Carol and I slipped thoroughly and whole-heartedly into each other’s lives when we were 12 and she transferred to into my Junior High School. She was funny, emotionally brave, self-governing, welcoming, gorgeous, incapable of self-absorption and enthusiastic about life. She was one of my 5 best friends. Ever.
We traveled through our adolescent lives together and there was no question that “forever” was ours. There was not a joy or woe she did not share with me, and her plentiful sorrows were delivered as information only and never complaint. She knew she was entitled to more than she had in this world and would talk to me, with a rare and profound dignity, about the emotional difficulties and deprivations she faced at home. She was incapable of self-pity and walked this earth with a sweet and substantial self-esteem.
Our home lives were vastly different, our circumstances poles apart. We were as if sisters. My parents loved her, yet I don’t know if hers could have picked me out of a line-up, but not for a minute during our years together did either of us think this was odd. She was a girl in charge of her own life in a way I had never seen before in any other friend. I never saw her cry.
As teens, we went out on bookings for the same agency. When she appeared on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life I stood in front of the television and cheered. Ditto for her one-episode appearance as Ricky Nelson’s girlfriend. We cheered each other on and were strengthened by each other’s happiness.
She was married very young to her high-school boyfriend, and they had a baby maybe a year or so later. I remember how womanly she looked in maternity clothes. She was the first of our group to be a mother, and we were all overjoyed with her beautiful baby boy, Paul. She sent me off to college with a gift, and as she handed me the package she said, “I never got you a sweet-sixteen present.” Even though she was always gift enough, how like her to have kept that memory quietly stored until she could so gracefully put it right in her own heart with a gesture that nearly broke mine.
Her life was taking on a beautiful and solid quality that she had never known growing up. She made beautiful pottery. She was a biker. She knew the words to every popular song. Joy and laughter followed in her wake. Then the phone call to tell me she had cancer. I was mute, but she plunged ahead, saying she wanted to call me right away and tell me herself so I would not hear it from someone else and worry about her. This way, she said, I could hear that her voice sounded fine. It was so like her to think of my emotional well-being in the light of her devastating news.
I learned the difference between living with a disease and dying from it. Forever was going to be shorter than I expected but the next eight years with Carol I took for granted still thinking the cancer would disappear – surely there would be a cure.
Then forever ended. I got to her hospital bedside, sat down next to her and did not know what to say when she asked me what was new. As she lay dying, she asked about me! We chatted for a bit and she told me the doctors were going to pull all medications and tubes. She said she would be gone in two days. I didn’t cry because she didn’t, but I was furious at the reality. And, she still looked so beautiful that I didn’t believe what she was saying.
I last saw Paul as a nine-year old child and knew that he had walked away from his mother’s hospital bed for the last time with her promise to watch over him forever from wherever she was. That moment has haunted me since her death.
About six months after Carol died, I had a dream in which we were chatting as if we were in life together. “Wait a minute!” I barked. She smiled. “Why are you here? How are you here?” She lowered her lids and looked around. “Tell me!” I pleaded. She had that look of someone who was bound to keep a secret, but as we never had secrets from each other I pushed on for an answer. She nodded and said, “Okay, but don’t tell anyone. I’m not supposed to tell you.”
I waited. “This is how we get to visit after we’re gone,” and I knew she had told me something important. We laughed, hugged and went right back to our chat. She never came back to visit me, but she was with me every day in countless ways – love, memories, her pottery, and photographs.
Her son Paul? Although he had disappeared from my view, I wondered always about how he was doing and, in my heart, never lost sight of him. After 40 years, it hit me – Facebook! So, with fingers crossed and hopes high, I looked, and there staring back at me from my laptop screen was the face of an exceptionally handsome grown man with Carol’s eyes and his father’s smile.
I emailed him right away not knowing if he remembered me. He asked for my phone number and told me to sit right there. It was, within seconds, as if he was, once again, part of my family. He is married to a beautiful woman and has two gorgeous creative children.
Paul and my daughters cheer each other on with every new venture. They are as connected as they would be had Carol lived. So, she did come back to visit me, after all, with the gift of her son, daughter in law and her grandchildren.
And, as an early P.S. here, let me say that Paul’s father and I have, at this stage in our lives, become good friends, too. I think Carol is, indeed, watching over all of us. Losing a friend at any age is sapping. Losing a best friend at the age of 29 is sickening. But, I see that keeping our hearts and eyes open can bring friends back in ways we don’t expect.