(Hala and I with BJ Sung who introduced us)
There’re a million old love songs about meeting the perfect person; across a crowded room, on Blueberry Hill, down at Palisades Park. Meeting a friend has the same magical randomness. You miss a train at the same time, seated next to each other at a wedding (baby shower, charity event, professional development meeting) or stranded in a stalled elevator and find yourself with someone who makes you feel good. Now that I think of it—friendship is an affair that might last longer than a love story. After all, whoever left a friend because they found a prettier one? All this is a very long lead-in to how I met my friend Hala: She walked into my house on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve at our place is a comfy fall-in event; after church, just snacks and enough booze to properly “Wet the baby’s head” as we English like to say. As usual, friends asked to bring friends and as usual, we said yes. And in came Hala-my personal Christmas miracle. Bold and beautiful; Hala doesn’t enter a room; she invites it to reach around her and hug her. I don’t know what we talked about that night, but given our topics since then, it was probably hair products, diets and men. We both married twice and each have a child-there’s no end of things to say about those topics. Whatever our first meeting entailed it was wonderful enough that I knew she was epic friend material, and invited her again and again. She’s a treasure to hang with. Salespeople gravitate to her patience and pleasantness. Once, on a late-night, crowded checkout line, she entranced the harried saleswoman, “I hear your accent. Russian? I love coubliac. Do you make it?” The young women went from bent shoulders to perky in an instant. It was if Hala watered a thirsty rose bud. She chatted, wished us a super night and even suggested a nearby restaurant.
Hala’s quick one-liners will have me doubled over in laughter and in seconds she will say something so profound, we’ll cry together. She’s been my cheerleader and confessor every time I needed a shoulder to cry on or an ear to hear me. If she didn’t travel so much for her job, I’d be with her daily. After an evening in her company, I feel I can handle anything. She’s that wonderful to share my life with.
As a rule, I don’t create characters that are replicas of people I know. Like other authors I make amalgamations of friends, enemies, even strangers I observed by chance but, when I needed a character to be Alice’s sounding board, in Alice Again, I created Arva of Paris Designs by picturing Hala. While Arva’s ethnicity and career are wisps of my imagination, her humanity and sagacity are pure Hala.
So, your homework today is to read Chapter 30: A New Way of Looking at the World. Inside you will meet sympathetic, big-hearted, funny and loving Arva. You’ll know how blessed I am to have Hala for a friend.