(The final portion of my early employment years story will be posted at a future time. I felt compelled to write what follows, but oh, how I wish thare had been no reason to do so.)
Story of a Friendship
Our families met when she was in her early thirties and I was pushing forty. All of us sometimes gathered at a neighborhood pool on those late summer afternoons where we all enjoyed the outdoors, the light warm breezes that wafted through the air around us, and the cooling water. Our children became friends in those early years. We kept busy with our own separate activities, only occasionally crossing paths. She was teaching part time at a local college, completing academic classes in English literature toward her doctorate.
She had a special rapport with younger students, so was sought after each year to teach entering college freshmen writing skills they had been unable to hone adequately during their high school years. She had established her credentials as an outstanding instructor, warm, personable, a caring individual with a sharp keen wit, who was quick to laugh when the situation warranted. Her knowledge, teaching skills with young adults, and personality had resulted in her obtaining a steady position at a time when others did not, as she pursued her own higher education.
She could be demanding with high expectations for a student's performance, but also recognized their limitations. She was able to maintain just the right tenor in her relationships with students, sometimes having to tactfully cope with those who developed a crush on her. She gave every indication of being on a path that would allow her to successfully meet her goals and fulfill her dreams. Some of her dreams shattered years later due to circumstances not entirely a consequence of her actions.
But before those times, over the next few years our friendship grew as we seem to come into contact more frequently. Our trust and confidence in each other evolved, ultimately resulting in our recognition that on occasion we might have need of each other for additional support toward reaching our goals. By that time, I had returned to university classes as a student to fulfill plans of my own. One afternoon, I remember the frantic phone call I received from her. There had been a meeting of mothers to select volunteers to assume responsibility for various committees in our daughters' branch of a national girls organization.
Because my friend had not been present to explain her unavailability at that time, she had been appointed to head an activities planning committee. Her daughters were pleased and she did not want to let the group down either, though she was annoyed that someone else had confirmed her availability to do this in the first place, having not checked with her. This may not seem like much, but was the proverbial straw that could have broken our camel backs.
I certainly didn't have the time to take on those duties myself either, so for our children's sake we agreed to share the responsibility. I knew between the two of us, we would complete the task quickly and efficiently. We did so within several days or so, then we were no longer burdened with the matter. We only had to show up once a month to accompany the girls to each different scheduled activity location.
During the ensuing years there were times in both our lives when, having settled our children for the night, we noted our husbands were engrossed in their own interests. We would engage in our own studies, then one or the other of us would spontaneously phone the other to determine if a study break was being scheduled there, too. If so, we walked to a nearby restaurant for relaxing conversation, coffee and an accounting of how we each were progressing along this part of our life's journey. Yes, there were sometimes serious matters we discussed, but we always found something about which to laugh before returning to our homes, and often more studies, into the wee hours of the morning.
Then we were always up bright and early to send household members out the door to work and school. We had to think about and perform all the household duties, go to our respective classes, study, and in her case teach, too. There were other family responsibilities for each of us associated with parents. You could say, we were "sandwiched." Those were extremely hectic, challenging, times, mixed with periods of pure joy and happiness for each of us. Our families managed occasional varied vacation trips though not together. My friend's family often enjoyed camping trips driving off in their VW bus on their journeys.
As I write this, I am aware that last night at this very time, my good friend was making that final journey we all make at some time in our life. She was entirely too young to go on this journey. She was only in the early years of the second half of her life. Her youngest daughter phoned me from along the Atlantic seaboard across the miles this afternoon. I was quite unprepared to accept her words informing me of the finality of her mother's life on this earth.
Only this week, the thought had crossed my mind, wondering if my friend's California family had moved as planned to the Midwest, or if she might come west anyway, and we would manage to spend a few hours together. I remembered last year at this time she had phoned weeks earlier to express her sympathy when she learned of my husband's death, then let me know she would be coming later in the summer. I remembered just how much that time together had meant to me, though what brought her here was related to the death of her parent some months earlier.
During this time we had together, we had shared a humor predicated on similar type unique coincidental events associated with circumstances that occurred long after our loved ones deaths. We had each long since shed many tears, so we indulged our residual pain by engaging in a type of emotionally releasing humor that we could not have shared with anyone other than each other.
We laughed, then laughed some more. I held my side from the ache of laughter, leaned my head on my hand with my elbow on the table, pounded the table with my other hand as I was regaled by the real life story I was being told. I shared my own in similar manner. My friend and I shared a special bond in our ability to find humor in what to others might have seemed irreverent or even disrespectful to the loved ones about whom we were sharing memories. This was the kind of conversation I could only have with someone who knew me intimately and I them. This was the kind of relationship that had developed over many years, many confidences, many shared experiences, that rarely occurs with anyone known for a lesser time.
We had much history together, our families, each other. There had been additional sorrows, an earlier death, and other tragedies of life. There was a mix of joys from our children and more positive life experiences, we each had, along with some we had shared together. Our family members had gradually scattered about the nation those years ago. I had once given much time and energy to this friendship, but the distance of miles and changing circumstances had resulted in a lessening of contact between us.
Mostly our contact had dissolved to an infrequent once a year holiday greeting by mail, or that additional visit if she happened to come this way. We just seemed to be on different paths and I was quite preoccupied with my own activities as she seemed to be with hers. Yet, on each of her visits westward she always arranged for us to spend some time together and I made myself available. I didn't initiate contact other times, perhaps I should have.
When we did talk, I skirted asking specifics of her day-to-day life, nor did she volunteer them. She carefully painted a rosy picture in generalities and I left the matter at that. She did not die from any intentional deliberate act, but then she did not have a traditional terminal illness or disease, either. I don't think she consciously meant to die. I think she died of heartfelt pain from within, deep inside her, not associated with any one individual other than herself. I think she ceased to love herself.
Heaven only knows, had she sought love outside herself, there had always been an abundance of that available wherever she looked, had she wanted it. She had the admiration of adults and students, love of family, love of friends, but she self-destructed. I cry for her, for her family, for all those who knew and cared for her, for all those who will now never have the opportunity to know her. I will miss her.