This memoir post was inspired by a writing prompt given last Tuesday by Write On Edge.
I wrapped my arms around her, burying my face in her neck, trying hard not to cry. She smelled of Chinese Food and suntan lotion.
“I love you,” she said, “and I’ll see you soon.”
“I love you too,” I swallowed hard, “and I’ll call you from the road tomorrow.”
I was leaving behind Texas, my parents, my job, familiar friends and her. She held my hand through my divorce, encouraged me to rebuild my life, helped dig quarters out of seat cushions to pay for McDonald’s and brought me diapers when the money ran out at the end of the month. She knew all my fears, flaws and foolishness and loved me anyway. Although she and I had only been friends for three years, it felt deeper than almost any love I had found. Michigan might as well have been another country, as far as I was concerned, because it meant I wouldn’t get to see her face every day. But I had found the man of my dreams and was ready to build a life with him, even though it meant moving away.
The first few months in Michigan were lonely, but she and I talked almost daily. Eventually, I made friends, joined MOPS and got into a daily routine. DW and I wanted to start trying to have a baby right away, and were caught off guard when our newlywed bliss produced a positive pregnancy test almost immediately after stopping birth control.
She was the first person I called.
But instead of the expected joy, I heard sadness in her voice. Something was off. She insisted it was nothing, tiredness. And she missed me, terribly.
“You know I love you, right?” she asked.
“Of course!” I said, “Don’t forget, I’ll be there in a month to see you.”
Four short months had passed since we said our goodbyes. When I wrapped my arms around her this time, she felt frail and unsteady. The smile and sparkle in her eyes that had kept me going whenever I felt like giving up were missing. She seemed vacant. But of course, she assured me everything was fine. The kids and her job were taking more energy than usual.
“But there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, “So don’t worry. Just enjoy your new marriage and pregnancy.”
I went back to Michigan unsettled.
Our conversations were guarded and quick the next few times we spoke. She seemed distracted and in a hurry to get off the phone. Then one day I called and found out her phone no longer worked, it had been turned off. In a panic I called her husband wondering what in the world was going on. He told me she had left the state and did not want to be contacted. She was gone.
Saying my heart broke is an understatement. It shattered – the shards dug deep.
The story unfolded over months and months of contact with her husband, but still no word from her. She had vanished. I had The Hare, endured an ugly court battle, mourned the death of my beloved grandfather and celebrated my 30th birthday with still no word from my best friend.
I searched for her for months on end, calling old friends, work contacts and relatives. I even hired an investigator to run her social security number to see if she was getting a paycheck anywhere. For a brief moment, I found her renting a house in Mississippi. I was so relieved to hear her voice, know that she was alive, but it was short-lived. She sounded frantic and scared now. She gave no real explanation of her erratic behavior and after a couple of weeks she disappeared again.
I was devastated and scared for her.
Then one day, a few years later, I was playing on My Space. Some friends talked me into setting up an account, and just out of curiosity, I decided to do a search for her name.
I waited patiently as the system searched its data base.
Suddenly, I was staring at a picture of her and her oldest daughter. The background was full of lush, green trees and they were leaning up against a white iron railing. Under “information” was an email address and listed her location as Boston.
I thought I was going to puke as I wrote her. My hands trembled as I typed, begging her to call me, no questions asked.
The next day she called.
Her voice echoed familiarly over the telephone and I wept immediately.
Finally, she was ready to talk to me. Her story was long, but to summarize, she had a nervous breakdown. I knew she struggled with depression, but I didn’t truly understand how much until that moment. In her panic, she started to run, escape from reality. And once she started running, she was afraid to go back, afraid I would criticize or condemn. But most of all, I think she was afraid I wouldn’t love her anymore for the choices that she had made. She told me every detail of her journey, revealing every dark truth, then waited with bated breath for my response.
“I thought you knew how much I love you,” I said, “No matter what.”
“I know now,” she wept.
“You are the family that I got to choose,” I said, “You’re kind of stuck with me for life.”
That was over five years ago and I’ve seen her twice a year ever since.
We talk every day.
Sometimes, several times a day.