I just addressed a pink envelope with a pink Aster flower stamp and put in a birthday card with pink cheery blossoms to mail to my friend Jane. She loves pink, she loves her family, she loves her friends and I love her.
The first time I noticed her was when we were sophomores in high school and she was swearing “like a sailor” in the kindest voice while eating peanut m & m’s with her friend. I was intrigued because the only swearing I had heard was when my parents were angry. We ended up sitting near each other in Senior English class. That’s when we became friends. In the spring, before a pop quiz, I asked her if she wanted to be roommates in college. She had planned to live at home, but I asked her anyway. It remains one of the best questions I have ever asked in my lifetime. She said, “yes.”
We went off to college in 1970 and we left our suburban naïveté and exchanged it for young adult realities. Panty raids gave way to SDS riots, and women’s rights and race riots brought conversations neither one of us could have imagined. Her boyfriend lived out of town and almost went to jail for using a fake credit card that allowed them to talk without long distance phone charges. My boyfriend suffered manic-depressive disorder before we understood what that meant. He was either physically and verbally abusive or charming as a prince. We were catapulted into new realities. One thing never changed, and that was our care for one another.
We put down a deposit for an apartment off campus for our junior year. A month before school began I called to tell her I had transferred to a university out west. I needed to get away from that boyfriend. I left her speechless and without much of an apology. I was desperate to get away. She forgave me and we wrote often.
Since then we have never lived near one another. Wherever I have lived and made new friends, my friends have known about Jane. She has visited us at all the crazy places we have lived: a cabana hut in Florida, an attic in Pennsylvania, a garage in Michigan, a farm house in Indiana, two houses in Colorado and our current one in Washington state.
Her parents were ten years older than my parents. I traversed realities of aging parents first with her. Her father was a well-known homebuilder in our community. The last time I saw her father was at their latest family home building development. He had had a stroke and was thirty pounds thinner and walked slowly and regally with a cane. He cried when he saw me and I cried too. After his stroke he “wore his emotions on his sleeve.” He still had that smile I had always loved and the sparkle in his eyes was there, but oh my, he was a shell of the man whom I had known before. “Good-bye, Mr. Barry, I am so glad I got to see you again.” I couldn’t quit crying as I got into Jane’s car.
I remember the last time I saw Jane’s mother. I was home visiting my parents and she said, “let’s go by and see mom.” I walked into her beautiful childhood home that her dad had built and her lovely mother was in silk lounging pajamas and probably weighed eighty pounds. Her fulltime caregiver was with her and her smile was just the same as that first time in high school when I met her. I got her caught up with our children and my husband’s current teaching position trying hard not to cry while noticing Mrs. Barry’s frailness. Tears welled up in my eyes as they always did when I was around Jane’s mom. This moment seemed etched in stone given the gravity of this possible last meeting. “Good bye, Mrs. Barry, I am so glad I got to see you again.” I always knew that her parents’ mortality would be the forerunner to my parents’ passing.
Jane is the best storyteller I know. Yes, it’s true; she is as good as my husband. Okay, I’ll give them a “tie” for storytelling. I wasn’t able to go to her parents’ funerals but we’d talk on the phone and I’d feel a part of their final days, deaths, funerals and grieving.
Our freshman year in college, when Jane’s grandmother died, I heard her father tell Jane that he was taking her mom on a trip after the funeral because it would be good for her grieving. It was a sentence I never forgot. When Jane’s mother died, we took her to Hawaii with us.
I remember the final times Jane was with my parents. My father was in a hospice care facility for nineteen days. Jane and I talked every day. The last time she visited my dad he was unable to speak or smile but she talked to him, hugged him, and said, “Good-bye Mr. Gilbert” in the same tone of voice she had since high school.
I remember the last time she saw my mom. Jane picked me up to take me to the airport and I kissed my mom good-bye and opened the door to make a “fast track” to Jane’s car. My mother was in her robe and disoriented with dementia. I never knew what she would say, so to protect myself, I thought I’d spare the two of them meeting.
My mom exclaimed, “Well, I want to say hi to Jane.” So I held her hand and helped her out of her kitchen chair. We walked carefully across the patio of my childhood home to the driveway. In the thirteen months since my father had died, my mother had aged tremendously. Her disorientation was shocking to me. When my mother saw Jane, she smiled a smile I hadn’t seen the whole time I had been home. They hugged and talked briefly and Jane said, “Good-bye Mrs. Gilbert” in the same voice I had heard since high school. It was their last time to see each other.
I miss those sentences we used to say so simply to one another’s parents. It is an odd thing when they are no more.
Jane’s birthday is not quite on Valentine’s Day but close. My husband is my beloved, but she is too. Our hearts and stories deeply wed in love. I have loved Jane longer than my husband. She is one of the greatest gifts of my life. “Happy Birthday, Jane! I love you.”
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 36 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living!