my thoughts on motherhood, kids, books and stuff

Life Lessons From My Childhood Friend

I wrote this months ago and debated whether I should post it.  I have really enjoyed getting to know people through their personal posts on their blogs, so hopefully this will help you get to know me better.

I came across a blog talking about childhood memories and events that make an impact on our lives (darnit, I can’t find the site again so I can’t link to it). I have been thinking about things from my youth that really stand out as life changing events or pinnacles in my growth and maturity.

I had a best friend that was like a sister to me from the time I was in kindergarten through all my years growing up. We both came from big families (eight in hers, seven in mine) and we attended the same school and the same church. We talked on the phone nearly every day. We rode the bus home to each other’s houses at least three out of five days a week. We took gymnastics together. We walked or biked a couple of miles on dirt paths through the desert to visit each other nearly every day during the summer break (in 110 degree weather).

She lived on the outskirts of town on an acre of beautifully landscaped property that was surrounded by many more acres of sagebrush, lava rock, sandstone, and washes (dirt trenches that drained the flash flood waters). Her Dad had built their red brick ranch style split-level home with the extra large two car garage, long sloped drive way (perfect for roller skates) and multi-tiered matching red brick fence that surrounded their home. In those days there were only two homes or less to a block (very big blocks) and there was so much privacy and freedom. We would walk or ride or roller skate on the long roads and wave to all of the other families that lived around there. They were mostly wealthier retired couples, but there were a few families with kids mixed in here and there.

We would sleep out on the wood deck outside her parent’s room and stare at the stars and tell stories until we all dropped off to sleep. Our sleep out group usually included her and I, her sister who was a little older and her brother who was a little younger and sometimes a friend of his. Her Mom was always on the other side of the sliding glass door and we were young enough that there were never any concerns of the co-ed sleeping arrangements. There were no streetlights or houses close by so it was very dark and the stars were very bright and clear.

When she came to my house I am sure it felt different and fun for her to be in the middle of “the neighborhood”, which was the first planned development that had been built in our small town. All the neighbors knew each other and there were no fears of letting your kids sleep out in the yard or walk after dark to the gas station that was the only store we had in town. We would play night games most summer nights with all the other kids in the neighborhood and the adults would sit out on their porches and chat until the mosquitoes became too unbearable. It probably felt like city living to my friend with her family’s large property and lack of close neighbors.

Two of my brothers that are three and four years older than us always paid her a lot of attention and teased her relentlessly that she was their girlfriend. She would blush and I am sure loved that they pretended to fight over her. They looked at her as another little sister and they were almost as much her older brothers as they were mine.

We both had great lives that we were happy with and we were happy we each had a second family and home. We had the best of both worlds.

We started working together in the dining room at a health resort (known to locals as the “fat farm”) that was about a mile up the canyon from her home when we were in seventh grade. We would help prepare and dish up different kinds of tofu desserts, set the tables, serve meals, clean tables, and gossip and giggle with the other girls we worked with (who were also mostly from our same small town).

A lot of times my friend’s mom would come pick me up before work since my parents both worked and I had to be to work before they got home…and then my mom or dad would pick us up and take us home. On one of these days, when we were fourteen years old, I called my friend before work to make sure they were still planning on picking me up and her Mom answered.

“Uhhh, she can’t come to the phone right now. She isn’t feeling well. Did you need a ride to work?”

“Ya, if that would be all right. Is she okay?”

“Umm, she will be okay. We will be there in a little bit.”

I was a little confused and could tell something was wrong by the tone in her mom’s voice. I worried the whole time while waiting for them to pick me up and continued to worry as they picked me up and everyone had puffy red eyes and wouldn’t look at me.

When we got to work my friend immediately volunteered to wash the dishes (which we all hated and never volunteered to do), and I got swept up in the preparation and serving and then clearing and didn’t get much of a chance to talk to her. She stayed in the back corner and quietly washed dishes for the three hours we were there.

Before we left work she pulled me out onto the back patio and said, “I know you are wondering what is going on and I am going to tell you, but I can’t do it right now. My family is going to be gone this weekend and my mom said you can stay over and I will tell you all about what is going on.” Her Dad worked in California and was only home a couple of weekends a month and I don’t remember where the rest of her family was going, but I was anxious to spend the time with her and learn what was bothering her.

We talked once on the phone before our sleep-over and she said, “I don’t want to talk about it on the phone, but I will tell you that in involves my mom and dad and we are about to go through some big changes.”

My first thought was divorce. I still remember feeling completely blind-sided (even though I didn’t know for sure). Her family was my second family and I loved her parents and her siblings very much. Her dad wasn’t around a whole lot, but when he was around he was all about having fun and spending time with everyone and I was never excluded even though his time at home was valuable and precious to him and his family. He was the life of the party, a comedian through and through and one of the craziest dancers/singers I had ever known. He was a very hard worker and had turned their home into a beautiful symbol of his love for his family.

I fretted and stressed and even cried off and on and finally the weekend came. My Mom was worried about us being there alone, but I explained to her that we needed the time and something was up and we needed privacy and time to talk. My Mom was very sensitive and understanding and agreed to let us have the night to ourselves. My parents dropped me off at her house and we watched movies, ate junk food, played games, and talked about everything except the thing that was most on our minds. It was getting late and we were getting tired and my friend said, “let’s go for a little drive and talk”. Her Mom had left the keys to their car so she could drive the mile to work while she was away (it was a small town in the middle of nowhere and this was not that unusual). I was very nervous and I remember I was shaking and I am sure she was as well. We started driving on the dark roads around her house and she started talking slowly and quietly.

“I know you have been wondering what is going on, it is just really hard to talk about and I still don’t believe it. It is hard and I don’t even know how to say it. Well…I am sure you figured out that my parents are getting a divorce.”

I nodded quickly and gulped. I had suspected that was true, but hoped it wasn’t.

“well, the reason is….my Dad…has been having an affair….with….a man.”

I felt all the blood drain out of my face and my body trembled and went cold. Had I heard her right?! A man!? This doesn’t happen to people I know. We both belonged to the same church and had very religious and strict upbringings and morals. Her dad sat in church with his family whenever he was in town and had been on committees for the town and was well known and well liked. We lived in a town where everyone knew everyone else and knew their business.

“A man?” I asked, hoping it was a mistake and I had heard her wrong.

“ya.”

We had just circled the last block and she pulled down into the dark garage and closed it and turned off the car. It went pitch black and at that moment I heard her break down and start sobbing.

I froze. I completely froze. I was stunned. I was horrified. I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know what to do as my best friend sobbed next to me in the dark station wagon. I wanted to reach out and put my arms around her but I couldn’t move for some reason and I felt like I was falling and spinning and lost. My friend was not an overly emotional person and I had never seen her hurting and in pain like she was at that moment and I didn’t know what to do.

She suddenly stopped and said, “well, should we go in now?”. The moment was over. We slowly walked into the house and made up our beds and crashed in emotional exhaustion.

The next day we decided to spend the rest of the weekend at my house and we were both feeling deflated and spent. We didn’t talk very much more about her family circumstances, but stuck close together and watched tv and did puzzles and quietly supported each other. The first morning we were at my house my Mom came and quietly woke me up and took me into her room and broke down crying.

“Can you tell me what is going on? I know that something is up and you two look miserable, but I don’t know how to help or be sensitive because I don’t know what it wrong.” I slowly told her what had gone on and I watched her as she went through the same flood of emotions I had gone through when my friend had told me. My Dad was the bishop at our church so he had known what was going on for several weeks or months beforehand, but he had not been able to talk to my mom about it because of the sensitivity of the situation and the privacy that they needed as they figured out what they were going to do. His knowing had helped because he had told my Mom to give us a little space and let us have our time while my friend explained things to me and then I could tell her when I was ready.

My friend’s parents were divorced shortly after that and we continued to become closer as I tried to encourage and help her during this hard time in her life. It was a few short months later that my mom introduced my friend’s mom to my uncle who had also recently gone through a painful divorce. They hit it off immediately and were married within a few weeks. They joined their families to make a new family of fourteen and made plans to move five hours north to be close to my uncle’s work. We were excited to be cousins, but would rather have continued being friends and sisters and only two miles apart instead of three hundred and fifty. Our parents promised us unlimited phone calls the first month (I don’t think it lasted that long as they realized how long we really could talk…even at long distance rates) and we promised to keep in touch constantly.

Our last sleep-over was the night before they moved. Everything in their house was packed up and we slept on the floor in sleeping bags. We decided to go for a walk before we went to bed. It was very late, but the moon and stars were so bright we didn’t need flashlights. It was February but the weather was very mild and perfect and we didn’t need coats or sweaters to stay warm. We walked all over the hilly development that had more than tripled in the time I had known her and we came to a construction site not far from her house and climbed up into one of the empty tractors. We sat in the tractor and looked at the stars and chatted and enjoyed each other’s company. I remember feeling total contentment as I sat there with my best friend, but I also felt an underlying sense of panic that I kept beneath the surface. We both knew this was our last night together for awhile and we wanted it to last as long as we could stretch it out. We both shed a few tears as we reminisced on our years of friendship and some of the petty arguments (there weren’t many) and fun times we had had. I felt grown up that night and I am sure she did as well.

The night sitting in the dark car in her garage after she told me about her dad and the night sitting on the tractor before she moved are two of my most distinct and clear memories I have with any of my friends from my childhood.

The night in the car was a painful memory and a memory of a feeling of helplessness and regret as I sat there and listened to her cry and didn’t have the nerve to reach over and comfort her.

The night on the tractor is a memory full of happiness, sadness, contentment, sorrow, and love for my friend. We laughed and cried and I felt like that was my amends for the night I didn’t comfort her. We were totally open and honest with each other and I told her how much I loved and cared for her and it was the perfect way to say goodbye.

These two nights in my adolescent years were definite life changing moments that had big impacts in my life. I think I matured a lot during these experiences and they helped define who I am as a person. I have never been in a situation like that again, but I know that if I were ever wondering if I should reach out and comfort a friend again I wouldn’t hesitate for even a second.

  • Such a sad but beautiful story.
    But I am dying to know, are you still close? Do you keep in touch? 🙂

  • whim

    Keli, I wish we were in closer contact. We see each other at family gatherings like funerals and reunions when we both happen to be able to go and it is so fun to sit and chat and catch up. We also always know what the other is up to via a family site and our parents.

  • Very touching story that taught me some good lessons. Thank you for sharing.

  • Personal posts are some of my favorites too, I especially enjoyed this one.