I’ve been thinking about some very good friends from my youth. These were people who cared for me, who played and danced with me. They drank and smoked without ever forgetting who they were. Some of us worked together. Some lived so near each other they’d often walk to each other’s homes. We shared families, so to speak. Those who could drive took those who could not to parties, to work, to where ever was necessary. It was so natural; so easy.
Why not easy? We were all good people who shared the expected desires of the average 20-year-old. We wanted jobs, our families, cars, work, money. Our personal goals were never stated, but they were there. They hid themselves beneath every action, every breath, each thought we thought of every day. Our lives would be better than our parents. We would live different from them, but not far. Most likely we will take our drunken brothers, our broken mothers, our man or friend-challenged sisters with us to our new and better lives. We shared our cars, our homes and food, our stories and our lives with each other. No lies, no pretensions.
We lived without jealousy. Some of us could sing, some danced. Some were absolutely beautiful (but didn’t know it). Our innocence must have underpinned this friendship of ours. There don’t appear to be many like that today. We went to work, we went home, we got together. We were, as a unit, complete. If one cried the other four held tissues, told jokes, took her for fresh air. It was us against no one. Nothing could win against us. We just lived.
I’ll attempt a portrait of one of them. To me she defines freedom and honesty.
Her name is Pat. She is tall, heavy-set, dark as night with a impish laugh that matched her nature. She was the director of a day care center for a church on Livernois. On a cold November day, wearing a rabbit fur coat, burnt orange leather boots and a hat, I walked in looking for work. She told me they didn’t need anyone, and she would probably get into trouble, I could watch the kids for a couple of days. They really couldn’t afford to pay me so I’d earn $-5 dollars an hour – if the owner of the facility agreed to let go of the money. I should be sure to come in tomorrow.
I’d walked at least 10 blocks to get there and it would be another 10 blocks to get home. The job, however, was a blessing.
I was sick with the flu. Then we discovered that I was pregnant. The baby was sick, too. Seeing my flushed face, feeling the heat radiating off my forehead, she told me to lie on the storage table. And sleep. She was not allowed to dispense medication, but here were two aspirin anyway. The next day she rolled out a cart in the back room for me. In pain and tired, having arrived at the day care after school, I lay on that cot, thankful for a place to put my aching body, a chance to fight off the bone-deep chills. I began to feel guilty when I began to feel better. So I got me off the cot; began to earn my wages. Or tried to; for some reason I couldn’t stop being sick. I stayed home for a few days. I was attending DBI (Detroit Business Institute) full time. I’d been looking for work since I’d moved into the area recently and wanted something near home. I was jobless and sick. Until Pat.
My son was born in June of the following year. He had medical problems which the doctors at Children’s Hospital and Mt. Carmel Hospital Hospitals seemed unable to conquer. They anticipated he’d die before his third month. Three months after his birth the world said “The end”. No worries, people. My son is still here. That was in 1975. I’ll tell the rest of the story later. Anyway, because of his illness and because of the birth control method that tried to kill me too, I couldn’t work. She stuck with me; laughed when I couldn’t, cried when I wouldn’t. She understood my family dynamic, saying that my mother was not unlike hers. She preferred to laugh. I pouted. She’d say: “Why not laugh? There’s nothing you’re going to do about it. Your family won’t change. They’ll always be your family. Just be who you are. I love myself. I don’t have to worry about whether thy love me. Even though I know they do.”
We partied together; merged our friends and families. She thought it was hilarious that her cousin named Tracey lived on Tracey. She taught me to drive. She got me high. Okay, not just her, but our group and my husband …. and before the night was over I couldn’t find the way out of my house. They took care of me though. We were all supposed to go get her cousin from the airport, and they did. I just can’t remember it. Only remember falling under the table and off the doorstep – and they laughingly held my arms, my hands, keeping me upright. I was mad at my husband, but not at my friends. Let’s get her some air they’d said as I pulled myself over the sofa. They opened the door and we entered the cooling darkness. They got into the car. I couldn’t go because I was out of control; “messed up”. Pat would get in touch with me the following Monday. That’s it. My memory fades from there. Oh, yeah – she certainly did get back to me on Monday. She needed to know that I was alright.
She hoarded children. Problem children. It was her social worker nature. There was nothing she couldn’t care about. She was allowed to take in only one child at a time, and for a pre-determined period. She hated that.
One child caught her heart from the first meeting. She was wanted to adopt this girl in spite of the agency’s rules. At thirteen the girl was curious, precocious, troubled because her mom was troubled. Pat loved this foster child because in her own words, “she is so much like I was when I was that age.” She was determined to adopt that girl so she devised a plan that worked for the agency, the mother and the child. The child could go home, and could stay as long as the mother kept herself functioning – including maintaining her home and a job on her own. Until then, the child would stay with Pat, and would return to Pat whenever she wanted; the door would never close. Pat would retain visiting rights – check on her to ensure her happiness and her safety. The mother eventually met her goals and the child went home. Pat’s door remained open for years. The child often contacted her because she, well, she knew love when she felt it.
Anyway, Pat brought the little girl over to meet her extended family and friends. She was a wiggly little thing; constantly moving in her seat, jerking about. Pat kept asking if she were okay, if she needed anything. We knew it was the boredom of being 13 and in the room with a bunch of grown ups. My children were younger and at a friend’s house. So before long, she had to go to the bathroom. Pat, laughing, yelled after her to not be nosy and to come right back down. Being of a curious nature (which we had been warned about) she raided the bathroom cabinet and bedroom drawers, finding – personal female items. She decided to try one. Just as Pat was asking her what she was doing up there we heard moans and writhing. Pat ran up, checked the bedrooms to find the child mid-experiment, unable to remove it. I believe a little petroleum jelly helped free her. The child was embarrassed and in pain. They went home.
Pat worked, married an African male from Toronto, left him. She moved to Minnesota to complete her Masters.
I went to Pat’s house when I left my husband – she had an extra bedroom which was always prepared for the unexpected visitor. On the second day she told me to make a decision. Either tell him it was over or go back to him. She laughingly suggested that if I stayed she would expect that I would cook breakfast, maybe clean up around the house. There’d be no rent, though. I could stay at her home if I was leaving him, but it was surely time to decide what I really wanted to do. I went home thinking how smart and efficient she really was.
But then one day it was over. She asked her friends for a stand mixer for Christmas. Top of the line. If we loved her we’d get this for her. If not, we need not contact her again. We, the four of us should easily pull this off because we could all go in on the price. We four friends discussed it and then most refused – it was too costly. There was an ultimatum attached which we all rejected. She laughed. A few years later I received a letter from her wishing to re-establish contact. I didn’t respond because I felt she wouldn’t accept me anymore. It had nothing to do with the mixer. I was in the same position I’d been in when she left. They, all of them, had moved on in their careers, their education. I was embarrassed, ashamed. So I didn’t write back. My assumptions were great. My lack of faith in my friends even greater. A crime not easily forgiven.
It cost me four fantastic friends, and one who was more like a sister.
This makes me realize the importance of communicating. Fear or judgement can cost the loss of friend and family. I only realized at this moment just what I’ve done. I learned that a friend who loves you out values the price of a stand mixer every time. And I learned that you cannot go back, that people are not the same at 60 as they were at 20, and most people don’t like looking back at what used to be. I cannot replace her. There is nothing that will replace her, who she is. Didn’t realize it at the time but I see it now. But now she won’t respond to my efforts to contact her. I’m not surprised; she’s either totally with you or not – that’s just how it is.
I miss her and the others terribly some days. I’ve never had another friendship to equal this one. I know you can never go back, but maybe someone reading this can rescue a friendship that’s equally important to them before it’s too late, before going down the path of self-doubt or self-deprecation.
Yeah, I clicked my heels, rubbed my lamp of gold. Heck, I even prayed to change myself, but those friends, those days of fulfillment are gone. They won’t come back; they can’t. And if they did come back they’d be different. And so would I.
Cherish those people in your life who love and appreciate you. They are few and far between; especially if you also love and appreciate them.
See you next time.