From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

A Letter to Lois

Dear Lois,

I have been thinking a lot today about our friendship and all the things that made it so special. Although we had known each other since the seventh grade, it really started in the tenth grade. You would wait for me between second and third hour. I can still see you standing at the end of the hallway, with your arms full of books, so comfortable and confident. Remember Brandon Johnston? He used to wait with you sometimes. Even though he was older, he had a crush on you. Of course he did; they all had crushes on you! The florists made a fortune delivering yellow roses to your door.

I have often wondered what made you pick me. I was the opposite of you in every way. Not only in personality, but even in physical appearance. You were short, with dark hair and big, expressive brown eyes. Beautiful in ways that defied description. I was tall and blonde, with weird blue eyes. Beautiful is not an adjective I would have applied to myself. More than that, you were confident, strong-willed, stubborn and fifteen going on eighteen. I, on the other hand, was unsure, awkward and fifteen going on fifteen! I guess you took one look at me and decided you were my only hope.

We were also, as I recall, very different when it came to physical constitution. I would catch a cold, have a runny nose for a couple of days and maybe a cough. You would catch it from me and be ill for a week. One night after work, I got to your house, bouncing off the walls trying to decide what we were going to get into that night. There you were droopy-tailed and baggy-eyed, begging for a nap. I said, “Okay, one hour and then we’re outta here!” We lay down and I immediately fell asleep. I woke exactly one hour later with you staring at me. “I hate you. You said I was the one who was tired, and YOU fell asleep!” You said you would hate to see what would cause me to lose sleep. As it turned out, the first night that I would lie awake was still nine years away. Although you would be the cause of that long and sleepless night, you weren’t there to see it.

When I had my first child, I typically sailed through the pregnancy. Never once in nine months did I feel even the slightest tinge of nausea. I answered the phone one day when you were pregnant with Ryan to hear a voice that sounded like it was coming from the other side of hell saying, “How can anybody go through this and NEVER THROW UP?! I hang over the toilet all day, every day, cursing you. Whoever named this misery ‘morning’ sickness had to have been a man!” To which I replied, “I’m sorry.” I had not been your friend all those years without learning when it was best to keep quiet. You were the only person I ever knew who had to be hospitalized for morning sickness.

To this day when I hear “Tin Man” by America, I can feel that great summer of 1974, between our junior and senior years, when we decided that fun was more important than money so we quit our jobs! Remember? We had great tans, little bitty blue jean cutoffs, halter tops, spoon rings and a ’67 Mustang; everything we needed! Everything, that is, except money! I don’t think one Whopper with pickle and onion on one side and ketchup on the other was what Burger King had in mind when they said, “Have it your way.” We lived that summer on the kindness of others, and of our dates when we got really hungry. Sometimes, I play Eric Clapton’s “I Shot the Sheriff” just to feel that sixteen-year-old rush again. It was the best of times to begin a friendship that would last a lifetime.

We had a lot of adventures and fun, times I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world, but what I remember most are the feelings we shared. You were the one friend I could tell anything to. I could confess my meanest thoughts, my secret longings and most fragile feelings. I could show you all these sides of myself and know that you would still love me. I wasn’t one of the prettiest or the most popular. I never wanted to be a cheerleader or go to the prom. I read strange books and used words most fifteen-year-olds had never heard. But you didn’t care; you read the books and enjoyed the vocabulary as much as I did! We were probably the only teenage fans of Reader’s Digest: Improve Your Word Power. I always knew the other girls wondered why you even bothered with me. I also knew, although you never said anything, that they gave you a hard time about it. But it was “Love me, love my dog” with you, so they accepted me because you did.

You taught me to have confidence. You believed in me and made me believe in myself. From the time we were fifteen years old until we were grown with sons of our own, we were tell-your-deepest-feelings-to, laugh-until-you-cry, never-give-up-on-each-other best friends.

The day you married Chris, I called you from Germany, but it took so long for the call to get through it was time for you to leave for the church. But you wouldn’t leave until you talked to me. Once we started talking, we didn’t want to say good-bye, so you were almost late for your own wedding. That became a pattern with us: never wanting to say good-bye.

I still have the sand castle you gave me the night you left for Texas. We went to Darryl’s for dinner and had such a great time. All night, we avoided talking about the reason we were together. It was there, though, sitting at the table like an ugly, unwelcome guest. Later, as we stood in the street outside my house, the time finally came to say good-bye. Then the tears came, and we cried and laughed at the same time. We planned the next time we would see each other; that way we could just say “see ya later,” instead of “good-bye.” We were never very good at saying good-bye. The card you gave me that night with the castle said we were: “Forever friends, and forever friends were never apart.”

It seemed no matter where we lived, when we called or saw each other, everything was the same. The world changed and our lives took us in different directions, but our friendship was constant. I knew I could always count on you.

There was one time, in particular, when life was really getting me down; I felt as if I were suffocating. You lived in Dallas, Ryan had just been born and I called you one Monday to see what you were doing on Thursday. You said nothing, so I asked if you would mind picking me up at the airport. I didn’t need the phone company’s assistance to hear your answer. Those four days were some of the best of my life. I don’t think we stopped talking from the time you picked me up until you took me back to the airport on Sunday. You even slept on the couch bed with me. I have the picture Chris took of us at two in the morning, still up and talking. It is framed and sits on my bedroom shelf beside the memory box you made me. I find it ironic that you made me a memory “box.” A box could never contain all my memories of the times I have with you. Nothing could ever contain my memories: They burst the seams of my heart and flood my soul with the bittersweet feelings of growing up, and innocence lost.

It’s funny, you always think you will see it coming, like in the movies. There will be some mysterious, inexplicable feeling, an ominous premonition, some kind of sign. But life doesn’t work that way; it just hits you when you aren’t looking. In a heartbeat, your life can change forever.

The call came at about ten that awful night. Your sister called to tell me you had been in a terrible accident. They only gave you a 50 percent chance of survival. When I hung up, I knew you would make it; there was never a second that I thought otherwise. I was making plans to come to Dallas to help you recover. While I was planning my trip, the telephone rang again. “They couldn’t save her; she’s gone,” is all I remember your sister saying. Then I was on the kitchen floor, my arms wrapped around my knees, slowing rocking back and forth. How could you be gone? I didn’t get to tell you good-bye. That night I saw every hour strike on the bedside clock; I never closed my eyes. It was the first time I ever lay awake all night.

Two days later, Chris brought you home. I was so scared to walk into that room. I didn’t make it the first time. I ran away and stood looking blindly out the window, fists balled tightly in my pockets and silently pleading to wake up from this horrible dream, to be allowed to escape what I knew I was about to see. Standing there at the window, tears streaming down my face, I realized I was looking at the tire dealer across the street, where we had stolen a tire one night to play a practical joke during that magical summer of ’74. I felt your presence at my side as surely as if you were standing there. Desperately clinging to the memory of those two young girls, hearing their laughter, I turned and walked to where you lay. Looking down at you, I felt my heart and soul shatter, never to be completely whole again. Later, I placed a single yellow rose in your hands so you would always have something you loved, something from me. The hardest part of all was to come the next day, when I had to walk away and leave you at the cemetery. I tried, but as I turned to walk away, I had the horrible, crushing realization that if I walked away, the past few days were real. I was never again going to laugh with you, cry with you or share my life with you. When I walked away, you would be gone from me forever.

It has been fourteen years this month since that day. I have had two more sons of my own, and I have watched your son grow into a fine young man; you would be very proud of him. Every time I look into his beautiful, dark eyes, I see you looking back. He has your mark on him— there is no doubt—and your hand will be forever on his heart. I have lost my grandmother, my father and my mother. I’ve been through a divorce and remarried. Not one single day has passed that I don’t think of you and wish you were here. I still take yellow roses to your grave, and I haven’t missed giving your mother a card on Mother’s Day in thirteen years. Last year, I left a card and a rose on the front porch for her to find. I thought you would like that.

Sometimes, I wonder what our conversations would be like now. I suppose we would be a little wiser and a bit more mature. I am sure you would still be the beautiful, self-confident one helping me to find my way. The one thing I know without a moment’s hesitation is we would still be the tell-your-deepest-feelings-to, laugh-until-you-cry, never-give-up-on-each-other best friends we were from fifteen to twenty-six. I also knew without a doubt that I am a better person for having known you.

I miss you, Lois, as much today as I did fourteen years ago. There is an aching emptiness in my heart that will never ease. I love you; I will always love you.

I guess I still haven’t learned how to say good-bye. I doubt I ever will.

Beth Sherrow

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