Several years, or maybe it was a lifetime ago, I was sitting at my desk checking email. I got a comment on my old blog, from a woman named Jennifer Ballantyne. She had been reading me for a while and had finally decided to comment, because the post I had written was so similar to one she herself had just penned. It was as though we both moving out from the same heart writing about our sons, about the experience of single motherhood from one perspective. That night I read her blog from start to finish and walked away thinking, she is me-or I am she…or maybe we were soul sisters cut from the same cloth.
Slowly, very slowly we started talking off blog, by email about writing, about creating. She had ideas for my blog, thoughts about my writing. Most of her opinions were strong and most of them were exactly what I needed to hear–my platform was awkward, my writing was better than I thought it was, I needed to showcase myself better, have more confidence. She told me I should write a book. I was touched by support, I found her easy to “talk” to, she could call me out on my writing insecurities without any of my gremlins joining in the party.
One day, while responding to an email where she was helping me with a tough piece, I mentioned to her, “shhh….don’t tell anyone but I am going on a date. My first date since Juan left”. “Tell me all about it, dear girl” she responded. At that moment the floodgates opened, and our friendship really began.
Within weeks and for a long long time after that, not a day went by that we didn’t talk. By email, by phone, by skype. We talked about our kids, about what we loved about our towns, about what we were making for dinner, what we would give our kids for Christmas. We talked about being single moms, our ex-husbands, our relationships with our siblings. I felt that she got me. She understood when well-meaning but thoughtless comments were made about how I was trying to parent Max. She understood when no one else did. She understood all the ways we single mamas struggle–all the guilt and sadness and worry we carry that sometimes feels heavier than those of our partnered up sisters. She was like a mama bear and defended me fiercely when someone hurt my feelings.
She was my confidant on the ins-and-outs of my heart. My crushes, my heartbreaks. My joys. I told her all my old love stories and she told me hers too. I was baffled by the fact that someone I had never met face to face could know me so well. She was taken back too. After awhile we stopped being baffled and would laugh about the day when we would meet, wrap our arms around each other and sit on the beach laughing…remember back then, when we were penpals and emailed long emails every night–pouring out our hearts to a stranger who would become a sister. What a crazy leap! Aren’t we glad we did it? Look how wonderful it has all turned out!
The reality was Jenni was so far away, she could see me clearly.
One spring night, when loneliness covered me like a heavy blanket, I called Jenni and we talked for 4 hours. One summer night, when she was feeling blue, my friend Jeff, some other musician friends and I and I called her and played music for her loud –giving her her own private concert via speaker phone.
Jenni’s cancer was something we talked about. Alot. But it wasn’t the basis of our connection. Almost two years ago, Jenni’s cancer came roaring back after a brief respite. We promised each other we would live each day as though it was our last.
I have been losing Jenni slowly, over the last half a year or so. Her pain has required a full-time move to hospice. She was writing less and less. At various points, we have said our goodbyes–never quite final–but making sure we knew the important stuff. That it never went unsaid. One night, on the phone, we came to a peace that we might never make it to that beach, to that moment when we would wrap our arms around each other and whisper our secrets in person. “We found each other from halfway across the world” we said. “We will find each other again. Next time. I promise.”
Tonight my friend Jeff came over for a guitar lesson. He walked in the door. He asked me how I was.
“Jenni died tonight”. I told him.
He put down his guitar. He put Max to bed. He then settled down on my couch and he said, “tell me”. I began to re-tell him all the stories he already knew–how Jenni and I first met, how we laughed and chatted and skyped and stayed up late talking on the phone. He listened as I told him about her opinions, her Jack, her dream to come to the US, her blog. He listened as I told him how Jenni understood things no one else could truly understand. I told him all I had learned from Jenni. How I learned to tell my friends that I love them, no matter how crazy or silly or odd it sounded. How I learned to listen to strangers. How I learned to push back when people hurt me. Telling stories was the only way I knew to keep Jenni alive. Telling stories was what Jenni and I did. So I told him my love stories, all the old ones I had told Jenni. And I ended with the love story about the about two soul sisters who would never meet.
Jenni is a gift to me. The lessons she taught me are rich and deep. She is with me, even if she isn’t. She always has been with me, even though she never actually was, and so, I suppose in that way nothing has changed. We have talked so much, I can hear her voice, know exactly what she would say, what she is saying. I will have it to carry with me, as I did each time we ended.
“Good night gorgeous girl. I have so much more to say to you, but for now it is late. And it is time to let each other sleep”
Good night dear Jenni. I love you. Good night.