My bff, Pam, is home finally and for good! She has spent the last 18 months serving our country, and that meant enduring bad food, a bad Internet connection, sandstorms, insurgent rocket attacks, and a long, difficult separation from her husband and three daughters. I know they missed the hell out of her, and so did I.
When she left back in December of 2008, I fell into a deep funk. I cried a lot, and seemingly random events would trigger it. One day, my eldest found me weeping in front of the open dishwasher and asked what was wrong.
"I just realized I won't hear Pam yelling at her girls about cleaning the kitchen for over a year."
My son smiled at me because he knew exactly what I meant. Pam has always expressed her displeasure over an unacceptable situation in no uncertain terms. It's one of the hallmarks of her character and one of the many reasons I love her. In fact, that piece of her character is what cemented our friendship. We clicked as friends immediately. You know how you just have instant chemistry with someone? It was like that with us, but one particular incident sealed the deal.
Many years ago, when I first started teaching, a disaffected colleague tried to force my hand in an action I did not support. She came into my classroom after school one day, right across the hall from Pam's classroom, and we had an unpleasant confrontation. While she was there, the wind from the open window caught the door, and it slammed shut. Pam heard the door slam and swooped into my classroom like the Wrath of God. She was ready to take the other woman down, and I believe she could have done it. In that moment, I knew...absolutely knew...that Pam would always have my back no matter what. And she always has.
I have a scene in Sapphire Sins in which the heroine confronts a gun-wielding villain. I have an aversion (read phobia) to guns, but I needed to write a convincing scene. Pam took me to the shooting range and taught me to shoot both a revolver and a 9 millimeter. When we were done, I was able to describe the sound, the smell, the weight of the gun in my hand, and the serious adrenaline rush when I fired it. Even more than that though, Pam's guidance made me feel capable and powerful when I conquered my fear.
My friendship with Pam and our partner-in-crime, Linda, plays out in my writing in more important ways. My female protagonists have strong female friendships. I develop those relationships as carefully as I develop the relationship with the hero. Romance is great, but it's even better when you can share it with your friends.
When Pam left for Iraq, my depression worked itself out in the manuscript I was writing. My heroine and her best friend struggled because the best friend didn't like the hero. My only issue with Pam was the half a world between us, but my angst played out in my story.
Pam's influence shows in my writing in one more major way. I can't abide weak, milquetoast protagonists in a story. We all have moments of weakness, and certainly my characters do as well, but there is a strength at their core that gets them through the storm. We need strong female role models in both reality and fiction. Linda recently described a political speech we watched by saying, "She didn't just come across as weak. She came across as a weak woman."
No weak women play a major role in my life, and no weak women drive my stories. And by the same token, no weak man will ever be a hero. It takes a man of strong character to stay home and raise three teenage girls when his wife is called to active duty. I respect the hell out of Pam's husband, Mike. Only the best kind of man supports the interests and career of the woman he loves. That's real romance...not the hearts and flowers kind...but love based on mutual respect.
I spent last evening with Pam and her family. We sat around her dining room table and shared stories of war and stories of home. We laughed and took silly pictures. My heart is light in a way that only someone who has welcomed a soldier safely home can understand. When school starts in August, Pam will be teaching math in the classroom next to me. And that, my friends, is as it should be.