“Solitude changed us. It made us confront who we were. As dark as it was outside, inside of us it was even darker. When there’s no one to talk to except the demons, you talk to the demons and they talk back to you.”
from WHEN THE LAST OCEAN DIES
Reconnecting with my high school friend has been far more rewarding to both of us than I imagined. I almost hesitated before I sent those emails. I didn't want to bother people. I didn't want to interrupt their lives with bad memories. High school friends who try to contact you when they're old is almost a joke, a meme, something no one wants. But I've always been different. My beliefs always fell outside the safe circles. And the memory of one friend gave me the courage I needed. I'm so glad I did and so is she.
We were friends then because we were the fringe weirdos, writers who brought books to parties so we wouldn't have to talk to anyone. We were both so shy the other kids avoided us in case it was catching. We still have a hard time talking to people we don't know well, but we've become less shy about talking to ourselves. It's good practice in case the world ever goes back to something resembling normal.
What we also share is that neither of us attended nor will ever attend a high school reunion. The thought alone is enough to freeze our spines in the permanent upright terror position. It was not a pleasant memory for either of us, but especially for her.
She was black, and when our high school began to have daily race riots, she quit and started attending an evening high school for dropouts, the same one I attended a few weeks later after I was confronted by a teacher, a counselor, and some dour guy in a suit to give up the names of those I "worked for" in the anti-war group.
I refused and they gave me the option of dropping out or be expelled. I walked out and never went back. I was 1/8 of a credit from graduation with nearly a 4.0 gpa. I have never regretted that decision although I did cry when my high school class graduated without me. I recovered nicely from that when B.B. King turned out to be the commencement speaker at our school for dropouts and other socially unacceptable misfits. We gave each other a virtual high five over that memory.
We were each other's first close female friend. We knew secrets about each other that no one else knew. We kept them in our pockets, away from other people. Even now, as we write back and forth about those times, the pain of the abuse we suffered still clings to a lot of the words. We play the remember game with each other.
Remember when we wore long sleeve shirts in the summer to hide the bruises?Remember the police telling us to stop making our fathers angry and the abuse would stop? Remember how long it took for us to learn it was never our fault? Remember them spitting on me and calling you names when we tried to sit together in the movie theatre? Remember how we did it anyway?
We didn't have boyfriends then. The only men we knew were brutal, violent, and terrifying. We had friends who were boys and in looking back they shared one thing in common, they were gentle spirits, and shy like us. They were as my friend said "good people." We ended up marrying that kind of man.
We were friends for three years, working together in the same sleazy off the strip coffee shops enough days to collect tips and an under the table paycheck half what they paid servers and kitchen help of legal age. But it allowed us to rent a safe escape room in the part of town my father would never think to look for me, and her good church going mother wouldn't dare be seen in alone. We were 16 and kept it until we graduated. It was a secret we kept from everyone we knew. I think it was a test to make sure we were okay to trust, and we passed. During those years, we became each other's model of true friendship, a model that hasn't changed. It's our standard and it was hard earned so neither of us ever settled for less.
In our last few letters we tried to figure out whose idea it was to get involved with the anti-war group that consumed two years of our lives and grew into a lifetime commitment to peace, but true to our friendship we finally agreed it happened simultaneously. We made some good friends from that group, people who believed in the power of one person to change the world. We have always strived to be that one person.
We lost touch when she was accepted at a university on the east coast and I stayed in the west. But our lives followed remarkably similar paths. A couple of BA's, graduate school, the poverty years, the illness that almost killed us, but ended up changing us forever instead. And love, so much love. We're still a couple of weirdo loners, but we learned to trust love.
"We both have so much love in our lives, from so many. It healed us, that love," she wrote in her last email. Yes, that love did heal us. And it will continue to heal us. As one of the characters in my book is fond of saying. "Love is all that can save us now."
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Ursine Logic's Books and Art