I don’t know about you, but managing my emotions — especially over the past week or two — it’s pretty much been a sh**show. I mean, really, I’m all over the board. Totally in control one minute. Grateful. Hopeful. Dreaming of what’s next. And then – BAM – concern, worry, even negativity creeps in. I find my eyes drilling a hole in the back of my husband’s head as he shovels chips in his mouth and crunches down with the force of a jack hammer. I shiver and walk in the other room – willing myself to “stay calm and carry on” (now realizing I just uttered a phrase that annoys me more than the crunch-fest I’m positive I can still hear from across the house).
Then I remember, this is the husband who just built a beautiful, raised cedar garden for a good friend’s mother. And did it with a smile on his face. He empties the dishwasher every day (a chore that – since childhood – has been the bane of my existence). This is the man who chuckles and slows down his chewing when he senses I’m teetering on the edge. And just like that, I’m grateful again.
Yesterday, I sat back and took stock of what’s happening all around me — all around us. I was feeling content after time with family (we’re safe and have been together throughout the pandemic – so no need for concern). But days earlier, I’d been feeling out of sorts. Really anxious and frustrated. There were legitimate reasons that could’ve landed me there, but as I stripped away the obvious and looked deeper for the truth, I got it. It hit me.
After the initial shock of COVID-19 and the resulting lock down set in, I had an overwhelming feeling that if we — the collective “we” (not just family members, or New Yorkers, or Texans, or Americans or whatever political party we connect to) but if “we” as humans wade our way through this moment in history and choose to come out the other side unchanged. Or worse, more divided, insular and disconnected than we were before. Then, well, that’s a big, fat failing grade — and it’s on us. Nobody else. Together we stand. Divided we fall.
Now, as a caveat, let me say this: We are all worried about our livelihoods. No one is escaping that fear. In fact, since my last post, my hours at my job were cut in half. My husband got word that if the small company he works for survives, we may soon lose our health insurance. Others are furloughed, have lost jobs or worse, have lost coworkers, friends and/or family members to this a**hole of a virus. So, for a moment, stay with me. This isn’t about who’s worse off. It’s about what we do from this moment forward.
Three days later…
I can’t stop crying. The sadness comes in waves. Sets. Separated by moments of calm. Then the memories flood in again. Horse riding lessons. Mock Go-Gos concerts (she was always Belinda Carlisle). Days of Our Lives. Hundreds of softball games. Family trips, skateboarding courses, awkward school dances, our first boyfriends, our first broken hearts, nightly sleepovers, birthday parties, petty fights, beloved pets. The day we first met. Both wearing Izods. A long golden braid resting on her tiny frame, and just such “coolness”. I’d never met anyone so cool. She was my best friend. Instantly. My sister from another mother (and father) — for the most formative years of our lives.
And now she’s gone. I got word yesterday–from her sister. It was an accident. A slip and fall. A hard hit to the head, causing uncontrollable swelling. And just like that…she was no longer here. The news hit me like a freight train. Like a long missing, but necessary part of my being, my soul had been ripped out of my chest. If only we’d kept in touch. But sadly, it’s not the case. My first best friend and I (yes, we had the iron on shirts to prove it) hadn’t seen each other in over 30 years.
It’s unacceptable, really. But it’s life, isn’t it. Our sophomore year in high school, we (as we always had) were dating boys in the same circle of friends. But I eventually broke off my relationship, and naturally pulled away from the group. It wasn’t fair to him. It was awkward for all of us. But it took me away from C. And I can say this with all honesty. It always felt wrong. The slightly less familiar friendship for the next two years weighed on me heavily. A part of me–a necessary part of me was floating away. And I allowed it to happen.
There were three of us, actually, in this friendship. A trio–a little pack of roamers. Three names that were always said together. Three names that felt strange to say apart. We each had our relationships as pairs, and as a whole unit. C, K and I were a force, for sure, and together we gave our families years of entertainment and likely a few years of stress. But everyone around us knew, it was something special. Three strong souls, united for this moment in time. Three strong souls that, no matter how many years divided us, were never really free of the bonds that held us together.
The “why” doesn’t matter.
Over the years, K and I made attempts to contact C. At first, plans were made, but never came to fruition. In later years, our attempts were less successful. The distance — in time and space — grew longer. And as it happens, what was once so important was left to drift away. I don’t know the reason. There may not be one. It could’ve just been life moving on. Work and families taking over. The “why” doesn’t really matter, does it?
But now here we are.
And outside of enormous sadness for the loss. I’m sitting here, and I’m thinking over and over and over again. Why the hell didn’t I push? I should’ve pushed. What if she needed me? What if she wondered why I hadn’t tried hard enough? What if there were times in her life when only that friend — the one that knows everything about you; your strengths and faults, your family and hopes and dreams; the mistakes you made, together and individually; the friend that loved you in spite of it all; because of it all. What if that’s who she needed? And I wasn’t there.
Why didn’t I push?
Even if the attempt had been rejected, at least she would’ve known that I tried.
In life we get lessons. It’s what we do with them that matters.
In the last two days, K and I have reconnected with C’s family. Moments like this wash away awkward concerns or worries about too many years passed. In fact, it’s a loss this monumental that reminds us all of the importance of the bonds we build in those formative years.
Through her family, I’ve learned more about C’s life. It seems her spunk never dulled. Her passions never waned. And not surprisingly, she put her whole heart into everything she loved–especially when it came to her husband and beautiful children. Her life stayed bright. She made the difference I always knew she could, and would.
Over the years, and especially in recent weeks, I had such a strong pull to reconnect with C. Maybe because we’re in such strange times, we start to think about what really matters. What did we dream about when we were young? What did we want to do with the road stretching ahead of us–so clear and untainted by the soon-to-be-discovered realities of life; the experiences that start to cloud our purpose; the commitments that overshadow the special gifts we each have to give.
And the truth is, maybe that pull to reconnect was more for me than for her. Because from what I hear, she kinda had it all figured out. She was doing what she loved; being a mother, a valued and loving member of the community; a trusted sister and wife and daughter. And as always, a good friend. She was happy and content. She was living her purpose. And what the hell else matters more than that?
What Covid-19 and the loss of C have taught me is that it’s time to cut out all of the B.S. Stop with the excuses and quit making decisions solely based on crap that doesn’t matter. Yes, we have responsibilities. Yes, we have bills and commitments. But these things do not need to keep us from our purpose–whatever that may be. We are resilient and inventive and scrappy. We can do both.
This is my opinion, of course, but I think it’s time to scrape away the muck. Turn away from “I’m supposed to be”. Reconnect with important people in your life. Push if you have to. Tell them why you care and what they mean to you. Don’t delay. Do it today.
And take this strange, unique, challenging and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start a new chapter. If it makes your soul sing, take up painting again. Step away from the 24 hour news. It’s wasting your time, changing your DNA, and telling you to feel differently about people you’ve loved your whole life. It’s politics, not people. You know better. Go outside. Hug your child. Tell your daughter or wife or mother or sister who is undergoing cancer treatment why you love her and how much she’s gonna kick ass in the next phase of her life.
If you’re struggling–from addiction, depression, a broken heart. Reach out. Get help. Humans are here to help other humans. We are built for this. We want to do this. That’s what is in our DNA. Not the other shit. We’re at our best in communities. Families. Friendships.
Find your place. Pull away from the negative. No matter how far gone you think you are, how old you are, how much you believe that your way is the only way, you are still living and you still have the opportunity to make the change that this world is silently screaming for.
C and every other person we have lost–they’re up there waiting for us to do the right thing. It’s pretty simple, love each other. Do what you’re meant to do. Even if getting there is hard. And give each other a break. It’s a choice. We won’t be guided down the road. We’ll have to build our own new one. Or we can choose not to. But how do you think that’s been working for us?
I know what I’m going to do. Why don’t you join me?
And happy birthday, C. Our friendship was one of the best times of my life. I hope you know that. I love you, and I’ll see you again one day.