Today a story of friendship that has thrived despite distance and pandemics for over forty years Debby Gies brings her best friend Sanja to coffee.
Meet My Best Friend San by D.G. Kaye
Today I’d like to introduce you all to my best friend Sanja, a.k.a., Zan, who you may recognize her name from some of my books. Sanja, pronounced – like ‘S’ plus ‘on’, plus ‘yaw’. I call her San (sounding like sand without the ‘d’) and when I call her by her full name, I pronounce it as San Ja, as in ‘jaw’. You will learn later how we love to make up new words.
We’ve been friends since we were both nineteen years old. That’s a long time, but then again, never enough. I met San when I moved away from home and worked part time in the building I was living in at the Recreation Center. I was the receptionist and gatekeeper of law and order of the gym, and San was a part time lifeguard up at the pool. After a few shifts together and one very quiet day at the Center, I buzzed up to the pool to ask her a question, and we blabbed away most of our shift. That was the beginning of our lifelong friendship.
This photo is us in our early twenties. Me with my blond hair streaked more blond and San with her natural hair color – until we changed our colors.
I should actually write a book about us and our shenanigans through the decades together, and most likely I will, but for now I’ll talk about how San became my ‘person’ in life through thick and thin, and how even an ocean that has separated us geographically for the last twenty-eight years never hindered our connection.
I grew up in a world of ‘colorful’ characters in my mother’s circles and with very conservative Orthodox Jews on my father’s side, despite my father never living his life as a conservative Jew. So that spectrum of my life was a total oxymoron when it came to family. I was a precocious, inquisitive, clever and street-wise child from a young age.
Because my mother was a social butterfly, barely home, we spent way too much time at our paternal grandparents’ growing up, a good ‘dump off’ spot for my mother. There was nothing Jewish about our family other than we were, and we went to synagogue with our dad and grandparents on all the high holidays out of respect for my dominating grandparents. Back at home we ate bacon and pork (although I personally no longer eat pork, as a choice, not religion) and my dad (when he was ever living with us), loved to order in Chinese Food or Pizza. I look back and it isn’t difficult to see how dysfunctional my family always was. And the funniest part was my, not even fully Jewish mother, who never had time to mother, had made it clear to me that I could only date Jewish guys. LMAO.
Okay, maybe I digressed here, but I had to set the setting to how my friend San turned my life into a 180.
Where I grew up, I only ever knew Jewish people. Exceptions were some of those ‘colorful’ characters I mentioned earlier in my mother’s gambling and racetrack circles. Heck, even my high school was 99 point something percent Jewish. After my tumultuous homelife and my parents’ many break ups, they finally divorced when I was sixteen. Two years later, my dad decided to sell our family home. My Aunty Sherry (my mother’s sister, and more my mother to me than my own mother), who happened to be a rental agent for a popular apartment complex mid-town in the city, hatched a plan with my father, to set me up on my own, to set me free from my mother’s rule, and allow me to experience life. My aunt got me a primo apartment and my dad paid my rent for two years until I could get myself sorted in what I wanted to do or be in life.
Enter San. There was an instant connection with us that first day we yacked for hours together at work. San, too, came from a somewhat dysfunctional family life, and that may have been the first thing we bonded over. Despite us being the same age (I’m actually 5 months older), I always look up to her like an older sister, sometimes even as a mother. I remember always feeling safe with her, safe to say anything, and protected. San was and is very nurturing and tactile, she’s warm and loving to everyone. When she enters a room, there’s a light that just puts her right in it. Despite the fact she’s physically beautiful, her heart and soul are equally beautiful, and she can often be the loudest one in the room. I warn, put us together and you will have a party. Until I met San, I’d grown up afraid of my mother, afraid to ask questions (I’d seek them out in other ways), zero talking about birds and bees, and the words “I love you” were not common practice anywhere in my life.
San introduced me to a whole new world of friends, and of living. And she taught me what unconditional love meant and taught me it was okay to tell people I loved them – something which felt most difficult to say all my life. She had/has many pet names for me and would often hug me and tell me she loved me. Oh, it felt so weird in the beginning, and of course, I felt so comfortable talking to her like I never had with anyone in my life until that point – not even my Aunty Sherry. I couldn’t tell my aunt my deepest feelings, for fear her allegiance to my mother would have her share anything noteworthy.
This photo was taken at one of girl get-togethers we do when Sanja comes home, about four years ago. This is my tribe. From left to right is me, Al, San, and my other bestie Anna, better known in my books as Bri.
San brought me into her world of close friends, who ultimately became my tribe of friends too. And as we grew and had various jobs, we’d both meet new people we’d introduce to each other, and our circle of friends grew. Only two people were Jewish in my wonderful new circle of multi-cultural friends, and I was loving and enjoying life. My first real best friend San is from the formerly known – Yugoslavia, now known as Croatia, and I fell in love with dating Italian men. I was introduced to a new world of diversity and I was never so happy.
I’d taken the opportunity to go back to university while my dad was helping me out and San was going to ‘beauty school’ to become an aesthetician. We remained working at the Rec Center a few more years, part time and Saturdays. And she made a damn fine aesthetician at that career, and magically, I had my own personal manicurist. San also taught me how to apply eye-shadow – PROPERLY. And she gave me the big thumbs down one time she caught me experimenting with BLUE eyeshadow. She still reminds me about that decades later. So, my best friend, sister/mother, social director, teacher of love was the pinnacle of my new life.
Through the years in our twenties, both San and I had active social lives, together, and in our own other various groups of friends. Her then fiancé and eventual first husband Jake lived in my building at the time with his parents while they were dating. Needless to say, San and Jake pretty much hung out at my place in our early years, as I was the one with my own place and they both still lived at home.
Our lives were full and exciting, and despite how busy our lives were, we were always together for everything that mattered. I had lost my father, both my grandparents and my Aunty Sherry in that first decade on my own, and besides always being by my side for life’s up and down’s, nursing me back to mental health on several occasions, San was always there to put me back together.
This photo was taken in the late eighties, just before I turned into a redhead. We were at a party.
The years passed and nothing separated us, not even San’s first two marriages. Husbands knew I was an appendage to San, and we still remained besties and there for each other always. Until that fateful day when San was going through some hardship of her own, she serendipitously met her soon to be third husband, only, he was visiting Toronto on business, and he lived in the U.K. In a whirlwind love affair, and after only a few short months of serious dating – flying back and forth to the U.K., among other amazing trips Tray took San on to some exotic places in the world, San announced she’s selling her house and moving to the U.K. with Tray. If I didn’t know heartache yet, and I had had plenty by then, I knew what a broken heart felt like way back then, but the pain of feeling your losing your best friend, confidante, mother, sister, all rolled in one, was almost too much to bear. After almost fifteen years of being attached to my best friend, she was leaving me, or so I thought, because that’s how it felt.
We never lost touch, and our friendship survived an ocean between us. We called each other every few weeks, and twice a year since she moved away, she’d fly back home to Toronto to visit me, her sister, and her parents, as well as get together with as many friends as time would allow.
Just before I met my George, and just after a nasty, abusive relationship that took me seven years to get out of prior to meeting George, San called me and told me to get a plane ticket and come on down for the big 50th birthday bash she was making for Tray. She elaborated by telling me that two days after the party, we’d be heading to Paris for a few days while Tray had business there. I laughed out loud and asked her if she’s crazy, as though I could just jaunt off to U.K., let alone Paris, after finally booting out my extra source of income and in-between jobs, with not much money on hand. But that wasn’t an issue, and San made it clear. “Just get a plane ticket darling, that’s all you need.” That was and is my San.
The party/Paris trip wasn’t my first visit to San’s. I’d already visited twice prior. Once she toured me around London and we shopped ‘til we dropped everywhere we went. Another time she’d called me up with the same chat – “Just book a plane ticket to London, that’s all you need.” Her and two British friends had rented a villa in the Algarve, Portugal and Zan towed me along. But Paris. Paris was ours, and a place we left our footprints (our voices) everywhere we went. People didn’t know who we were, yet, they were fascinated by us.
We laugh all the time, near or far. San is medicine for the soul. We’ve also created quite an extensive vocabulary of nonsensical words through the years with our silly humor. Most of these words were spoken in error or haste that ultimately turned into ‘our words’.
Here’s an example of how this happens: The word ‘Tomania’, that one came from me. Whenever we say bye on the phone, we always say we’ll talk tomorrow. I have a habit of saying ‘manana’ for tomorrow, the Spanish word. I was trying to say I’d speak to her tomorrow when I conjoined manana and tomorrow and tomania came out of my mouth. We both cracked up and have officially replaced the word ‘tomorrow’ with ‘tomania’ now. We have only to look at each other and burst out laughing. All the words we’ve invented together didn’t involve any deep thinking, rather words that came out of our mouths incorrectly, that were pronounced incorrectly and sounded funny at the time, becoming our list of ‘words’, words that have accumulated through the decades and which we still use in conversation. I could list off a bunch more to you, but without knowing the background context behind about how the words evolved from a random moment of hilarity, they’d lose their flavor writing them here now.
I would be remiss if I didn’t show a pic of me, San and her/our handsome son Jay who, until the last visit three years ago, came along with his mom to Canada every visit.
Until Covid came along, San visited back home here once and sometimes twice a year since she moved away. Her parents are no longer alive, so she stays between my home and her sister’s. I hadn’t been back to the U.K. to visit there in some years as I didn’t want to leave my husband for any long period of time, and ironically, my husband had no interest to be anywhere other than North America or on a cruise ship.
During my husband’s health decline, and his ultimate passing, I never needed my best friend more in my life. Covid wouldn’t allow her to come here. The best we could do was use Whatsapp. That woman called/calls me every single solitary day since last fall. It didn’t matter that I kept telling her, ‘I have to go, I have to take George to the washroom, I have to make him some food, I have to …….’, it didn’t matter. She’d tell me to put the phone down and she’d carry on doing whatever she was doing, but she was staying there with me. And she did, and still does for a few hours every day.
Since my husband’s passing, we still talk once and twice a day, as I’ve been anxiously awaiting her arrival to Canada. Hopefully, she’ll finally be coming here around mid-October She will stay with me for a bit, then we will drive up north to stay with her sister for a few weeks and I will finally be flying back with her to stay at her place in Kent to take a distance from the pandemonium life I’ve been living this past year.
Hopefully, I’ll get to visit with as many as my British friends as I can while there, and then we are going to dash off to Spain to make some new memories!
I hope you enjoyed learning about how my best friend San came to be. It just goes to prove that no distance or time can break a true, love relationship. Thanks for reading my story.
Debby Gies is a Canadian nonfiction/memoir author who writes under the pen name of D.G. Kaye. She was born, raised, and resides in Toronto, Canada. Kaye writes about her life experiences, matters of the heart and women’s issues.
D.G. writes to inspire others. Her writing encompasses stories taken from events she encountered in her own life, and she shares the lessons taken from them. Her sunny outlook on life developed from learning to overcome challenges in her life, and finding the upside from those situations, while practicing gratitude for all the positives.
When Kaye isn’t writing intimate memoirs, she brings her natural sense of humor into her other works. She loves to laugh and self- medicate with a daily dose of humor.
“I love to tell stories that have lessons in them, and hope to empower others by sharing my own experiences. I write raw and honest about my own experiences, hoping through my writing, that others can relate and find that there is always a choice to move from a negative space, and look for the positive.”
“Live Laugh Love . . . And Don’t Forget to Breathe!”
“For every kindness, there should be kindness in return. Wouldn’t that just make the world right?”
Books by D.G. Kaye
Thanks to Debby for sharing this wonderful and enduring friendship with Sanja.. if we are lucky we will all have that one special person who has been with us through the highs and lows of our lives.