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War Buddies

A solo sailor is one thing. A solo flyer is one thing. People get used to the idea that a girl in her mid-teens can face air or water or wind on her own. They don’t trust her to face people. Not without being overborne in some way or other. A girl needs a protector on land. That’s what they tell her, sometimes they’re right.

She was only fifteen. She lived in a railroad flat in Queens with no locks on the doors, and this was the early ’80s. It was a building full of crazy friends. She has stories about stealing mattresses from a hotel by throwing them out the window. She has stories about the friends testifying to each other’s insanity by turns so they could all get disability. She has stories about selling rooted spider plant cuttings in jam jars on the street on the twenty-ninth of the month.

She had a male friend who stayed with her there. She wasn’t stupid, she knew that a man who sees a girl with a guy figures she already has an owner and goes looking elsewhere. So, yes, she found a guy to pretend he was the owner if someone came sniffing around. The friend was kind of her boyfriend, but she had her life, he had his. At first they just looked out for each other, then they looked after each other, then they got together, then they got married. They’re still married.

She was never his type, he was never hers. They’re war buddies, is what they are. She has her friends, he has his. He’s a contractor. She’s a housing rights investigator for the state. They still live separately by day. They still watch each other’s backs by night.

Of course they’ve each thought about splitting away, looking for romance — but never seriously. Walking out on the ordinary kind of spouse is one thing. It’s tears and alimony and all that crap. But they were partners in the cop or detective sense, not married but sealed in blood. You don’t walk out on that kind of a partner.

If she’d been the approved kind of wimpy heroine who gets in the newspapers — if she’d been a solo long-distance sailor or flyer — she might have had the luxury of marrying on soft unreliable grounds like romance. She wondered what kind of soft souls would pair up without knowing if they had each other’s backs.


Martha Bridegam is a lawyer and freelance writer in San Francisco.  She blogs about good and bad places to sleep at


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