Thursday, March 29, 2007


I pulled out of your driveway and down the street. This strange summer day. I had spent the afternoon, sitting in your hollow home. Tile floors and wide doorways. This house was a gift from your family to you and Wes, that someday, when it was all too much for you to bear, when you could no longer do things on your would be provided for. I sat on the couch, Lucy the collie's head in my hand, wrestling for my attention. My eyes were on you. I watched you wavering, walking, fingers in the air, stiff and awkward, your kind face that I'd known all my life settling into a smile.

I've never loved a friend so much as you. I'd slept by your side so many nights of my childhood. We had spent our summer days exploring the never ending avenues of our imagination. We were so fortunate, dearest girl.

Our mothers had met at church and became fast friends, both strangers in a small town, both married to young ambitious professionals, both with small children. And truly, we were sisters from the start. You were always short and dark. I was tall and fair. You were soft spoken. I was loud. When your father became ill and your family moved away, we still saw each other, every holiday, every summer. We traded books and tapes. We wrote each other the longest letters that we possibly could. We talked for hours on the phone. Our lives were completely interwoven an hour and a half apart. My favorite time of every year was your birthday, which usually fell around Columbus Day. My school would be out on that holiday. So I'd go down to Sesser and spend the weekend with you. And on Monday, when you got up to go to school, I went with you. I've no idea what trouble your mother (who was a teacher there at Sesser) went through to make this possible, maybe none at all. But let me say now, that I was always so thankful for it.

It was a chance for me to live one day a year in the dream that you and I would, just like in Saved by the Bell and all the other teen shows I watched every Saturday morning, go to school together, gossip, hang out at our lockers, pass notes in class. You were my best friend. I wanted to spend my youth hanging out on Friday nights and talking about boys. I wanted to spend my days pulling pranks on teachers with you, cutting class, walking home from school together.

I spent my youth on the outside. I was the artistic girl, the non-smelly freak in a small rural school of 100 students, who loved Dinosaur JR and R.E.M., Klimt and Van Gogh, and hung out with her art and band teachers more than her fellow students. I remember walking those ten blocks to school by myself every day, most always very late...walking home was worse, the cars full of laughing, silly students driving right past me as if I was completely invisible...and I was.

I was never invisible to you. You... How can I say this? Huntington's. I knew. I knew when we were young. I knew sitting by your side playing Nintendo. I knew when you drank from a cup, opened a drawer, walked down the sidewalk. I saw all of these traits of your father's disease in so many moments of so many days years before you were diagnosed. We'd lie in bed on those summer nights and talk of the possibility of all of this being true. You said that if it were, you would rather take your own life than live with it. When you finally went in for testing, right after high school, the doctor knew almost instantly. All of these things, all of these quiet terrible things, all of this, this mortality, this life, in a small town, all you'd ever known...I feared so much....

Then you met Wes. He said that he didn't care that you were sick. He loved you. He was your angel. This person given to you as a chance to live the life that you deserved to live, to be loved. The two of you were inseparable. You married in Jamaica in 2001. I, now living in Alabama, received letters full of stories of your adventures. You moved into this house, got another dog. He worked, you stayed at home. Over the years, as you became more ill, the two of you began to fall apart. He stayed out later, you stayed at home. He went out with friends and left you behind for days. Your family tried to help out, make sure you had groceries. But sometimes, you had nothing. Somehow in your disability, he had forgotten about you. The girl he married and treasured and promised to love forever. Or maybe he denied it, trying to save himself from the imminent future. One day, he called your mother. Said that he had left you and for her come get you. You had been left in the house for a fortnight without anything more than some soda and a bag of chips. I cannot even tell you the rage that I felt. I can't even tell you how helpless I felt 500 miles away.

Now you will live with your mother. She will come into your childhood room to vacuum every Saturday morning at 7am, as she's done every Saturday morning since we were children. Wasn't that the worst? After we'd spent all night talking and listening to music and watching movies. We'd finally just drifted off to sleep and she would swing open your door, light from the hall flooding into your room, into our faces. We'd curl up, head under covers, pillows over ears, insomnia turning into insanity with a burst of giggles. We'd slowly, sluggishly, crawl out of bed and into our jeans and t-shirts, and wearily take ourselves next door to battle it out with your Grandpa Burt in the playroom. He was a stellar Super Mario Brothers player.

The other night, I was telling Tim about how I tend to have a pen pal. I have one person over a period of time that I write, and when I write them, it's big letters full of thoughts and stories and ideas. Gorjus, E, Stodgey-D, Shaun, Zeek, Stratis...they've all come to know, if not my big left-handed, rolling script, then the paragraphs of type in their inbox. This is because of you. Because I've always had someone there to tell these things. Though I've kept diaries for years, I find that when I write to someone else, tell them about my day, capture the conversations, sights, thoughts...all of the little moments come back to life when I tell them to someone else.

"Why do you stop writing them?" He asked. Some I never do. Some, we write in fits and starts, maybe no longer short novels, but enough to get each other through the days when we need it the most. How familiar does that sound? Sometimes, though, it ends, I finally stop writing because they've stopped, interest is lost. Sometimes, it just can't be explained. Your letters, dear Frannie, continued until the day you could no longer write anymore. I moved here knowing no one and like clockwork, every week I had a friend. The pages and pages of telling of days events, family gossip, health reports. I looked forward to them so.

I sit now and wonder at you, my brave girl. I wonder about your days and your thoughts and your frustrations and your joys. I wonder if your small niece will ever know your dry wit and your laugh like I knew it. I saved all your letters, so that one day she will know as much as they can tell her. As much as I can tell her.

As I pulled out of your driveway and down the street, and Patty Griffin poured her heart into my heart over my car stereo, I stopped suddenly. Turning around, I jumped out of my car at the walk in front of your house and ran back, Patty Griffin's 1000 Kisses in my hand. You smiled as you opened the door, as if almost expecting it, and took the CD and we hugged once more. I don't know how to explain that moment. It was as if everything I was feeling in that moment, pulling away from your house, listening to that music, I just wanted to wrap it all up in that CD case and give it to you, my heart and all. So I did the best that I could do. I gave you the song to listen to.

1 comment:

hermance said...

This is really beautiful, and I am sorry for your loss. This post describes younger female friendships in the way that I understood and experienced them, but in a way that they are rarely, if ever, represented. Thank you.