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copyright 1999, Lois June Wickstrom

My Friend Cindy is Turning Into Me

by Lois June Wickstrom



Cindy called me last week from Colorado. I wasn't home, and I had to call her back. We talked and giggled for an hour. You see, Cindy is turning into me. Only I'm not what Cindy remembers me as.

So, more precisely, Cindy is turning into what she thinks I used to be before I turned into what I am now. Only she isn't that simple either. She used to think I was weird. Now she has no doubts because she has become weird too.

She was calling partly to see what she will become next, and partly to reassure me that she doesn't find being weird anywhere near as scary as it looked from the outside. Part of our giggling is the relief of the terrified at finding our fears to have been greatly exaggerated.

Cindy is one of those people who found me as a premade package. When we met, in a physics class, I was married, had my children (one of whom was born at home), lived in a house with a bee hive on the back porch, and was applying to medical school. Cindy cannot picture me otherwise, even though when we met she was unmarried and lived without children in an apartment, just like I did when I was about her age. She is now married to a man with a similar build to my husband, and lives in a house-trailer, but she doesn't have bees yet.

To Cindy I was the 28_year_old who ate vegetarian three times a week with strange foods like tofu and burdock, lived without a television, and spent my spare time in my garden. She used to come over to watch me can my extra produce, as if I were performing magic in a cauldron.

She thought the strange recipes concocted in my kitchen were an adventure, even though she kept asking if I was sure these foods were really meant for human consumption. A trip to my spice shelf or cookbook collection was an education, even though she was in college. Still, I was weird, and I could tell she was a little afraid of me. I too have been afraid of what I was becoming, and have felt the fear/attraction towards the people whose lifestyle I was about to adopt. Remembering this fear I giggled, and Cindy took my laughter for the vagaries of an older woman. Cindy now understands that giggle.

I have not become what I am on purpose. And neither did Cindy. No child, when asked "What will you be when you grow up?" says, "I'm going to become a health food nut, wire my own house, take lots of underpaid short-term jobs, have my babies at home,  and giggle a lot." I became these things only because they made sense when I started to do them. I took these activities on only one at a time, and they just sort of built on each other. Now I see I have also become a mentor, and that was not intentional, either.

Had anyone told me in my early twenties what I would be today, I wouldn't have believed them. They might just as well have said I'd become the first woman president, or the first person to land on the moon. When I was twenty, I was knocking on people's doors, with a baby on my back, telling them how they should vote. I thought this was an adult form of trick-or-treat. Most people who heard my spiel clearly would have been happier to have seen me in a witch costume begging for candy. But that would have been crazy, and becoming a true crazy was never in my dreams. In fact, the idea scared me.

Cindy's doctor has just put her on a diet almost identical to what she saw me eating. Cindy labeled me a health food nut for what I ate, and I countered by calling myself a natural food freak. Now she is eating what I used to eat, and now she thinks it's normal.

She even liked a food column I wrote about whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, which she used to think were perverted. Now she looks forward to shopping at the funky store where she used to accompany me when I bought my veggies. She says the store has changed ownership and she misses the picture of the little fat kid on the wall who used to look down and inspect the contents of my grocery cart. Our giggling was partly relief that becoming me isn't half as scary as it looks. She loves the food and she thrives on how it makes her feel.

Cindy also called to tell me that she now has a garden, and is copying my mulching style. She's building tomato cages with a compost pile in the middle, just like I had. I was jealous. Since moving to Florida, my gardening has become almost reactionary. This year, my tomatoes are growing in plastic bags of potting soil underneath my clothes line, and I feed them with store-bought hydroponic mixture.

I don't have a worm in sight, and my six plants won't give me any excess to can. Cindy now has a canner, and a freezer, and shares food with her neighbors. She used to be one of the neighbors to whom I gave extras, and she thought it was charity. Now she knows the real reason is that it's fun to give away food you have grown to people who will enjoy eating it. She even gets a picture in her mind of the recipient setting her food on his table and licking his lips in anticipation.

Some things are still the same. Like me, Cindy is again starting a new underpaid job. This time she's a bookkeeper __ one of the few jobs I haven't tried. And she's still reading science fiction__ picking many of the same titles I'm reading, even though we no longer shop at the same store.

Cindy wanted to know if I am still up on herb medicine, and was relieved to hear that this is one interest which has grown since we last met. Cindy knows that not all of my changes are permanent.

After fifteen years, I relented and allowed a television into my house again. Shortly thereafter, we got a dog who is usually playful enough to keep my children out of their chairs and away from the set. This year marks my fifteenth year of experimenting with herbs.

Cindy had reason to ask if I'd abandoned those mysterious things she'd gingerly sniffed on my spice shelf. Cindy tried her first herbal brew when doctors couldn't treat her headaches. She came to me, and my herb teas gave her relief until the doctors discovered the cause was her birth control pills. This time she wanted some preventive herbs, preferably ones that taste good. Soon I expect Cindy to be giggling with me about becoming an herb doctor. Like all the rest of our projects, it is much scarier to think about than to do. Still, like all changes, it exacts its price.

Just as my politics came across as a childish prank, my tolerance of folk medicine cost me admission to medical school. I don't know what Cindy said that kept her out of radiology school, but at the time we commiserated with each other on our aborted careers. In this phone call we giggled about how blind we have been to the ways of the world, and speculated about where our stumbling will lead us next.

Cindy is getting a long distance calling service next month, and she gets a free hour for signing up. She's going to call me again, and we'll have lots more to giggle about.