I’m not a very good friend. This is one of the angels/demons of truth that has lighted upon my shoulder, whispering into my ear over the past month. There are many things I know about myself, some I choose to hide from you and some that just I hide from. Then there are those “things” that surface whether you want them to or not. The friend thing would be just that.
There are so many reasons why I am not best friend material. I hate talking on the phone. (This is not reserved only for you, my dear, but is for the entire phone addicted world.) I don’t send “thank you” notes, though the idea of sweet words on beautiful paper appeals to me. I seldom carve out time to visit you, crying exhaustion and the need to just go home. Sometimes I forget when you have really important things going on that I want to remember to ask you about, and I don’t. I don’t comment on your inspiring words that move me to want to write more, write “better”. I forget birthdays. Over too infrequent dinners, I talk endlessly about myself and MY psychotic moments, hardly ever focusing on you. I am consumed with my microcosm. The thing is, it is not all because I am thoughtless. On the contrary, I am very thoughtful and afraid. I am afraid to lose you because I lost them, and it almost broke all of my heart.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl named Melanie. She was 16 years old and alive forever with me. Every afternoon, following a very forgettable school lunch, we would race to psychology class, each wanting to get there before the other, in order to score the seat beside the untouchable Adonis Chad whose last name I can no longer remember. It was a game, as was all of life back then. She was beautiful. 5’4 on really tall days, olive skin in a sea of South Carolina pale, dark curls that are often brought front and center in my mind when my own curly-haired cherub dashes by. Love lived in laughing eyes, and a voice that with crackle and happy hoarseness would scream my name across a crowded quad full of teenagers too busy running and doing to realize they were going nowhere. There were issues. We fought over a boy I had already let go, but pride is pride, and mine was wounded. It eventually passed, as most pubescent storms do, and we loved each other again. She, too, let that boy go and quickly found another puffy, oversized football letterman jacket to keep her warm on cold, endless nights. She was happy, and we were ready to take on the world. Then she was dead. On the same day she sent me balloons and a flower to wish me luck in our high school pagent, we were told she arrived at the empty house belonging to that boy, went to his room, and shot herself in the head with a shotgun. There were conflicting reports. It was said that he was actually home, that he had not gone out of town. He was seen at a local football game that very night, wearing the jacket that had been in Melanie’s car. It was also said that the carpets from his room were rolled up and taken away the very next day by garbage men, not the law enforcement agency that the boy’s mother worked for. To this day I don’t know what I believe. What I DO know is that Melanie loved being alive with every minute fiber of her vibrant being. I know that she made my world a better place to occupy. I know that I still miss her face.
So I went to college less one beautiful friend, needing someone to fill that sweet Melanie girl-shaped hole in my heart. It was there that I found Aleise. She was the polar opposite of Melanie, blonde and blue-eyed, no less angelic. I think it was the raspiness of her voice that drew me to her. Our friendship started with a healthy dose of competition. She was a singer, as was/am I, and we met during a national singing event the summer before we started college. One of us placed first, the other second (I won’t clarify) and a friendly rivalry ensued. We were both surprised when we ran into each other on a tiny college campus in Georgia. Trophies, crowds, and microphones forgotten, we bonded, and along with 2 other Georgia peaches, became the offical Charlie’s Angels of Franklin County, Georgia. There was nothing left to the imagination in our over-protective world. From topless sunbathing on the deck of the girls dorm to midnight excursions (after curfew, even) to the local pancake house, it seemed we broke every rule that the under-equipped Christian school could throw at us. We travelled the southeast together, on break from our studies, singing anywhere we could. I learned what it meant to be soulmates with women. Figured out that it was okay to give my heart away again in exchange for the peace and security that comes with true friendship. I took her home with me to South Carolina often, and she became part of my family. We spent Christmases in Dallas, Texas, ringing bells for the Salvation Army, causing the best kind of trouble everywhere we went. My world was bright and electric. After first semester in our junior year, Aleise told us that she needed to take the next semester off to work in order to save up money for school. Her mother was elderly, and her father had died a few years before, so she was responsible for her tuition. As sad as I was to see her go, I knew in my heart she would be back. We wrote letters to each other, spoke often on the telephone, and I scheduled as many weekend trips to Clinton, NC as I possibly could. We were making it work. Then, on a night that seemed like all the others before it, the door to my dorm room opened, and the two who remained walked slowly to the side of my bed. I caught a glimpse of my clock, and seeing that it was 3 in the morning, caught my breath. “Aleise is dead.” I heard “car accident” and “on impact” and little else. Just like that. Then I cracked. I lost myself that night. I was later told that I spent the remainder of the evening and early morning curled up in a corner of the hall bathroom, sobbing and trying to crawl into the walls. The weeks and months that followed the loss of part of my heart are a blur to this day. It was then that my writing became more what it is now, I think, tinged with hints of sadness and dark. The three of us who were left to live without her light went, one last time together, to her home. We sat with her mother, looked through her photos, held her pillow and tried to smell the life she left there. I went back, years later, with my husband, needing to see her mother, to tell her how much her daughter had changed me. I found her one month before she too died, and that familly was gone forever. I still feel the dull reminders of fresh hurt, of learning what it means to suffer loss as a young woman trying to figure out how to go on, to open up again. I believe that much of what I have done in my life was somehow ignited (for better or worse) by the losses that scar my soul. I must admit that this suffering, it seems, has kept me at a distance from those wanting to know more of me. I believed myself capable of being only a surface friend, there for the immediate, the not too involved, not too deep kind of friend stuff. Then I heard your voice, a familiar raspy song, calling my name in a crowd of people, in a place I didn’t expect to find you. You think of me when I cannot think of myself. You love me when I know that I do not deserve it. You help me sort through the mass of twisted cord that wraps around my head and heart, straightening, explaining, pointing me to my purpose. I push you away in my mind, often afraid that you, too, will go away. But you don’t. Thank you for making me live. Thank you for living with me. Thank you.