Monday, June 13, 2011

Carlena and the Gift of Entertainment

2006, Our Last Time Together
I met Carlena because her mom saw my brother Buck and me freezing our hind ends off at the end of our driveway and hollered for us to come in and wait for the school bus.  It was such a cold morning in East Tennessee (and/or their trailer was so poorly insulated) that--when Buck and I walked through the front door--we saw Carlena and her brother Bill huddled in front of the (standard, electric or gas, cooking) stove with the oven door open.

Carlena's family had moved down from Ft. Wayne, Indiana (and across the road from my family) because her dad was looking to make a fresh start and had some family in the area.  Carlena was a junior and two years ahead of me in high school, but--once we started talking (and laughing!)--seems like we never stopped, and we were close to inseparable: this, despite the fact we really had very little in common, especially as pertaining to our family lives.

I loved being with Carlena and everyone in her family.  Theirs was a raucous home environment compared to mine.  I thought her parents fun and funny.  No one ever turned off the tv or forbade pop or junk food in that house.  I know, now, that Carlena's parents were about a decade ahead in partying like it was 1999, but, honestly, they took great care in hiding that from me.  I just assumed they were born really happy people, and no wonder, considering both my naivete and the fact that Carlena's sister Kimmie was--hands down--the sunniest baby I have ever known.

I found Carlena, who was slightly older and wiser than I, and significantly more blunt than I, fascinating...hilarious.  Mostly (being teenaged girls), we talked and laughed, but I think it also worth mentioning that she introduced me to the art of collage.  We would sit on one of our beds or bedroom floors with catalogs, magazines, construction paper, scissors, and glue and create for hours.  And to this day (more than two decades later), I love to create in just this way.

Two years went by, Carlena graduated from high school, and she and her family moved back to Ft. Wayne.  One would expect Carlena's and my story to end there, but, during my last two years of high school and my four years at Maryville College (in East Tennessee), we wrote faithfully to one another.

I decided to spend the summer between my junior and senior years of college on the couch of Carlena's apartment in Ft. Wayne.  I waited tables at Chili's and chipped in on her rent, and we had an incredible summer, so I returned to Ft. Wayne after graduating from college, and, together, we rented a two-bedroom apartment.  A few months into our rooming together, things took a serious nosedive, and--while it's pointless to rehash the details--our situation was the pickle to which I referred in the beginning of this post

I might be bitter to this day except (even while recognizing the logically fallacious nature of what I'm about to write) I can't imagine how I would've ever gotten my Cade had it not been for the Carlena disaster.

One would expect Carlena's and my story to end there, and, in fact, it almost did; we didn't talk for something like four years.  And then, one day, I decided I missed her more than I cared about what had happened between us, and I called her up.

Since 1996, when we "broke up," including over the past decade-plus since we made up, I've seen Carlena twice, and we hardly ever talk on the phone, anymore.  We keep up with one another via facebook, and I know she reads this blog.  She asked me, one day, why I continue to count her among my best friends.  I told her I'd write about it, someday, so here goes:

Carlena, you shoulda been in the movies, Girl.  You never fail to entertain!  It might be good, bad, or even ugly, but it's always something, and it's never nothing.  I have no idea what you might say or do, next, and I hunger for the thrill of your conversation and company.  No one else has ever made me laugh so hard.  (You, with your bedroom wall covered in wads of chewed-up gum.  When you were 35.)  And I know--if you were here--you'd fry up some potatoes; we'd play a game of Scrabble; I'd cave and light a cigarette; and we'd stay up all night and disturb everyone's sleep with our talking and laughing.   

For the record, you're the only girlfriend to whom I've ever returned after such drama.  You're worth the risk.  Totally.  We have Big History, and you'll always have my heart. 

You're a star in a very important constellation.

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