She is the friend I tend to think about mostly at Christmas, when the card comes or doesn’t, the arrival or the lapse both confirming the divide into which we’ve settled.
It has been years, too many to remember, since I last saw Sharon, once the faithful sidekick to many an adolescent adventure, a constant companion in merriment and harmless mischief. She was one of the first friends I made as a 10-year-old entering the sixth grade at Springton Lake Middle School in Delaware County, wondering what to make of this new suburban life I’d inherited with my family’s move from the island of St. Lucia. I don’t remember how we met, but when I look back on those years, and the people who helped me find a sense of belonging, Sharon is always there: a bright, gregarious, goofy girl who could reduce me to gales of laughter with a single, brief expression.
Yet I’d forgotten this girl until a recent invitation to attend a Valentine’s Day “Celebration of Love” sponsored by the Cheltenham Area Multifaith Council and Journeys of the Heart, the nondenominational ministry to which I belong. The intention of the event was to shift the focus from the more romantic or erotic aspects of love associated with the day to an honoring of the many ways we experience love in our lives.
We were each encouraged to think of someone we’d once known, beyond the bonds of blood and legality, someone we’d loved, whether that individual knew it or not, who was no longer in our lives. As we wrote a few thoughts about that person, and then voluntarily shared them with the group, the idea was that, in the remembering, we were offering love and blessings to them and to ourselves.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when Sharon immediately came to mind. Just two weeks earlier, her name had come up over dinner with my friends Mollie and Alexis. We’d all gone to middle and high school together, been part of the thick-as-thieves sisterhood that included Sharon. But while the three of us had remained close over the years, Sharon was the one we let drift away. Her choices post-college, including a sudden marriage and move down South, cast her in a role so disparate from the ones we were carving out, connecting with her became the thing we did on her infrequent visits home and, then, on special occasions before our only contact diminished to the annual Christmas card exchange. But last year, there were no cards, from her, or from any of us. And though we acknowledged this with some resignation when we got together, we also wondered, for the umpteenth time, if she were happy, if the life she lived, seemingly so small and isolated, could really fulfill the vibrant, animated woman we’d assured ourselves had long since disappeared.
That’s how I tended to remember Sharon, as the woman who traded in her big dreams for a path of simplicity and forbearance we couldn’t bring ourselves to trust.
But that was not the Sharon who came back to me in those quiet moments of reflection on Valentine’s Day. Instead, I remembered the girl who had a way of making anything more fun — and funnier — than it was. Whether it was just us two, or all four of us, hanging out, laughter and silliness always reigned. Even in school, as we jotted down our social studies’ teacher’s cornball quips for a collection we’d later dub “Ellisisms” or passed notes in geometry and English, sometimes composing poems and songs about everything from pizza to our latest crush, we were always giggling.
Sharon was the one I sprawled out with on my bedroom floor inventing silly nicknames for our quartet, the one I danced with in a furor of abandon around my kitchen, both of us waving brooms for our guitars, and the one who bested me at every all-you-can eat pizza night. When we joined the marching band, she French-braided my hair for football games and band tournaments and our moms spent many a weekend cheering us on from the stands. From sleepovers and after-school treks to the mall to our Pocono getaways with Mollie’s family and our first solo adventures on South Street, Sharon inspired me to live from a pure, unbridled joy.
And as my eyes welled with tears, recounting, in our group, some of those experiences, I realized not only how much I missed her but how my judgment of the life she’d chosen had possibly robbed us of the chance to remain a supportive presence for each other. As time went on, our friendship may have changed, lost some of its sturdiness, its constancy. But I would never know.
Like many of the others who spoke that Valentine’s morning — recalling friends and teachers, mentors and neighbors and long-ago crushes — I have my memories for solace. But now they feel renewed, charged with the awareness of how love lingers, sometimes unbeknownst to us, in the heart’s silent places. Beyond the pain of loss and separation, whether those relationships are retrievable or not, something of them carries on — linking us to our past and our present in a living lineage of love.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times