Friday, February 23, 2007

Realizing How Small We Are

I have been having a lot of trouble living in the present lately. I have been obsessing over the past and freaking out about the future. I haven't any idea what brought it on, but I have been thinking a lot about Melissa, a girl I considered my best friend through grade school and junior high. I can remember the first time I saw her. She was eight-years-old to my seven, and we were both in second grade at Forest Hill Elementary, but we were in separate classes and therefore hadn't met. Our older brothers were good friends and they had gone to great lengths to keep she and I a secret from each other. Ten-year-old boys will visit a friend's house to get away from their little sisters, so our brothers didn't want her to know about me, and vice versa. But Melissa was sneaky and she caught wind of the fact that I lived just up the street, and so she quietly followed her brother out of the house one day. I'm not sure just how far she made it before being spotted, but when she was, our brothers only laughed and let her come along. I was walking through the house when they arrived, but the boys made Melissa wait outside on the front porch. My brother found me and said, "Katie, I have someone who really wants to meet you."

I remember being really confused that someone would want to meet me, or at least, someone that my brother knew. I followed him out on to the front porch and spotted his friend, and peaking out from behind him was a skinny little girl with dirty blond hair, big round cheeks, and a gap between her two front teeth. "She followed us all the way here. I think she wants to be your friend," my brother said, "her name is Melissa. Melissa, this is my sister Katie."

We spent the day gallivanting between her house and mine. I remember being introduced to her mother and stepfather, and their inquisitive looks as they took in this little girl with strawberry blond hair down to her waste, a hand-me-down dress that was a little rough around the edges, and a pair of three-sizes-too-big low black pumps I had raided my mother's closet for that morning. By the age of seven I had mastered the art of walking in shoes that were much too large for me. Oh, and I wasn't wearing socks. (Looking back on this I do not envy my mother.)

"Do you have shoes that fit, Katie?" her mother asked me. "Yes," I said, "but these are my favorite."

Melissa and I scurried upstairs to her bedroom where we could compare Barbie dolls and dress-up clothes. From that day forward we were inseparable. You never saw Katie without Melissa, and you never saw Melissa without Katie. It was like we had become one entity, one person. No one ever expected one of us to be without the other.

I can't begin to describe the times that we had together. It was eight years of excitement, and broken hearts. There was anger, and fun, and we were silly and obnoxious, and we were prissy and better than everyone else. We had too many matching outfits to count. She attended almost every softball, basketball, and volleyball game that I had, and she was even there for many practices. I'd go to the park to give her a little encouragement during her cheerleading practices. We talked for years about getting our driver's licenses and graduating from high school. We had plans to escape to California and live with her distant family as soon as we turned eighteen. Every birthday card she ever gave me had "It's about time you turned [age here]!!" scrawled in her gigantic, loopy handwriting. She threw me a surprise birthday party when I turned thirteen. We argued over who was taller until we stopped growing. She ended up with nearly 3 inches on me.

It was high school that did us in. She acquired new friends, friends that could show her what it meant to party. Melissa started experimenting with alcohol and drugs, and with each new incident I would take a step back and wonder if I really knew her anymore. Half way into our freshman year, her house caught fire. And only a couple of weeks after her family moved into their new place, she called me crying because she was pregnant. She was sixteen-years-old and pregnant. That night I threw away all of my resentment and spent the night with her, lying beside her in bed as she cried out of fear. I barely knew the girl next to me anymore, but I was in love with the memories we had together, and I had truly become lost without her. We mended a few bridges in the nine months that she was pregnant. We had become close again as she ditched her party friends and clung to me for encouragement. And we remained close for a little while after the baby was born, but she eventually moved out of town with the baby's father. That was when we really lost touch.

She called me a handful of times through the years to tell me that she was pregnant again, or that her boyfriend hit her, or that she was getting married to said boyfriend; father of both of her sons. She became an exotic dancer, getting paid more under the table in one night than I could make in a week. She relocated so much that I never had a working number for her. I just went through times like today, wondering where she was, what she was doing, if she was okay, without knowing if I'll ever see her again. The last time I saw her was three and a half years ago at my wedding reception. The gap between her two teeth had been fixed, she was very tan, and perfectly manicured. She left early, but she looked happy.

I'm aware that ten years of separation is way too much to even contemplate building a relationship again. We are different people with very different goals in life. I'm not sure of even if I had a phone number for her that I would want to meet for lunch on Sunday, or spend hours on the phone trying to catch up on the ins-and-outs of each others lives. I think what depresses me most about this situation is that I'm helpless. She could be dead or ill and I would never know. I haven't the slightest clue of how to find her. I have exhausted every internet resource I have and she is most certainly not in the phone book. All I can do is sit and wait for her to call me, or more likely, call my parents and ask for my number. I called my mom last night, and at the risk of sounding a little loony, I told her it was okay to give Melissa my number should she call asking for it.

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