When I realized today was International Storytelling Day, I immediately knew I wanted to participate, by way of my blog post. After all, story is my word for 2018, my theme for the year. I mulled over stories that came to mind. There are many I could tell, from humorous tales to magical encounters to stories that would make you sleep with the lights on. And yet, I knew really, what I would share…something close to my heart. It is a story about friendship.
As I was writing in my journal last week, answering memoir questions from It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again, for ages 5-10, this question came up: Describe a close friend.
I thought of Jamie. The very first friend I remember having was a boy named Larry, when I was about three. We were great buddies. But Larry moved away with his family while we were still preschoolers. The person I considered my best childhood friend was Jamie. She was my next door neighbor, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, living with her parents, older brother Randy and younger sister Carrie. Randy was actually my age, and Jamie a year younger, placing her in between me and my younger sister Linda, age wise. And Carrie and my little sister Debbie were the same age.
The six of us played together frequently. Often, however, the two youngest children entertained each other, leaving us four older kids free to go on adventures or join together with the other kids in the neighborhood, playing hide and seek or riding our bikes around the block.
Jamie and I entered into an easy friendship that lasted throughout our childhood, and as I wrote about her, on March 12, 2018, I noted that she was my closest friend during those years.
We had many things in common, Jamie and I. We were both the oldest girls in our families, we loved animals and felt a sense of compassion and responsibility for them, we went to the same school, one grade apart, played our favorite pretend game…school…together, and teamed up for sports. We were January babies, with my birthday on the 9th, and hers on the 15th, making us one year and six days apart. And we both had surgeries to remove benign tumors from our bodies, during our childhoods. Jamie had a tumor in her chest. I had one on my right leg. Both surgeries were a success.
We had so many fun adventures together, had sleep overs during which we talked all night. We played board games, wrote plays to perform in the backyard, hosted carnivals and held neighborhood fairs. We organized an exercise club, that didn’t last long, swam at the local pool, climbed trees and talked about everything under the sun.
After completing sixth grade, I moved to Missouri with my mom and sisters. It was very difficult to leave my childhood friends, especially Jamie. We had grown up together and shared so many dreams for the future. My last night in Tulsa, I spent the night with Jamie. We vowed to remain friends.
The only photo I could find of Jamie during our childhood. This slightly out of focus pic shows Randy and Jamie, seated on the porch, with me kneeling in front. We found a baby squirrel on the ground, built a cage and took turns caring for it until it could take care of itself.
I did see Jamie several times during our teen years, when I returned to Tulsa during the summer months to visit my dad. We made the most of those infrequent chats, catching up on our journeys. The thing I remember most about Jamie during those years was that she was in a hurry to grow up. She was eager to be an adult and get on with her life, which at that time meant finding the right young man, getting married and having a family of her own. Being teenaged girls, we talked about boys a lot!
I only saw Jamie once as an adult. She did indeed marry young, as had I. We met, Jamie and I, along with our siblings and our young children, excited to see each other and meet each other’s kids. My mom joined our happy gathering. Sadly, Jamie’s mother had passed away. Later we found each other on Facebook, and kept in touch that way. Life had not gone exactly as Jamie had envisioned as a young girl. No one’s life does. However, Jamie had become a beautiful woman, with that mischievous gleam still lighting up her eyes. And then…she left Facebook and I lost track of her.
Jamie and I had one other thing in common. Our fathers both died from pancreatic cancer, just two days apart. Unbelievably, they were in the same hospital before their deaths. I ran into Carrie in the elevator. It was a bittersweet reunion. My sisters and I got to visit with Jim and Carrie briefly. Two weeks later, both my dad and Jim were gone from our lives.
As I wrote about Jamie, so many fond memories rose to the surface. I recalled happy years as best friends. And I felt regret that we had lost touch. I knew that, tragically, Jamie was now fighting her own battle with pancreatic cancer.
Here is where my story takes an interesting turn, as so many of my stories do. As I thought about Jamie, and continued to write, a loud popping noise began in my room. It seemed to move about the room, hovering near the ceiling. Pop. Pop, pop, pop. No windows were open. The ceiling fan and overhead light were turned off. I could turn my head and follow the sound of the pops, which occurred every couple of minutes.
I knew what this sound meant. When departed ones visit me in spirit, I often hear these popping noises. What I’m sharing may be difficult to believe, but I’ve experienced such things all my life. When it is a family member visiting, I know exactly who it is. When it is a stranger, or someone I haven’t been around in a while, I don’t immediately know, but I always receive additional information, in a variety of ways. I asked aloud, Who is here? Pop. Pop. The sounds were right above me. I should have known who it was right away. I continued writing.
The next day, Jamie’s sister sent a message. Jamie had passed away. The last month had been difficult for my friend. She was at peace, now, and free from pain.
I’ve thought of Jamie for the last eight days, allowing memories and past conversations and regrets to surface. We were such dear friends as children. I wish we had stayed in touch better. I discovered after her death that Jamie had returned to Facebook about three years ago. I could have had those years to communicate and perhaps set up a time to get together.
I’ve worked this week on releasing those regrets. Jamie was my first best girlfriend. She holds a special place in my heart and in my journey. I am grateful for her friendship and for her life. I’ll see her again someday. And she can visit me any time she wants, announcing her arrival with those pops. I can learn to recognize her instantly when she does. How I do that is a story for another time.
You don’t forget your childhood friends. You remember always the neighborhood kids you ran with, played with and grew up with. Jamie, my friend, you will not be forgotten.