A (not so) Fond Farewell to Childhood

      In the short story “The Body,” by Stephen King (which later became the movie “Stand By Me”) the narrator of the story says, “I never had friends again like I did when I was twelve.” 

     My best childhood friend lost her dad a couple of days ago.  Her parents live very close to me, but I didn’t even know he was sick.  I found out he died when I read it in the paper.  This is a man I saw nearly as much as my own father from the sixth grade up until about three years after I graduated high school.  His daughter, my then-friend, was literally my very, very best friend. 

     Do you remember friends like that?  My husband is really my best friend, but I don’t know if I ever laughed even with him the way I laughed with her.  I’m talking about the kind of side-aching, tear-squirting, breath-taking laughter that I think only kids and drunk people can produce.  We were together all the time, and when we weren’t together, we were talking on the phone.  Now, I’ve struggled for three days to remember what her voice sounds like, and I can’t.  I can’t remember.  Somehow, she slipped away from me. 

     Oh, I know it’s common enough.  Life takes over–real life, the kind that sucks–and you hardly have time for your own family, let alone friends.  But that’s just it–I DO have friends now, really great friends that I love with all of my heart.  We are bound by common interests, similar family situations, mostly our kids.  I don’t get to do much with them, but I talk to them regularly.  So why couldn’t I have that with my then-friend?  I remember imagining our lives as we grew older, how we’d marry brothers maybe, and be pregnant at the same time (if we decided to have kids) and live in the same neighborhood.  We knew all of each other’s secrets, and fears, and dreams.  Somehow, it still wasn’t enough.

     Now her dad is gone, and I guess she has some other best friend to talk to, and tell her how sorry they are, and all of that crap someone does for you when someone you love dies.  He didn’t have any kind of memorial service, so I don’t know what to do.  It’s been years since I saw her or spoke to her.  I thought about sending a card, but all I can think of when I think of a card is Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting” (I wrote a post about the movie thing, remember?) sitting across the table from his “best friend.”  The friend said he was sorry he didn’t make it to Robin’s wife’s funeral, and Robin says, “Yeah, I got your card.”  Heavy sarcasm.  Now, in case you don’t speak sarcasm (a language in which I am fluent) what his tone and expression suggested was “Shove your card up your ass.”  That basically sums up my opinion of most cards to begin with, so back my original point, forget the card.  Her old number is disconnected and I don’t know her cell. 

     So maybe that’s that.  Maybe it’s time for me to just let it go.  She’s not my friend anymore.  It’s not because of anything that happened, unless you want to count life–that’s all that happened.  Kids and jobs and husbands and errands and everything in between.

     Life.

     We aren’t those kids anymore.  The life we thought was so hard when it was happening turned out to not be so bad after all.  The things we were afraid of were just phantoms, and they, too, have faded away.  We grew up, and grew apart.  Her dad dying was like a splash of cold water on my face.  We are way past being kids.  Our parents are old enough to retire, and they are old enough to die.  I know it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I’m not kid anymore–don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total idiot.  I know how old I am.  I guess I just forgot for a while how wide the gulf is between that kid I was and this person I am now.  It’s hard to let her go–my friend and myself.  I miss that easy laughter, and that bond that only children can know.  I miss the carefree life that was, that is gone now forever.  I guess the truth is, I miss my friend.  I’m sorry I lost her.  I didn’t mean to, but when you’re young, you don’t realize how easy it is to lose things.  By the time you realize how precious a thing is, most of the time it’s already gone. 

     So, I won’t send a card.  I can only say now how sorry I am for her loss, even if she never knows it.  And I can say thanks for being my best, best, best friend through all of those years.  I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

A Funeral at the Compost Heap

     Everyone has different ways of finding a little solitude in their life.  Some people run, or do yoga, or meditate, or read, or, in my case, work on their compost heap.  It sounds a little odd, I guess, but you take what you can get. 

     Each weekday morning after I take Evelyn to meet the bus, I come home and visit my compost heap.  I keep a bucket in the garage, and during the day and evening I put various kitchen scraps and shreds of paper in the bucket. Each morning, I get the bucket and take it over the hill behind the garden to turn it into compost.  Most everyone is still in bed–or at least not requiring my attention right at that moment. Ian is free to watch TV until 8:00 a.m., and he does so religiously, allowing very little to distract him. I guess that’s his solitude. Anyway, I wander over the hill and dump the bucket on the heap, then take a nice forked stick I found and stir things around a bit.  If it’s too dry, I might wander over to the rain barrell and get some water to pour over it.  Mostly I just stand around.

     It’s cool that time of morning, and quiet.  I just stand there, my shoes soaking wet from the dew, and listen to whatever might be happening in the yard or the woods. Birds are the best–I like the way the finches peep, and just now there are blackbirds nesting in the roof of the hen house.  I love the way they sound.  People think, oh, yuck, blackbirds, but I think they’re cool.  They don’t really fit in with rest of the “pretty” songbirds, they don’t qualify as a “cool” bird of prey, but they still have to do their birdy thing every day. (Sound like anyone else you might know? Me, too.)  When the blackbirds chirp, it’s a strangely liquid sound, like a bell ringing underwater. That’s what my metaphorical side says.  Another side of me says they sound like the aliens in “Signs.”

     Today, I had a different type of company at the compost heap–a boy and a deceased hamster named Lucy.  Ian has two hamsters which I bought him for his birthday while apparently under the influence of some sort of powerful narcotic.  They are (were) named Lucy and Susan, from The Chronicles of Narnia.  This morning, while I was getting Evelyn ready for school, Ian appeared and said, “Lucy’s dead!”

     Now, my mind isn’t always completely with me at that time of the morning, so it took a full two seconds for my brain to process who Lucy even was, let alone digest the fact that she was now, in fact, dead.  Once it registered, I asked a pretty stupid question, namely, “What happened?”  My son, being a wonderful diplomat, didn’t respond as he might have (something like, “Her note said she couldn’t take running around in circles anymore!”) but instead just told me that she was just laying in the food dish dead. And so she was.

    We did NOT compost her, as the title may imply, but decided instead to bury her at the base of a big tree right next to the compost heap.  She is now resting under her food dish with two nice sized head stones over her.  If the blackbirds noticed what we were doing, they didn’t comment.

     I didn’t say much, either. In fact, it was a fairly quiet event, which is unusual for my son. He’s a talker.  But when he’s upset, he prefers not to talk about it. (I have absolutely no idea where he gets that from.) So I just told him I was sorry, and that was pretty much it.  He’s at the age now where it would be an unspeakable mark of eternal shame to be caught crying over a dead hamster. Hell, at this age, he might not even be allowed to cry if I died– I don’t know what those manly rules are.

     It’s a shame really, because he’s a tenderhearted, compassionate fellow, and I know he was upset.  This whole “tough” thing is over-rated. I know no one wants to see everyone going around crying all the time (though if the gas prices don’t go down, it may happen anyway.)  But he really is an animal lover, and he was crazy about those two little rats….er…..hamsters, so I’m sorry for him that he felt as though crying would have been a bad thing to do.  I hope that I’m not the one who taught him that lesson, but I’m afraid it may be so. 

     So anyway, Lucy is laid to rest. Ian and I made a joke that she went to Aslan’s country. (If you don’t know what that means, read the books. I don’t have the energy to explain it all here.)  Tomorrow we’ll clean out her cage and set it in the garage.  And in the morning I’ll visit my compost heap, listen to the birds, and think about different things, like maybe how brief our time really is on this earth, and that when it’s over, I hope someone sheds a few tears. Then they can bury me in the compost heap.

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