogs, midway prizes, and nuts and bolts. She taught me how to have a job, and how to work hard. She taught me about responsibility, mostly by bailing me out of bad situations.
One time my folks went out of town for a few weeks and they left Betty, five years older and in college, in charge of me. Hundreds of things went wrong, all of them my doing, including a German shepherd nearly consuming my mom’s little lap dog. Dudley was in pretty bad shape with an injured eye, several scrapes, and a punctured lung. Betty drove us to the animal emergency clinic, paid the bill, and never mentioned it again.
When I didn’t understand that she was busy with finals at the U., she sent me a postcard of the U. campus, with black lines drawn over the buildings, symbolizing that she was in jail. She wrote me a note saying, “Let’s have dinner next week when they let me out of here!”
As I grew up, she loaned me money for car repairs, rent shortfalls, and lots of other things. She never gave a thought to whether I’d repay her. We took trips together, always having the best time. No one is funnier or has a more highly developed sense of fun than Betty.
When I decided to go to college, she gave me an enormous care package with U. of U. insignia pens and pencils, sweatshirt, T-shirt, bluebooks, notebooks. I’m an only child whose parents didn’t go to college. I went to the U. because Betty showed me how.
Once, when we were both grown up, Betty got quite sick. I was worried she was going to die. I visited her in the hospital every day. I brought order forms for custom-made Birkenstock sandals and we took turns tracing outlines of one another’s feet. I put the drawings in an envelope, wrote a check –-- my money for once -- and sent away for the sandals, willing Betty to live long enough for the sandals to arrive. Every day I brought things for her: flowers, Toll House Pie from the Dodo, and a list called “Why I Love Betty.”
When I was a kid, we bonded over skiing, movies and dinners. As adults, we’ve cemented our friendship by marching for peace, marching to the White House for women’s rights, serving meals to homeless people and writing letters to point out the world’s injustices.
I’m an only child, but Betty is my sister. Over the years, she and I have participated in all of both families’ rituals. She was maid of honor at my wedding. I grieved with her when she buried her parents.
Betty fell in love with a wonderful Harvard grad and moved to Seattle 12 years ago, but we have remained very close. I’ve celebrated the births and birthdays of her kids. Her son Tyler phones my husband, calling him Mr. Science and asking him about the world. Yes, we’ve shared all the important moments. All but one.
Betty’s Harvard grad is Janet, and as lesbians, they haven’t been able to get married. Today, Betty and Janet became one of the six couples in Seattle who are asking King County for the right to get married. Seattle is already a pretty gay-friendly place, so asking the county to support the right of same-sex couples to marry should be a logical next step.
I am so proud of Betty for being a civil rights pioneer. Just like people have done for other causes in other eras, my best friend is being very brave. She’s a person who isn’t comfortable in the limelight, preferring to live her life quietly. All she wants is to be able to apply for a marriage license and marry the person she loves. For Betty and Janet, who already own a home, have blended their finances, and have equal parental rights, it’s largely symbolic.
But it’s a fairness thing. Other unjust laws in our nation’s history have been changed by symbolic acts, and when we finally reach the day that everyone can legally marry the person they love, Betty and Janet will be two of the many people who helped make it happen.
As a best friend, I had to lend my support. After all, Betty has always inspired me to point out the world’s injustices. And in the end, it’s cheaper than paying back all that money I owe her.
Barb Guy works for a nonprofit corporation and lives in Salt Lake City. She has written several columns for The Tribune.