Ines always brings a hand fan to swing dances, and she only dances when the spirit moves her. Sometimes the spirit moves her to stay home and drink wine with Orange, the name she’s given her armchair. Other times the spirit moves her to take herself to the symphony, resplendent in a zebra-print coat.
Ines is one of my closest friends. She is the one I drink champagne with for no reason and the person I text before I go to bed. Given that we’re separated by nearly four decades in age (I am 30 and Ines is 69), our friendship surprises people.
“But what do you have to talk about?” they ask.
What don’t we have to talk about? Some conversations — such as whether or not to buy a dress, or relationship advice — resemble those I have with friends my age. Others — such as Ines’ experience as a widow, or her plans for where to move when she can no longer live alone — do not. These are the conversations that help me understand what’s to come, not just for Ines, but for me.
I first saw Ines at a swing dance. I liked how she slapped her knee in the middle of a song and laughed as she bounced across the floor. We didn’t meet until a few weeks later when I was at a friend’s house for a party. Ines, the best friend of my friend’s mom, walked in holding a Brazilian custard.
From then on, we were the DBs, short for “dancing buddies.” We rode the bus together to dances and met up for Sunday matinees. One evening, Ines invited me over for dinner, where we ate poached salmon and flipped through photos of her grandkids, her grown son, her late husband. “People assume I’m less happy now that he’s died,” she said. “I was happy then, but I’m a different kind of happy now.”
Ines has an ebullience I want to experience, so I’ve started to emulate her. I named my couch Red. I put on black satin and take myself to the symphony. I consult the spirit before deciding to do things.
It didn’t take long for us to learn our respective ages don’t dictate our behavior. Ines often acts “young,” snatching a hunk of cheese off the ornamental parmesan wheel and staying until the end of the dance. I often act “old,” resisting new technology and canceling Friday night plans so I can be in bed by nine. Despite my view of our role reversal, Ines still signs her emails “old DB.”
“Stop saying you’re old,” I say. “You stay out later than I do.”
“That’s because old people don’t sleep well,” Ines writes back, sending an emoji with its tongue sticking out.
Our first trip together was to a swing dance festival in New Orleans. For fuel, we ate happy hour oysters and salted chocolate souffle. At night, we danced until our legs shook and then went home to ice our knees.
One evening, Ines and I sat outside at an Italian restaurant, watching the people go by. The waitress came to refill our glasses. “Did you have brown hair like your daughter when you were younger?” she asked Ines.
People often assume Ines is my mother. It’s not that we look alike; it’s that family is the dominant framework for people who socialize with our age difference. Some people express disbelief at our friendship, like the acquaintance who told Ines she couldn’t believe she would travel with someone she hardly knew. “But I know her very well,” Ines said. “She’s one of my best friends.”
It’s true. Ines and I are friends of the closest kind. We share clothes and cook each other breakfast. We counsel each other through heartbreak and revel in each other’s success. Through Ines, I see a broader swath of human experience: childbirth and grandchildren, widowhood and retirement. And through Ines, I have learned the art of creating joy for one’s self.
Perhaps it is not our friendship that people find transgressive, but the freedom it entails: the freedom to enjoy ourselves, the freedom to act outside the expectations of our age. It doesn’t matter if people find our bond strange. We have many years of friendship to come, with many evenings like the one we recently enjoyed: over mussels and focaccia we laughed and we cried. We ate chocolate cake. And then we danced, just as our spirits moved us.
Amanda Medress is a kombucha-chugging writer based in Oakland, CA.