Tuesday, September 9

Loss. Or: Why Friendship Smells Like Old Books

I tried to explain to my husband how the loss of a person I hadn't spoken to in almost exactly nine years had rattled me to my bones. 
It wasn't that he was unmoved, or cold, or lacked sympathy. It's just that he'd never really known her. Or, more, he'd never known her + me.

****

She and I met in fifth grade. We disliked each other almost immediately. I was small and quiet and nearly invisible (yes, there was such a time), and she was large and loud and demanded an audience. She knew who she was, and I wanted to be anybody other than myself. 
In sixth grade, our science teacher paired us up for the year. I don't remember the switch from hate to love, but isn't that how all romantic comedies work? One moment you can't stand the sight of each other, and the next moment well-whaddaya-know, you're inseparable. 
We rode the bus to her house after school, and I marveled that it stopped right in front of her mailbox (I'd never been on a school bus in my life). I met her big, loud parents and her floppy, useless hound. 
We giggled about boys. 
We cruised the mall. 
We DIY-ed facemasks. 
We were in band- she a first-chair flute, I a nearly-last chair trumpet. 
We watched age-inappropriate movies. 
We got snowed in. 
We at spaghetti next door at her aunt's house. 
We held garage sales. 
We snuck into the kitchen and mixed a cup of her parents' red wine with a cup of our red Kool-Aid.
(We never drank red wine again.)

****

When I moved school districts the next year, I refused to utter a single cheer for my new team. I secretly rooted for her school during the football game. I spent every single Friday night of seventh grade, and most of eighth at her house. 

We slowly, slowly, imperceptibly grew apart. Not even apart, just away. Same trunk, spreading branches. Every so often we'd stretch and our leaves would touch, and we'd know things were fine. 

I started rooting for my new football team. 
She started smoking weed. 
I was happy, and loud, and knew just who I was. 
She was miserable, and losing sight of herself. 
I took off for college.
She took drugs I'd never heard of. 

****

She called to tell me she was pregnant. I sighed in relief, thinking this would settle her down. She'd grow up. She'd straighten up. 
On the day she went into labor, I walked in the delivery room and told her to show me how to do it right, because I was next in line. We were twenty. 

Her daughter is six months older than my son. I'd dreamed that motherhood would draw her back to me, back to her senses, back to sobriety— instead it sent her crashing. Back to booze, back to drugs, back to choices I couldn't bear to watch. 

***

Some months later I saw her at the mall with her mother. "I'm getting married!" I squealed, as I showed them my ring. "Will you be my bridesmaid?!" It came out before I could even weigh the consequences. But it didn't matter. She looked good. She looked healthy. I wanted her with me at the front of the church. 

We made it all the way to the rehearsal dinner. Looking on it now, it's clear she was still using. She slumphed around the church. She complained about the food. About where she had to stand in line. About how the other bridesmaids weren't including her. When we left the church to go back to my house for the night, just us girls, she "got lost" on the interstate and found herself in the hotel room of one of the groomsmen. 

She never showed up at the church the next day. 

I haven't seen or talked to her since. 



*******


I tried to explain to my husband that it didn't matter that I hadn't spoken to her in nine years. "She's a book I know by heart!" He looked at me the way you watch a wounded bird trying to flap it's way into the sky. 

Without even trying very hard, I can smell the medicine cabinet in her bathroom, hear the hardwood floors creak in her parents' house, taste the Schwan's pierogies her dad loves so much. I can still pick out the dog treats her pup favored if I see them on a grocery store shelf. Her life was a book I'd memorized, even if I hadn't opened it in nearly a decade. 


There are some friendships that are shiny, new, spine-uncracked best sellers. They're fun, but haven't been tested. 

There are some whose covers you recognize, whose faces you recall fondly, but not forcefully. 

Then there are the friendships that, even after sitting on a dusty shelf, have the power to move your soul by title alone. 


***

I have promised to visit her daughter, to introduce her to my son, to tell her stories of how we sat them in side-by-side swings and imagined that they'd get married some day. 
I will tell her daughter how I'd marveled that her mother could play the piccolo so fast and so well. 
I'll tell her that her mother always had better shoes, better skin, and better hair than I had. 
I'll tell her how much her fifth-grade self looks like her momma's fifth-grade self. 
I'll tell her that I loved her mother, and that I'll never get over her loss, and that she'll always be one of my favorite stories.

4 comments:

  1. Beautiful words, Savannah. I'm sorry for your loss.

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  2. This was gorgeous. And so are you.

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  3. So incredibly lovely. I'm so sorry you lost your friend. Both times.

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  4. It's beautiful and perfect, this thing that you wrote. I think your sweet friend would love it too. I hope you'll write us some more when you're in the mood.

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