Lifelong friendships are not based on what happened. They are based on what happened then what happened because of that and what happened after that and of course what happens inspite of that. If we are lucky, really lucky, we get to experience one of these friendships, the kind that turn into more of a family-ship, the kind that are marked by unconditional love and loyalty.
Well I would like to tell you about my once-in-a lifetime friendship. An unlikely friendship from the start. She was the well read A student “cool girl” from the upscale suburb I moved to in seventh grade. Being from the city, you could say I stood out a bit, certainly not one of the cool kids. I knew nothing from Benetton or Esprit, I didn’t play soccer. I was shakin in my acid washed jeans. Until I met her……..She showed me kindness and took me under her wing.
A lifetime later I am walking the bustling streets of Cabo with a heavy heart. Although I am surrounded by my family; aunts, cousins, husbands, children, all happily exploring-I am devestated. I have just arrived from a visit with my best friend, my Abby and I am consumed with the harsh reality of our visit.
As we turn a corner a deep deep saddness is tugging at my soul. We stumble across a woman singing karyoke in the street. Her soft and playful voice singing Stand By Me catapults me back in time.
I am 13, in the back of my parents mini-van. My mother is driving. Abby and the rest of our pack of friends are in the back, belting out lyrics to a favorite song…..oh darlin’ darlin’ stand by me, whenever you’re in trouble won’t you staaaand by me…… As we arrived at The Ground Round for dinner we were all caught up in typical middle school drama, who liked who and who was going to “scoop” (our code word for kiss) that night.
Back in Cabo we turn another corner. There’s a night wedding letting out of the town church. A man is singing as the wedding party takes pictures. “Yesterday-all my troubles seemed so far away….oh how I long for yesterday….. The children are dancing, seemingly floating down the street to the music. The salty air providing the purest of all aroma therapies. I am in paradise. Yet the sense of melencholy evoked by these lyrics is consuming. It completely overshadows everything, allowing my mind to wander once more.
I’m 37. I’ve just arrived in California, I’m here visiting my lifelong soul sister and her family in her perfect bungalow home carved into Topanga Canyon. Our dear friend Claire has scooped me up from the airport and taken the ride up the mountain with me. I’ve been here before, several times. Every visit packed with hikes, rock climbing, visits to the beach, shopping, and long talks shared over bottles of wine. It feels like home to me here.
But this visit is different.
The always chill hippy vibe is chaotic, you can actually feel it. For one thing, there is a rambuncious white puppy barking and chewing on everything, the children are consumed by her, running around shouting, “Stop it Elsa!” (Elsa, of course, apply named after Disney’s newest and quite famous ice princess, known for “letting it go”) The whole situation is off, Abby has always loathed dogs. Her always centered hubby, Merlin, is distracted, on the phone franticly trying to gain access to experimental drugs. The ever present Abby, is nowhere to be found.
Claire and I are standing in the hallway, almost cowering. Neither one of us all that eager to enter or engage. Fully aware, once we do, there will be no turning back. Living in Boston, I have been able to hold the horror of the situation somewhat at bay. Well, it has become quite clear, that luxury is no longer an option.
Elsa leads the kids outside. In their absence a strange noise fills the air. It is a cross between the suction sound of a vaccum and the whirling of a fan. Without thinking to ask we timidly make our way down the hall to investigate the noise. As we realize it is coming from the room Abby is resting in, it becomes clear she is no longer getting enough oxygen on her own. Claire had mentioned the oxygen tank. She did her best to try and prepare me.
There is absolutely nothing in this world that could have prepared me for what I saw as I entered that room. My glorious friend, always oozing beauty had lost her ever present glow . Her one of a kind, ever flowing mane of dirty blonde locks replaced with an orange “Jew Fro” as she playfully put it. See- it is important that everyone understand that this woman, the one who had lived a good and virtuous life, the one being robbed of everything she deserved, never once allowed bitterness to enter her heart. She held her beautiful “Jew Fro” high as she made video tapes for her children.
As she lay in the bed struggling for air, that sparkle, that thing that made her Abby still so very present. Immediately she reached for me, comforting me. Longing to connect I fumbled through a story or two. She kindly handed me some book and asked me to pick up where her sister had left off. Her dainty hands held onto mine as I read passages from the book. We settled into a comfortable rhythm. I climbed into the bed and wrapped myself around her as best I could without hurting her. She continued to hold my hand willing me to continue reading and resist the overwhelming urge to cry or scream or run.
To this day I have no clue what I read or what the book was about. The truth is, it really does not matter what words were read. The comfort and connection that was felt was internal, it was primal. The sound of my voice provided a save haven for our last moments together. You see, at that point in the friendship there was no need for words. Everything had been said and heard through the years. That afternoon in late May was simply about giving our souls the time and space they deserved, so they could “let it go.”
When it became clear to me that I was keeping my dear friend awake when she needed to be alone so she could sleep, I blindly pulled myself from that time and space. I say my I love you’s. I made my promises.
As I linger in the doorway for just one last minute, she mustered what must have been every single bit of strength she had left to remove her oxygen mask, prop herself up, look me in the eye and thank me for my friendship and loyalty. She said several times how much my loyalty meant to her. I never would have thought about it that way, us being loyal to each other. But, of course that is exactly what we were. No matter what.
I share these intimate details, not to evoke some emotional response. I share them to expose you all to the importance of forgiveness, and saying what you need to say. Be who you are, love as you do, and let others love you too. Holding back will only keep you from experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime love, the love of a friend who loves you for you, good and bad, in and out. No matter what.
Yes, it opens you up to much pain, but anyone who knows anything at all knows, it is so very worth it. Isn’t it in fact, the stuff that life is all about?
Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared ‘neath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance ~ Garth Brooks