The picture is yellowed now. This is my best friend, Susan. I think we met at Walgreens. It’s been so long ago, I really don’t remember the moment we met, but it was around that time. I was 16 when I began working at Walgreens, and quickly befriended this energetic whirlwind kind of a girl. She was pretty, naturally blonde, petite, athletic, but perhaps my mother described her best. Susan was striking, the kind of person others would turn around and take in a second or third look as she passed by. She was smart, had a quick wit, a wicked sense of humor, and was the most “can do” but mostly “already did” person I ever knew. In a very short time, we became the best of friends.
We “clicked” in the way that best friends do. We were both a little crazy, I suppose. Ok, I was a little crazy, and (I’m sure she’d love me for this) she was a lot crazy. I mean this in only the best of ways. We had so much fun together, more than the law allowed … seriously. When I think of Susan, I see her flying down the escalator after she got off work from Walgreens, wearing her ultra-cool hiking boots. Boots that I coveted because they looked so cool on her, boots that meant adventure and excitement. Boots that made my feet look like giant logs, but for Susan were just an extension of her adventure-seeking self. Her adventure-seeking small-footed self.
I see her driving in her little brown Chevy Chevelle with “Susie” painted on the fender rounding a left turn at 40 mph, the passenger door suddenly swinging wide because it couldn’t shut completely … with me beside her wondering whether to hang on to her or grab the door. … and this was before we all wore seatbelts! She’d come to visit me when I worked in a lonely little office, her engine announcing her arrival long before she even got close, her muffler shot, or maybe she didn’t even have one. I loved that car!
One morning I woke to her phone call. A murder in the ol’ home town the night before, so we were a little freaked out and decided to spend the whole day together. I went to her house and helped her with her chores (she always had a ton of chores). Carrying a basket of wet clothes under one arm, and a butcher knife in her free hand, we marched outside to hang the clothes on the line. No one, but no one, would be messing with us that day.
I can hear her singing, she had an amazing talent for songs and lyrics. She could sing all the words to all the Billy Joel songs, and I tried hard to keep up. You know how many words Billy can pack into just one song? Later on, she preferred Madonna and Sammy Hagar and was a fan of heavy metal before it was truly heavy metal’s time. She was a trend-setter, an adventurer, a cool fashionista.
For a long time she worked for an aviation company. She would look up in the clear Midland sky as one might birdwatch (except without binoculars), and she’d say, “That’s a Piper or a Cessna yadda yadda yadda with a yadda yadda yadda whatever engine.” You can see how well I know my airplanes. She spoke the lingo, was friends with all the pilots.
Once Susan took me horseback riding. Let’s put it this way, it didn’t go well. She said she knew I was in trouble when she saw sky between me and the saddle. I was not a natural, and the horse knew it. That calculating SOB! He played nice for a while, then galloped towards a barbed wire fence and pitched me just short of it. Blood everywhere, she insisted I was fine, it was just a little cut. She wrapped my head, loaded me in the car, and raced to the hospital to get stitches.
Susan married early (I was in her wedding), and I stayed single a while longer. She and her husband lived in Dallas for a while, but moved back to Midland. Then I ended up in Dallas, but we still visited each other. We’d go out and party, and then come home and talk all night long. One night we talked until 6:00 a.m. When the sun came up, we suddenly realized we’d been up all night, made a big deal about how bright it was, put on our sunglasses and went to sleep. Upon discovering us all askew on the bed in our skivvies and our sunglasses a few hours later, my friend and roomie, Nancy, declared us NUTS! I suppose that was obvious …
Even during this time when we lived in different places, we spoke on the phone almost every day, each conversation lasting sometimes an hour or more. I doubt there was much we didn’t discuss at some point. … and then she was a bridesmaid in my wedding.
She divorced shortly after I got married, then remarried a few years later and moved to Alabama where she had 3 children. I had 3 children also. Both of our lives became busy, complicated. Our visits by this time were periodic and strictly by telephone. In one of our conversations, I remember telling her about my awake dreams (hallucinations, almost) when I was pregnant with Daniel. She was so concerned and curious, and begged me to ask my doctor what was the deal (the dreams had to do with spiders, you don’t want to know …).
We also discovered that we drove almost identical kid-proof vehicles, her’s a Nissan Quest, mine a Mercury Villager (which if you don’t know were essentially the same vehicle, made in the same factories). Yes, the girls of “Too Cool” actually did drive mini-vans once, but oh please don’t tell anyone! We talked about our kids, our husbands, our churches, and each other. Church was the one thing we had not discussed much when we were younger. We discussed our beliefs, but not organized religion. She discovered church in Alabama, and would occasionally tell me about a particular sermon or a lesson, or even about something she’d seen on TV. She told me of ironing her kids’ clothes every Saturday night for church, and how someone had told her she should join the choir. Obviously, that person had heard her sing!
We were “The Suz.” My middle name is Sue, so we came up with this brilliant moniker one night, probably over multiple Coronas. When we were together, she made me feel as if she was right where she wanted to be, with the person she wanted to be with, and everything else could just wait. I can feel her sitting next to me just like the countless nights we sat whispering in each other’s ear at some bar while the music was blaring and everyone else was dancing. It always took us hours to catch up and say all we wanted to say to each other, but eventually, we’d dance.
I have a million memories of this girl, and I love her. She’s been in my heart and on my mind continually this past week because I just learned last Saturday that she died three years ago of cancer (three years to the day, in fact). Her sister tells me she went out in Susan-fashion, not angry nor asking “why me.” Understandably worried about her family, with her Bible sometimes in tow, she bravely coped knowing she wouldn’t see her kids graduate from high school or grow old with her husband. So much like I remember her, no self-pity allowed.
How we lost touch so completely that we didn’t speak in over 10 years, I don’t know. It happened, and I didn’t get to say all I wanted to say to her. In the words of James Taylor, I always thought I’d see her again.