This is for my friend Jenn, whom I miss terribly on some days, longing desperately once again for the freedom and innocence of our shared childhood.
It was winter when we moved in. The kind of winter where there is lots of snow piled up around you. We were just entering into a time of wholeness, and healing and she happened to live next door where she could witness it all, be part of it perhaps, usher it in.
We had only just moved into that big, old, white, farm house, set back from the road, on three beautiful acres of untouched land. We were finally safe, my mother, two older sisters and myself. Safe from men, and moving, and from fear, although that would take years to dissolve. My two sisters and another neighbor introduced us, never knowing that day was just the first stitch in millions that would tether our souls. We stood there looking at each other several feet apart, separated by a large puddle, before turning and going home, only leaving a forced, hello, to linger in the space between us. I was five years old. She was six.
The winter was harsh that year. The cold kept me a prisoner, alone and deprived like so many New England winters do. But even at five, I put up with the silence long enough, an unknown boldness washed over me like a spring rain. I marched over in a desperate attempt for company, I knocked on her door. “Can Jennifer come out and play?”
I can barely recall the details of that first day together, but she said “yes”, and from that point on we were more like sisters. Every wall and all the defenses that we had learned in our short years, from our wounded mothers, were mere smoke barriers. We convinced ourselves that we were stronger and walked through them, conquered the smoldering lies and rode the reservations, while our parents watched from the windows of isolation. And we played. She was the constant in my life, but I didn’t know it then. She was a plumb line, the silver lining , one of the reasons I can say I had a happy childhood even amidst all the sad things and difficult times, she was a buffer, a gracious gift from God to give me a smile, to make me overlook the battles, and to distract me from everything that could have ruined me. She was there, so instead I was only, just lightly stained.
In some ways, she brought child to my child hood, the miracle of innocence and wonder and forgetfulness. Perhaps we provided each other with a safe haven before we met Jesus.
She made being young true and pure, or maybe we did it together. And there was no one else, no third or fourth, no group, just the two of us, no one to fill in or replace either one of us, during those long summer days, those endless hours of barbie’s and baby dolls; coloring and sticker books, swimming at Mim’s and long explores in the fields behind my house, snail hunts, and trying on roles and clothes, ideas and dreams, just to see how they might fit.
When I think back and really go back in my heart and mind, I can picture, I can be there again. Hers was the only telephone number I knew by heart at six years old. I can recall the short walk over to her house, cutting through the neighbor’s front yard, who dare dwell between us, rounding the end of the white fence to her driveway. It was the first evidence of faithfulness. I can see her there, standing in the kitchen with a broom in her hands, paused, and looking up at the TV. The smell of her garage, her countless chores, the large tree in her back yard, her porch during a rain storm, listening to music and sleepovers and movies. I can envision it all almost as clearly as if it were my favorite show. When I think back, I really cannot underestimate the powerful hour of childhood.
It left me with the knowledge of what friendship is and it left me with a hole, a deep well to fill. I know what I’m missing, and I wonder if I’m just trying to get myself back there, to what we had and knew. To the blissfulness of youth and time and imagination. To open fields and lazy days, and long hot summers, before the glass shattered and the sand ran out. Before we ate from the forbidden tree and crossed the red sea.
Is it even possible once we have crossed over into the wilderness of maturation, to have that closeness with another soul, or is that reserved for the formative years? Earmarked for the past, and kept secret from the rust and wrinkles of old age.
I can’t imagine we spent many days without one another. Oh, there were times, seasons when we would wax and wane from each other. High school being one season, when there wasn’t as many moments and memories we made together, but then we would come together again like lilies being blown in the wind, away and towards each other. Waves meeting every now and again crashing, merging, parting, reuniting.
She understood it better than I did. She tried to hold onto something I was oblivious of. She saw it then, the glory and treasure of friendship that I missed, overlooked, and assumed was normal and abundant. She wanted to have children at the same time, and be in each other’s weddings and be neighbors again, and she was strong and we did, we did it all, we continued to play house, or grownups. We kept being children in an adult world, or adults in a child’s world I couldn’t decide.
Then the hard things came. Our childhood fled, escaped somehow quickly, overnight. Sometimes pain changes us and suffering moves us. I couldn’t play after that. I was hurting and angry and suddenly, I woke up from our beautiful dream, or maybe slowly – it didn’t matter, all that mattered was, I was awake. And different, she was different, I saw things, knew things felt things that I hadn’t understood before or didn’t want to. I had been in the garden and consumed the fruit and He was telling the truth.
I thought when she moved to Tennessee a few years ago, I didn’t care or couldn’t care. She left with a single word hanging in the space between us. Goodbye. It didn’t matter now that we were who we became. That once again we found ourselves separated by a puddle, or a few states or unintended choices. We pulled ourselves together to part properly. I had assumed, the child part of me left with her, and she left something with me too, memories- memories of white things and clean things and good things. But I realize now, now that I’ve shifted again, and grown a little more. That, it wasn’t the child she took away with her, it was part of the grown up I had become with her, that she had witnessed, and when I tried to access those important pieces I couldn’t. It occurred to met then, that I missed her terribly.
And what I find myself missing the most, is that closeness. The closeness that happens when someone knows you so well, it makes you feel real. It was a deeper me, a fuller me, a whole me, that I find myself searching for so often these days.