Yesterday, after Max’s karate class, a quick breakfast and sweep up of the kitchen, Max and I tumbled into our car and drove 40 minutes to the airport. We were early. We checked the monitors with wild anticipation and staked out good seats right by the door where the arriving passengers enter. Max ran back and forth and checked the arrival stats every five minutes–He came back triumphant at last. “Mommy” he squealed with joy “Its arrived!”. Five minutes later my dear dear Erica and her oldest daughter Olivia were walking through the doors into our our arms as tears welled up in my eyes and ran down my cheeks. We hugged for what seemed like an eternity. A piece of my heart lives with Erica. It was nice to feel it close.
We have been friends since we were four.
It was sometime in kindergarden when she slipped her arm through mine and we whispered to each other that we would be friends forever. We meant it. Our friendship quickly turned into something that would forever cement our whole families into one.
She lived just up the street from me–a 2 minute bike ride away. My bus stop was at the end of her road–Huckleberry Lane. Her house was just a quick stop off on the way into town on a hot summer day. Our mothers carpooled us to religous ed, drama class, dance class. We played for hours in each others backyards. Many a Friday night our families dined together. The grownups then retired to the living room for a cocktail while we hid away in her bedroom listening to Billy Joel records, whispering our fears to each other. We gave each other nicknames and practiced our dance moves.
When we got to middle and high school, Erica was considered a cool kid. She was pretty and athletic and hung out with all the jocks. I was considered a nice kid, a smart kid, but I hung with another slightly less in-crowd. No matter, Erica included me and brought me along, refusing to buy into the nonsense of silly cliques. She even introduced me to my first serious boyfriend, a dreamy Canadian hockey player with blond hair and a sweet smile, someone who was part of her gang.
The summer we turned twelve our families started vacationing together every summer, something we would continue to do all the way through college. We laid on the beaches all day working on our tans and then wandered the beaches at night looking for boys.
When my parents went out of town, I slept at her house. It was on one such weekend that we both got in trouble with the police–being at a keg party when we should have been at the movies. We both spent a lot of time in the church youth group after that.
She visited me at college whenever her school’s hockey team played ours. We stayed up all night whispering confessions to each other and never once uttered a word of judgement.
Together we have been through three marriages and two divorces. I held her after her dad died, borrowing a friends car to drive up and be there for the funeral. Between us we have birthed 4 children.
When I sat and cried with a screaming infant on my lap, she consoled me for hours. When the newness of motherhood got to be too much for me to take, she left her daughter with her husband and boarded a train. She helped me give Max his first bath and she did my laundry. When she was on bed rest for five months with her twins I called her almost every morning on my way into work to check in on her. Max and her children have grown close despite the 300 miles between our homes. We try to see them for at least an afternoon a couple times a year. On one such recent visit, these four wee ones (ages 5,6 and 7) linked arms themselves and whispered to that they too will be friends forever.
But those visits never seem to be enough for Erica and I. There are mouths to feed, boo-boos to kiss, hurts to sort out. Neither of us is really able to finish a thought. Little ears are always listening
Every couple of months, the phone will ring at 9 pm. “Are they asleep?” we whisper to each other referring to our children. If they are, we then settle in and start to talk. It will be hours before we get off the phone, bleary eyed and yet we still feel there is so so much more to say. Hanging up feels like a betrayal.
Erica has a heart so big and wide open. Her generousity knows no bounds. She is beloved and needed by everyone. I see in her face how she is so tired from her constant giving–she doesn’t complain as she reaches down into her last bit of energy to give it to someone else. I want to wrap her in my arms and protect her from the world which doesn’t know how lucky it is that she is in it. She is one of my heros.
This summer was the first year since we were twelve that we didn’t sit on the beach in Rhode Island together for at least one afternoon. My heart has been aching ever since.
So Erica invented a new tradition. She realized we needed more time for late night whispering. While we craved two weeks away on a beach somewhere, we both knew that this thing called life meant we could not do it anytime soon. So she decided that she would bring each of her children down for an overnight visit. Each child would get one-on-one time with Max–and leave us to huddle together and talk. No men, no sibling rivalry to sort out. Just quality time, wine and chocolate. And so, yesterday she arrived for the first of these visits.
We wandered through downtown yesterday, Max showing off our little community to Olivia. We walked into the movie rental place and I told her a long and complicated story while the kids picked out a video. She looked at me with a wry smile on her face and interrupted me. “So essentially what you are telling me is this…” and then went on to sum up in 10 words or less a secret held so deep within my heart I had not dare say it outloud to anyone not even myself. After 34 years she can not only read my mind, she can read my heart. And she does it without an ounce of judgement.
Today when it was time to return them to the airport, her daughter lay on the floor by the door and cried. “I don’t want to leave” she sobbed. I wanted to join her begging Erica not to go. I wanted to lay my body across the door and hold on to her ankles. I thought to myself, “Livie and I could take her…” But after all these years I know she will be back so I decided to instead support Erica as a parent and I picked up my keys and loaded the car, holding Livia by the hand. It was all I could do to leave them at security. Max and I secretly prayed that they would miss their flight and have to come home for and live with us “for a million years” or at least one more night.
They are home now, safe and sound. Back in their lives as we are back into ours. I will see her at Thanksgiving. We will drink coffee while the kids run wild. It won’t be enough time. It never is.
And when it is time to get in the car, I will slip my arm through hers, rest my head on her shoulder and whisper to her that we will be friends forever. And I will count myself among the lucky for the gift of a true old friend.