We met, so we have been told, at 18 months of age in a church nursery, where our parents first made their acquaintance. My mother often said, “I put you down, her mother put her down and you just crawled together and started playing.” We lived in Texas then. In the winter before my 4th birthday, my family moved to Oklahoma City, leaving her behind. For a while, our families visited, and I stayed at her house at least once during that time. The actual memories are hazy, but I remember that she used to like to mix all her food together on her plate and eat it and I preferred mine to be separate.
When I was 10, we moved to Georgia where I spent the next 5 years friendless and probably depressed, although I hid it in books and in the woods that we were fortunate enough to live next to. She and her family came to visit a couple of times. Once, they arrived just as I had to leave for the dreaded 2 weeks of Girl Scout camp; later I learned it was the week she started her period and she was so upset at not being able to confide in me.
After I was married, she and her husband came through town once, and she called. I was “allowed” to visit her in the hotel where they were staying. Between her husband looming in the room, and mine tapping his foot outside (he wouldn’t come in), it was a brief, uncomfortable visit. Later, when my first husband was in prison and hers was deployed overseas, I had an interview for a possible job back in Dallas. On a whim, I called her parents, still living in the same house as always. Something in the Universe conspired in our favor, and she happened to be visiting them. She came to my hotel room, and we stayed up nearly all night, getting reacquainted, sharing our miseries, wishing once again that we were closer, and marveling at how we could reconnect even though it had been decades since we had seen one another. She then came to visit me in my tiny duplex with her 2 daughters on her way to Germany to be with her husband while mine was still incarcerated. We watched our daughters play, and she left me with a bag full of hand-me down baby clothes that saved me when I was at one of the lowest points in my life.
After that, I didn’t hear much from her; an occasional letter from Germany, then another when her husband retired and they moved to a ranch/farm once again in Texas. After I moved to Colorado, some time in 1994, one night I got a phone call and it was her. I think we talked for six hours. After years of struggle and sickness and bizarre behavior from her husband and children, after getting nearly 100K in debt, she discovered that her husband had been abusing both her daughters for years.
At the time of the call, he was in prison and hopefully he still is. Despite everything, we laughed with each other that night, through tears. I marveled at her strength, at her efforts to reach her daughters, both of whom had been so damaged in different ways.
After I left my 2nd husband, she had decided to go back to get her Masters’ at the University of Washington in Seattle, and I went to visit her. We spent a long weekend in December drinking coffee, ferrying to islands, and exploring the Pike Place market where I bought tie-dyed baby clothes for my first grandchild that was on the way in spite of everything I had tried to do to keep my daughter from getting pregnant. Not too long after that, I told her about meeting G, and she was completely happy for me, never once questioning my “transition”. She probably knew before I did.
After she finished her degree, she drove through Pueblo on her way back to Texas, pulling a trailer she had bought, intending to live in it where ever she needed to in order to find work. Her daughters were mired in chaos and dysfunction. I was living with a suicidal drunk, with a teen-aged mom and baby in a tiny house. We commiserated, laughed and cried some more, finding strength and solace in a friendship that was now more than 40 years old.
That was the last time I’ve seen her. I got an e-mail from her yesterday. She is now nursing her mother through her final days in an assisted living facility. Nothing is easy. She battles the staff for the right to feed her mother the food she can tolerate. She deals with her father’s rants and raves and her brother’s sporadic, though welcome, help. Her daughters do seem to be more stable, and she, too, is now a grandmother.
Her trials make my life seem like a paradise, make me ashamed to open my mouth to utter anything but words of thanks and gratitude. I wrote her back and told her that I would pray for her and her family, that I sincerely wished that one day she will have a calm, peaceful and unchaotic life, full of the things that make HER happy, instead of her having to do things that she hopes will make others happy.
I hope one day she will be able to visit. I hope will see each other again. I hope my grandchildren might one day meet hers. But even if we don’t, I know she will always be my friend.