When I was very young, I met a dark haired girl in a Sunday School classroom during bible school or some other religious activity and I've never let her go. It's been 28 years now, longer than I've known anyone in my entire life aside from my immediate family.
I remember spending the night at her house for the first time, and getting up so early to watch cartoons that I thought it was still night time. We sat on the floor and I drifted in and out of half awake dreaming, the cartoons reaching out to me as if I were standing right beside them.
I remember playing "Trapped on an Island" a precursor to my obsession with off-grid living. I would harvest wild onions and carefully stir them into a pot with some mud and some rocks so that we would live and not starve. She bravely stood watch for a rescuing ship in the distance. I remember looking up and seeing her hair blowing in the wind, dark clouds gathering above us and feeling for one moment as if I could survive anything with her.
I remember school.
I remember being alone, so alone, not understanding the behavior of other children, not understanding the social dynamics of what was happening in the school yard around me, but I remember her drawing a circle in the sand around a tree and telling me that we were safe here. We coordinated our clothes so that we looked the same, and gathered our beads in our pockets like talismans and nothing bad could touch me.
I remember later how I tried to melt into the background. I hadn't found my voice or my spine yet, but she was never afraid, and she would stand nose to nose with someone and explain herself in language I could only dream of. I have spent my life trying to communicate in my writing the way she did with the whole class silent around her.
I remember painting flowers on our knees. I remember promising that we would wear them to school the next day, but I chickened out. She never chickened out of anything. She wore her flower like a shield.
I remember her having the balls to write to Spin magazine about what covert racism looks like, and her own battle with deeply held beliefs in our little town. HBO told the story recently and I was so proud of her.
I remember sitting on her bed going off to college soon and her saying "We'll never be as close as we are now," and I waved that off, but she knew something that I didn't. She knew I would leave and try to forget everything that happened to me in my hometown as if that would change who I am, as if I could finally become what I wanted if no one knew me from the past.
These dreams that we have don't always come true.
She wanted to be a ballerina in New York City and I wanted to play in a band. These dreams haunt us sometimes and I left my hometown behind so that I could forget them.
I've been a shitty person, Anna. I've left each place I've been and all the people there, and I haven't looked back. I wasn't there when your children were born. I wasn't there when you experienced loss. I wasn't there when you went back to work. I wasn't there for whole pieces of your adult life.
I remember the first time I saw your firstborn.
I was just about to walk down the aisle to an unknown and painful future; I looked at his tiny face and realized the chasm between us. It should have been you standing next to me while I promised to love someone always, and instead you sat in the back as if I'd already forgotten who you were.
I remember for a long time hearing about your life through my mother through your mother.
I have never even met your second.
I want to tell you a story.
A 17 year old girl has her heart broken for the very first time. She feels like she will die. She thinks that if this is life then nothing good will ever come; if this is life then she doesn't want any part of it.
So she floats in her neighbor's pool and cries.
Her best friend tells her that someday she'll find a person who will love her and never let go. That this life is meant to be lived only for herself; that she herself is the greatest love she'll ever experience. She is whole and she will survive.
The piece of my heart I tore out and gave you when I was 6 years old is unscathed and whole and alive. It beats and beats and beats.
I have looked for you in every person I've met since. I have watched for your face and your heart, but there will never be another in a thousand years.
And so let me affirm what you told me floating in the neighbor's pool that day: We are whole and we will survive.