Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Don’t Put Off Until Tomorrow . . .

This week has been an extremely emotional one for me. On Sunday, I got an e-mail informing me that a dear childhood friend had passed away. Though I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in many years, I was flooded with memories of my past, and I immediately burst into tears. It was such a shock that my emotions completely took over, and I have yet to recover.

When I was 4, my family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, from Oklahoma City. At such a young age, many people might say that they have few memories at all. Not me. I remember vividly the day my best friend came to my door and introduced herself (she was the ripe ol’ age of 5). From that day on, we were inseparable. There was another girl who lived in the neighborhood, too, and she joined the two of us soon thereafter. For years after that, the three of us were inseparable. We spent the night together, rode bikes, played softball, the usual stuff kids do. We also got into a lot of fights. Being that there were three of us (and that we were girls), sometimes two would gang up on the other. We could be hurtful to one another, but for the most part, we stuck together like glue.

Interestingly, though we lived in the same neighborhood and were zoned for the same school system, we never attended the same schools. So we each had our own sets of friends outside of the neighborhood. But in the evenings and on weekends, it was just the three of us. Our parents were all good friends, as well. Nearly every evening, the kids were shooed away to the outdoors so our parents could enjoy cocktail hour together. We took trips together. We enjoyed holidays together. We practically lived at one another’s houses. It was an ideal situation for young families with kids, and we loved it!

As things naturally go in life, one of my girlfriends (the third to join us) moved away when we were still in grade school. Her father had been transferred overseas. We stayed in touch for a while. My best friend and I sent her audiotapes and letters, which she later said really helped her through what was an extremely hard time for her. And after a few years, she moved back. Though her family didn’t move back to our neighborhood, they did move back to Birmingham. But as things go in life, we pretty much lost touch.

In 1987, my best friend, who still lived in the neighborhood with me, was killed in a tragic accident. Unfortunately, this is what brought my other girlfriend and me back together.

Kids can be so cruel, and I will always remember how my girlfriend was treated at my best friend’s memorial service. She came in on crutches, and she wasn’t from our school system. None of the kids knew her, and they whispered and stared and pointed at her. Some even said things like, “What is SHE doing here!?!” and “Why is SHE crying?” Many of the kids were just awful to her, and I remember wondering, at age 13, how human beings could be so cruel to one another. I will always remember that day for so many reasons—the way my friend was treated being one of them. That day, my girlfriend and I embraced, we cried, and we remembered my best friend. But then, inevitably, we again lost touch.

Though my girlfriend and I have been in touch periodically since then, the instances have been few and far between. We simply moved on with our lives. She got married and had a child a lot younger than I did (I was a late bloomer in that area). She moved out of state. I moved all over the country before finally settling back in my hometown with my daughter. We ran into one another a couple of times over the years, and we e-mailed here and there. She and her mother even wrote a beautiful letter for my mother’s 60th-birthday album, which I reread just last night. But that was about it until a few weeks ago.

Recently, I took a trip to Kansas with my mother and daughter. It was a very busy weekend, and during one of only a few moments in the hotel, while rushing around trying to get ready, I quickly checked my e-mail and got on Facebook. And there she was! I had a friend request from my childhood friend to whom I had not spoken in what seemed like an eternity. I was excited but racing out the door, so I told myself that when I had a little bit more time, I’d get back online, and we’d catch up. Of course, life got busy as it always does, and I pushed that friend request into the back of my head telling myself I’d get to it when I had a little extra time on the weekend, or when Kensie got over her illness, or when I didn’t have to stay at work late or get there early, or when I didn’t have to deal with bathtime and dinnertime and bedtime and . . . Needless to say, I forgot about it.

Sunday night, after I put Kensie to bed, I checked my e-mail. And there it was. My dear childhood friend, who just weeks earlier was thinking about me and wanted to catch up with me on Facebook, was dead. Yet another tragic accident. I was heart-broken. I am still heart-broken sitting here writing this. Of the three of us, the “Terrible Threesome” as her dad called us, I am the only one still alive. 37 years old, and two of my dearest childhood friends are tragically gone.

Right now I’m in the process of quite a bit of soul-searching. I’ve never been particularly religious, mostly because I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the tragedy I have seen in my life, which started at such a young age. Having some sort of faith would be a comfort, I would think. But I just don’t have that.

This recent loss has once again brought to the surface the myriad questions that I have asked myself since that day in 1987, when my carefree childhood was so suddenly ended by the loss of my best friend. Why am I the one still here? Have I made better decisions than they did? Is there some purpose that I am still meant to fulfill that they fulfilled earlier than me? Is life just a random string of coincidences and luck? The list of questions in my head goes on and on.

Since the day I lost my best friend so many years ago, very little has changed in the way I think about life. This recent tragedy has simply compounded the uncertainty I feel on a daily basis. I don’t understand the meaning of life; I struggle to accept the tragedy of death; and the monotony of the in-between sometimes makes me crazy. But one important thing I have learned along my journey: If you put off until tomorrow what you can do today, especially when it has to do with the ones you love, you may never get a second chance.

Rest in peace my dear friends.