Thursday, September 29, 2016

September's sadness

This has been a tough month. And as the first month of Earbaby's senior year comes to a close, I find myself struggling -- with her, with my feelings of anxiety and depression as my nonworking but fully paid for year ends, with doubts about finding meaningful employment, and suddenly, most tragic of all, the death of one of my closest childhood friends.

As a family, we're in transition. EB is excited about her senior year, and we're preparing for her to be in another school, more than likely in another state, a year from now. The poisoning of the nest has continued, most of the damage aided and abetted by the ICB, who is off to college, but hangs on like a barnacle. The two of them are in love, but EB's dad and I don't see this ending well.

But that's another long story for another long day. Right now, my struggles are more inward.

In short, I'm really sad.

My friend Elizabeth was one of my closest friends since first grade. She was Betty then, adding an e to the end of her name in high school. We lost touch over the years after college, although I was a bridesmaid in her wedding to the man who became the father of her children. By the time we all had gotten older and wider, Bettye had started using her birth name, but every time I slipped up and called her Bettye instead of Elizabeth, she just said, "Don't worry about it."

When you lose your siblings or your childhood friends, it feels as if you've lost part of your childhood. The shared history you have with the people who knew you best is a loss like no other. And for Bettye, she and our friend Celia and I were each other's best shared history, especially in our teenage, high school years.

Back then we were The Three. If you saw only one or two of us, the inquiries started about the missing piece. We did everything together. Back before the internet, the cell phone, text messaging, facetiming, and all other social media check-ins, we had each other and the shared family telephone. Are we all wearing skirts or jeans today? Are we going to Chicken Unlimited (with the cute kid behind the counter named Kevin who used to give me extra fries) or McDonald's where our friend works and sometimes gave us extra hamburgers? Are we going to the record store where Michael Jackson's new song, Got to be There is playing as we walk into the door? How about stopping at Warner's Drugstore?

I believe to this day, those days are the reason I can never go straight home. There were so many detours we had to take to get back to where we could stand on the corner by the mailbox and talk for an hour or two, before going home to call each other on the phone for more time wasted (what the heck did we have to talk about to each other after spending all day in school together?) it's a wonder we got home and got any homework done at all.

Bettye and Celia were my rocks. I was skinny and homely, but I was a good student. I also hid my insecurity by being a little, well, cutting. But I'd like to think we all saw through each other's insecurities -- and forgave them.

We all had our roles to play. Bettye was the first to get a boyfriend, I was the last. My first boyfriend and prom date was a friend of her boyfriend. We triple dated for the senior prom, with Celia going with a boy she barely knew, but back then, no one went stag to the prom. You found a date, or you stayed home. Celia and I talked right after we learned about Bettye. She and I were feeling the same pain, the devastating loss of what we didn't know then were our good old days. We had a million dramas back then, dance drill team, chorus, football and basketball games, working in the library or boys' detention office (the bad boys were always the cutest), boys, boys, boys.

The last time the three of us were together was our 20-year high school reunion. It had been a long time since I saw them and they were the only reason I wanted to go. I was 37 then, had been out in the world for awhile, was single and no longer insecure. I remember Bettye saying surprisingly, that I had learned how to flirt.

Right after I learned about Bettye's death, I went to EB's football game to watch her cheer. I saw her squad go out on the field and do a short routine to prerecorded music. In my mind's eye I was back home, dancing with the Titanettes with Bettye and Celia, with a marching band playing live music behind us. I got nostalgic. I watched EB perform and I worried that her high school experience won't be as innocent and carefree as mine. Relationships are more heightened, parties are more intense, and some of her personal choices may come back to hurt her and there's nothing at this point that I can do. And although EB has friends, she has cooled with her closest girlfriends and may not have the strong support system I was lucky to have with Bettye and Celia.

My friends and I connect only sporadically now. I get Christmas cards occasionally from Celia, Bettye and I talked even less frequently on Facebook. She had been ill for awhile, but her last post showed she was getting better. The post of her death from her sister was a knife to my heart.

I will be heading home to see my friend off. I will see her in my mind's eye in her Titanette uniform (hers was red, Celia's and mine were green), in our Treble Choir long black skirts and sleeveless white blouses, in her prom dress, her wedding gown and the outfits we wore for our high school reunion when we weren't yet 40, so still considered ourselves young enough to go clubbing. So we did.

None of us know how long we have here. But my faith tells me this is not the only plane on which we exist. I'll see you again Bettye. I'll miss you but you'll always live in my heart.

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