”Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetime, is certain for those who are friends.” ~Richard Bach
It was a small thing, really. I’m not sure she ever knew what it meant to me. It was a note passed to me secretly in class that I held onto over the years. My elementary school years were not happy ones. Trouble at home cascaded into trouble at school. While I made good grades, the other kids teased me incessantly, often resulting in a beating at the end of the day or on the playground during recess. My flat chest, big feet, and buck teeth were the stuff that bullying was made of. I was the fodder for their fun. Memories of the daily taunts still bring a gripping feeling in my gut, even these many years later. Most of the girls in my school were cruel and dishonest, promising friendship but instead bestowed betrayal, duplicity, and deceit. I had come to believe that friendship had conditions, that I had to be someone else in order to fit in.
So it was when I was 12 that I decided life wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t make it another day. I didn’t have the strength, the courage or understanding to know how to stop the daily abuse, so I figured that God would let me start over. Obviously, I failed in my attempt to end this life because I’m here now to write about it. Which brings me to the note.
Before text messages and email, there was the plain ol’ note written on lined paper, folded in triangular shapes and tucked, ever so neatly in the palm of your hand. They were passed clandestinely, sometimes intercepted by the teacher. To our extreme embarrassment, they were often read aloud. But, this one made it to me safely. This one simply said, “You are so smart and special. Thank you for being my friend,” signed “Debbie.”
As I left childhood behind, I became a connoisseur of many things. One of those things is friendship. Looking back, I’ve had the extreme privilege of redefining friendship and have gathered a treasure-trove of friends along the way. Now, 5 decades into this life, I’ve worked hard to leave those childhood bullies behind. I’ll bet that they’ve grown up themselves and left their own “stuff” behind, most likely forgetting all the vicious tormenting and threats. People like Debbie taught me how friends should behave and offered the promise of how they give our lives such meaning and joy. I wouldn’t know how to live on this earth without them.
Debbie was one of those optimistic people. I can still hear her voice, bright with encouragement. I looked up to her, admired her. She was an inspiration in so many ways. A loyal friend from the beginning, she never let me down.
Together, we tried out for the school drill team together. Night after night, we practiced hard. She spent many nights at my house helping me to learn the routine for try-outs. I made the team, and she did not. But, this only made her proud for me. Yes, I knew she was disappointed, but she never took away my delight with her own feelings. She only supported me.
Years later, our friendship still blossoming, I watched her become a successful business woman. She kept her body healthy with dedicated exercise and watching what she ate, always keeping an eye on her weight. I don’t think I ever told her how much I admired her, that the note she sent me years before stayed with me. Debbie’s encouragement throughout these decades were part of my own success. She was a role model, a bright star in my sky. As I write this, I realize that she was more than just a friend, she was a beacon.
What I didn’t know was that she spent her whole life battling an eating disorder that eventually killed her. Truthfully, I felt I had let her down. Her death was a shock I never saw coming.