It will be seven years this Halloween. I know I should not reflect on her life by the day she left us, instead I should do this on the day she was born. But sitting here alone in the early morning my defenses are weak and the grief trickles into the edges of my heart. September is always a difficult month for most people as it represents change, growing older and yet for me there’s more.
In September when the routine of school returned each morning I would say goodbye to my mom and walk through my yard and up to the front porch of my best friend’s house. We had been friends on and off since the first grade but by the fifth grade we were best friends and always went to school together. Always.
Her dad would just be leaving the house and her mom would greet me at the door with a big smile and sometimes with a sing song, “Good Morning, Christabelle!” and then she’d turn, her half apron tied behind her back, her hair pulled back under a kerchief and return to the kitchen. I would sit by the door on the old radiator and wait. After a few minutes of me sitting there she’d press a button and send a sing song message up to my best friend via an old intercom system to remind her that I was waiting and to get a move-on. I could hear my friend return an irritated yell in stereo - both from above my head and from the box in the kitchen, “I knowwww, Mommmm!,” To which my best friend’s mom would react by popping her head out around the kitchen door and look out at me with a wide grin and a glint in her eye and we’d share a secret giggle at my friends expense. Some of those mornings when the radiator would get really hot and I had to get up she would come in or I’d go out to the kitchen and we’d chat, other mornings we would talk at length and some there’d be no time at all. This morning ritual of ours went on for eight years and later our relationship would grow much deeper as she became of my most ardent supporters and I hers.
I’m not sure why these seemingly insignificant moments now seem so clear and so dear to me. There were a thousand things going on in our lives back then but I’m getting closer to the answer. My mom went to work this same year, when I was in the fifth grade and I would return from school to an empty house, the radio on one of my mom’s stations and as time passed and my brothers left one by one I had the place to myself. I’d have to get the cat fed, the table set, bring in the mail and whatever else was left for me until my mom rushed in the door about 5:30. Through it all she’d set up what she needed to start dinner on the stove, run upstairs to change her cloths and then sometimes when she came back down we’d chat, other times we’d talk at length and sometimes there’d be no time at all.
That’s how life is. Those moments however brief when we are standing in the same room are opportunities to touch each other. Listen. Or not. Those moments both young and old seem to take for granted are the ones you grow to miss when the other is gone.
My dad walked in at 6. They’d talk over a cocktail and cheese and crackers then we’d eat at 7. Early on, when my brothers were still living at home, these meals were spent in the dining room and we would have to go around the table and talk about our day. Later, when it was just the three of us, we moved to eating at the kitchen table so we could watch TV instead of sit in stone silence or come up with forced discussion. These were the years my parents were going through their rough patch. The years I spent more time at my best friend’s house then in my own. When I knew my best friend’s mom had taken my heart in hers and grew to truly become my “other mom.” Not because mine wasn’t there. She was one of those unique people that had so much love to share, enough love to go around and more to spare and I was fortunate to be standing in her shine. And then the entire family, thankfully, took me in as one of theirs. Still do.
Today, more than forty years later, I am sitting in the quiet of my own house, the mist of another late October morning rolling in with these slivers of memories of her surrounding me. And I think maybe she is showing these details to me, telling me that it’s the simple things in life, the small details that take place without our knowing that become etched so deeply into our hearts because they stood in the shine of those we love. And this is when I tell her that it’s not just that, it is much more. It is because we stood in the all-encompassing shine of her love.