15 Years

IMG_0684Rounding the bend on my way to Clear Lake, I see him in that old Ford pickup truck, driving away – too fast. It’s like something out of a sappy country song.

It’s a memory.

And a wish.

It is fleeting and impossible all at once.

My friend, Buddy, died 15 years ago today. He took his own life. One of life’s great mysteries.

It is quite remarkable, that time has marched on.

Yet I still wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up on the lake one day. I honestly wouldn’t.

That feeling that he’s just around the corner? It’s made 15 years of one-sided friendship easier.

As a mother now to a son of my own, I’ve been really dwelling on this impending anniversary. It is terrifying and motivating all at once. Motivating in that I hope to raise my children to know that I will stand by them if the dark corners of their minds creep from the corners and into the midst of their lives. Terrifying knowing that the dark corners are like the depths of the ocean – unstudied realities.

Oh but what a gift it is, to be Elle and Jay’s Mom.

On this day each year, I make a point to reiterate that I miss Buddy far better than I ever loved him.

And I’m sorry for that.

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I Think I Was A Bully

I’ve been struggling with whether or not to even write about this topic, to even put it out here, in my blogging space. But, from back in my sports media days — you talk when it’s good; you talk when it’s bad. So, here it is.

I think I was a bully.

Not in the overt way that one thinks of bullies, but in the more subtle, texturized, intentional way of a teenaged girl.

There was this girl in school. She was sort of weird, but not in any harmful sort of way. She was always one laugh behind, one snort too many when the rest of us at the ‘cool kids’ table thought something was funny. It wasn’t JUST me — we all thought this way about her. In our silent, nose-turned-up kind of way, we ganged up on her.

She’d grown up in our circle of friends, she ought to have moved around it effortlessly. But it seemed as though fitting in took tons of effort for her. It was never natural. Never easy.

It’s like those girls who sometimes grow too fast, they hunch their shoulders in, and suddenly, one day, they realize they are confident and fearless and capable, beautiful and they stand tall.

Except, this girl wasn’t like that. Her shoulders hunched in, as though she were insecure about every step, and she never stood tall, never seemed confident in who or what she was or was about to become. And in high school, that was all that was needed for ostracization.

We graduated from high school 14 years ago this June. We have all gone on to become adults — in one way or another. I knew that the girl had moved out of state, away from the hometown I’d returned to live in. I knew that she was a teacher. That was all I knew.

We weren’t the sort of friends who kept in touch, and she wasn’t on facebook, or at least our paths hadn’t crossed out in cyber space.

Maybe if they had…

I’m telling you folks, this girl got shaving creamed at every sleepover. And yet, she was at every sleepover. We gave her an awful, making-fun-of-her-behind-her-back nickname and she had the exact same hair style for as long as I’d ever known her (how that matters I’m not even sure). But, it was all part of the leaving her out, of keeping her at arms length, of ‘allowing’ her to hover around our circle of friends while never totally, unequivocally letting her in.

If you never had someone like this in your social circles, I applaud you and the rest of your circle of friends. You are better than me and mine. We were not the friends we ought to have been.

Wait, stop.

I was not the friend I ought to have been.

Leave the rest out of it. Perhaps I’ve included others in my memory to ease my own burden of guilt.

And why do I bear the burden so heavy right now?

Because just over a week ago, that girl-turned-woman took her own life, apparently after a bad run of luck and timing in the life she had built for herself.

So maybe if I’d been just a bit nicer…just a bit less judgmental. Maybe if I’d been less inclined to laugh when someone else made fun of her; less inclined to lead the charge or remind everyone else why it was (again) that we were making fun of her.

Do I think that I – or any of us – were the reason she made the choice to take her own life?

Absolutely not.

Do I believe that there was a way for me to have made her journey a bit smoother, a little less rough for the going?

Absolutely.

It haunts me, that the strongest stand she seemingly ever took for herself was at the end of her life. It haunts me that I couldn’t find common ground with someone who I KNEW needed a friend; with someone who I understood to be less comfortable in every social situation than I was.

I think I was a bully. By today’s definition, I very well may have been.

I’ve spoken with several of the women who moved in the same social circle back in high school, and while we have all navigated our way through losses, this one, of a mutual high school friend, of a girl who grew up across the street/down the road/in the same class is haunting us all. Mainly, we’ve seemingly agreed, because we all feel overwhelmingly like we could have done better by her and maybe – just MAYBE – things would be different today.

We knew that she was more fragile. We knew she needed us more than we probably needed her.

And yet, now that she’s gone; now that there’s no way to include her at the Christmas reunion or the 15 year class reunion or the girls weekend, there’s guilt. And a need for absolution.

Every word I have read or spoken of this woman since finding out about her death references a single common word: ‘kind’.

She was overwhelmingly, unfailingly kind.

She was – and will remain in my memory – smiling, kind and caring.

Someone I came across wanted to refer to her suicide as ‘such a waste’ and I loudly refused to allow that. I will not allow her to be bullied anymore, even though I never stood up for her before.

Not a waste.

Perhaps a crying, sorrowful shame.

But not a waste.

Never a waste.

I am better for having known her, for having had her in my life.

And I will attempt to teach and lead my own daughter — and the social circles she chooses to move within — how to be better than I was, than I still am.

 

Juxtaposition

It’s funny, the way things look up against one another.

Thursday night Andrea, Molly and I and our babies enjoyed a laid back evening dinner at Andrea’s house. They had just closed on a cabin across the street from her Dad’s cabin. It was an exciting time.

Friday, her Dad had a brain aneurysm and was gone.

 

My Dad, who successfully conquered bladder cancer 20+ years ago, had to go in Wednesday for surgery to remove ‘they-didn’t-know-what’ from his bladder.

Now I’m a parent and shuddered at the thought of my own daughter not having her Dad.

And then it went and happened to one of my best friends.

 

We grew up on the same lake, where our grandparents both had cottages.

Her Dad had a cabin at the same lake, and that’s where Andrea and her family had just bought their cabin.

It used to be the place I went when everything else fell apart. Then IT fell a part and I found other places, friends, people to lean on. And Andrea could never fathom how it went from what it was to what it IS.

Unfortunately, now she gets to know.

 

You try so hard to protect yourself, the people you love, your children, everyone you care for from the world, from spontaneous car accidents, from themselves. And then, you get a crappy phone call from someone whose job it is to tell you to come quickly, as you sat safe at home, protected. Or so you thought.

 

And I’m so sad for her. I get a lump in my throat thinking of it. And isn’t part of it that when it happens, for a glimmer of time, we’re grateful and thankful that it’s not us. Not this time, at least. Those of us who have lost – and lost big – know the impossibility that living, breathing, eating poses in the face of great loss and we’re thankful that, for this one moment, we can support the grief instead of owning it.

I wish I could un-ring this bell for Andrea, for her family. But I can only be her friend.

 

There will be life. There will be loss.

There will be sun. There will be clouds.

There will be rain. There will be wind.

There will be floods. There will be drought.

There will be friends. There will be foes.

There will be memory. There will be fantasy.

But at least there will have been…well…something, anything, to allow us to savor our time here together.

 

Tomorrow I’ll write something not so Debbie-Downer. I feel like my blogs have been that way lately.

Tomorrow I’ll write something fun and tell you something good, because that’s what we want to hear.

 

 

 

When Asked About Friendship, This is How I Answer

I was watching an episode of Charlie Rose the other night and Matt Damon was on promoting “We Bought a Zoo”. It was an interesting interview and I enjoyed Matt Damon — though it appears as though his hairline is receding. How did that happen?? Feels like something that happens to old people…turns out, we’re getting there.

Anyway, I digress already.

Charlie Rose asked Matt Damon about friendship, about his friendship with Ben Affleck, and that right now, Charlie’s writing a book about friendship and wondered what Matt might have to say about friendship.

Matt answered something to the effect of “Start Early.”

Which is where tonight’s story begins…

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My high school girlfriends and I have been attempting to get together each year on Memorial Day…it worked for a couple of years, and then last year there were too many pregnancies and new babies in our group of gals that it just didn’t work. We decided to try for the holidays.

Christmas came around and it turned out that just the Katie’s were coming to town…Jay and Mindy and Lindsey and Megs and Kristy and, well, everyone else was out. They were doing other things that hitting up the hometown for the holidays.

~~~~~~~~~

I live in my hometown, and I’m glad of it. Glad to live so close to our families, to have the home and the friends that we have. So, when the Katie’s were both available on December 26th, it was that day that we opted to choose for a get together, and I offered to host (what’s one more in a series of holiday parties, anyway?)

~~~~~~~~

Erin was another high school friend – her and one of the Katie’s even lived together for a blink of an eye in college. But somehow, our friendship sort of traveled a different path.

~~~~~~~~~

Because of the Wonderful Wide World of Facebook, we were able to coordinate our time and location, etc., but I was also able to get a hold of Erin and see if she would be interested in getting together with Katie and Katie and I. We opted to bring spouses/domestic partners (in my case 😉 and children. Erin’s five month old son Easton, Katie’s four year old daughter Maria (they left little sis Juliet at home with her Grandma), Katie’s six month old son Carter, and Elle and I.

So yes, Erin opted in, the Katie’s showed up and the bar was stocked, the wine was flowing and conversation ensued. Until about 30 minutes ago, when the last visitors called it a night.

~~~~~~~~~

When asked about friendship, how do you answer?

Start early. Well, Katie and Katie and Erin go much farther back than I do, but we all came together in at least middle school at some point to become friends. We continued through high school. And college. And now, here we are mothers, with children the same age, getting together over wine and beer and cocktails and laughing — about the same things we used to, about the stupid things we used to do — but also laughing about new things we share. Our children, our body-after-baby complexes, nit-picking about how our significant others help (or don’t, rather) with the laundry.

When asked about friendship, how do you answer?

I can answer this way: I have known these women for years. In high school, we often don’t know what we’re choosing in friends and what that might mean for our days then — and down the road. These women share common history. And while our lives have taken different courses, while we have veered from one another and found our own paths, man, what a life we have had and how great it feels to be together again, like tonight.

When asked about friendship, how do you answer?

Are your abs sore from laughing after just a few minutes together?
Are you already planning the next – albeit too long interlude — until you can meet again and retell the same stories?
Does your heart and soul feel warmer, fuller somehow for having shared time and space with them?
Do they listen when you talk about the challenges of motherhood, of raising a child, of hospital stays and doctor visits and specialist visits?

When asked about friendship, though you can’t answer with any of those questions, I guess here is what I would say:

Start early.
Stay late.
And laugh at everything possible in between.


Love you girls.