Monday, January 31, 2011

Erin and the Gift of No Matter What

Dear Erin,

I've been working on your blog post for three weeks, and--despite my best efforts--I haven't been able to make it work in the same way as those I have written in honor of other close friends.  Today I realized: the only way to write about us is in letter format, as if you are sitting in front of me.  It feels right because, in fact, you are almost never actually sitting in front of me when I talk to you, and I talk to you a couple times a week.  So I have deleted my other sad attempt and am starting from scratch.

The other day, on the phone, I remarked about how special our friendship is in its closeness and everydayness, especially considering that you are in Illinois, and I am in Virginia.  I said it is one thing to be close with someone who lives nearby and another, altogether, to be close with someone who lives states away.  You replied in your vague, dreamy way something like: "Yes, I'm not sure how we got so attached to each other.  But it's been so nice to have the girls in common." 

I've been asking myself how it became what it is, trying to determine if one moment, in particular, sealed it, but I think there have been a thousand moments.  I remember how, rejected, we were thrown together as roommates our freshman year in we looked just enough alike that, sometimes, people who had never seen us together confused us for one another.  I lived with Erin Quigley our sophomore and junior years (mostly because you were a moody sock thief), but you and I spent a lot of time together, anyway, and our senior year--when we roomed together, again--was our best: don't you think? 

So many things from our Maryville-College years stick out in my mind: countless line dances, pinch wars, spades games, and pizza deliveries.  The morning I yelled at someone about changing a lightbulb in our room and what happened next.  The night you advised me that it was not at all in my best interest to eat chili-cheese fries.  (And the morning after I ate them, anyway.)  The procedure to correct my toenail problem.  The argument over the full-length mirror.  All the times we walked hand-in-hand, our fingers interlaced like lovers'.  Our blue refrigerator and scungy dishes.  The night we flipped the car in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and landed upside-down in a swamp.  (We really could have died: you know?)  The Citgo guy thing.  The day your mom saved our hind ends by passing out handouts over the nicest lunch we'd eaten in almost four years.  Our ritual of watching Carnie!.  Our refusal to study for comprehensive exams.  ("If we don't know it by now," we insisted, "we're not going to learn it in a few weeks."  We applied our make-up, dressed in our most flattering blue jeans, and left the others huddled around their open books with stressed-out expressions.) 

Then--two years after our graduation, and immediately after your earning your master's degree--you followed Jason and me to Dallas.  Camped out on our couch for awhile.  That was a good year, too, with all the boys.

Justin, Erin, Darin, Brandee, & Jeremy: 1998

But, come early 1999, Jason and I moved to Virginia, and you and I have not lived in the same state, since.  For the past twelve years, our relationship has consisted of one or two visits per year (often ended by our saying to one another, gently, "I hate you," so we won't cry) and a million phone calls; yet, somehow, it's thrived.  You're not here, but you are, because you're at the other end of the line: the phone line, but also--in the Jane-Eyre spirit of things--at the other end of the little line running from my heart to yours. 

It's an amazing thing to be tethered to another person by time, celebration, pain, and inside-out knowing.  I don't know how to thank you for holding onto me--every second--for over half my life, thus preventing me from being lost like a released, helium balloon.

But I can say this: when I am really sad and reach for a happy memory, I grasp the night I sat between you and my brother on top of the waterfall.  Every time.  I can still feel the cool water rushing over my bare legs; hear the river sounds; see the full moon, and--in its glow--your faces.  I remember the campfire and the tent on the bank.  The pick-up.  And I remember thinking, in that moment: don't forget; you will need to remember how loved and safe you feel between these two people.

Proverbs 8:24 says, matter-of-factly: "There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."  In my world, as you know, that is huge; my brother lives in the same part of my heart as my children.  But you are that friend.

You knew Jim when I dated him the first time and, in fact, used to play pool with him in Gamble Hall.  Eleven years after the three of us graduated, you found yourself engaged to Dave, whom you had dated while we were in school, and I found myself engaged to Jim.  I could barely keep myself together at your wedding; I was so happy and relieved that you had waited and were marrying the right person the first time: that you would never suffer, in that regard, as I had.  Then we had three daughters in a span of eighteen months and have shipped, back and forth, many gigantic boxes of baby clothing.

These are amazing things, but they are not--in and of themselves--the glue that holds us together.  The tattoo experience, the nose-piercing experience, all the church experiences: they are not the glue.  Even the fact that you are the person I call when I desperately need to say the "f word" aloud: not the glue.  But we are glued, stuck, committed, tied.  It's a forever thing.  I have never wondered when or if you would return because I have never lost or misplaced you.

If they made me say who among my amazing girlfriends is most likely to be my friend in forty years, I would speak your name.  What we have is more time-tested than my favorite t-shirt. 

If a terrible something happened and I were wracked with grief, you are the friend I would want.  I know because you have been that friend to me, before.  I remember lying curled up in a ball on the floor, hyperventilating from crying so hard.  I remember Jason saying: "Erin, I don't know what to do; she's really upset.  Can you...will to her?"  I remember his holding the phone to my ear, and I remember your voice wafting through the line like smoke, cradling my being until I could, once again, utter words. 

If they came into the room and said: "It's time for you to die," I would want to say goodbye to Jim and the kids.  But then I would want you and my brother to sit one on either side of me for my slipping into the arms of Jesus. 

Thank you for being the friend who makes me feel the most secure, understood, and worth it.  Thank you for knowing me almost as well as you know yourself...and for really, really loving me anyway.  Thank you for being my "no matter what" friend.

What I have written, here, is only part of our history, and our eighteen years together mark only the beginning of what we will become.  It's somewhat frustrating that, already, "I love you" isn't nearly big enough, especially because I suspect it's the very best I will ever have.


With Cade, Halloween 2000





Erin's Daughter Mira & Clementine, Chicago 2009



1 comment:

  1. Love , love it! So true with the friend thing. She has been there for you a very long time!