One of my favorite movies, “Empire Records”, has a character named Debra who tries (unsuccessfully) to slit her wrists. When a friend/co-worker confronts her about this, Debra responds: “I tried to kill myself with a Lady Bic. A pink plastic razor with daisies on it and a moisturizing strip.”
Clearly, she didn’t intend to kill herself, but she was going through some stuff. Her friends decide to help her by giving her… a funeral. Realistic, and a little cheesy, they gathered around Debra as she laid on a table surrounded by flowers and candles. And then they all said things about her.
Today marks 3 years since I lost one of my best friends, and 2 weeks since I lost another. A couple conversations today made me think about that scene in the movie.
What about the living? The friends in the here and now? The ones we see every day, the ones we talk to weekly, and the ones we catch up with now and then. We have a living history with these people. Why do we wait until someone has left this earth before we say the really beautiful things?
So today I’m writing a memorial for the living. An un-sung friend of 33 years.
Wendy was in the alley of the Red Lobster in Virginia Beach when I came around the corner from the dining room. I had something exciting or funny to say. She was less than 12 inches from my face and had leaned down to hear me (why are all my friends so tall?) When I opened my mouth, all that came out was a giant blob of saliva, which landed with an unceremonious “plop” on the floor.
She immediately yelled, “Oh my God! That was so much spit! That was, like two spoonful’s! Were you saving it up?!!” Then she threw her head back and began laughing her contagious laugh, and we were both goners. To this day, I have no idea what I was about to say. Doesn’t really matter, since it could never have topped the puddle of spit lying famously on the floor.
But that moment solidified our friendship. We were off and running.
Most of our early stories involve lots of drinking and, (I have to use the word), shenanigans. When we thought Red Lobster was old news, we jumped ship to an up-and-coming Texas-themed steakhouse. Patrons got to choose giant hunks of raw meat from a glass front cabinet. Whenever the song, “You Don’t Have to Call Me Darlin’” came on, all the waitresses had to drop what they were doing and sing along. We all lined up (in true “Coyote Ugly” fashion) and danced around to that dumb drinking song. It wasn’t long before we headed back to Red Lobster, our (lobster) tails between our legs.
Our best friends were our co-workers. Most of us were the “high drama” age, so we saw each other through a lot of breakups and financial woes.
One year, we had an “Orphan Christmas” because so many of us didn’t have any family in the area. About a dozen people showed up with food and gifts, and Wendy walked in the door with a sweatshirt sporting a GIANT Santa and the words, “I Believe!” Nothing could have been more perfect.
After-work was spent at a handful of local restaurants, and we were famous for overstaying our welcome. AFTER-after hours were spent at local bars down at the beach. When I landed a gig working at one, she was happy to support me. She was there when we buried our first dog. Not long after, I sat with my grandfather when he passed away, and she was there for me again.
One day, after a limousine ride into the country, we spent an afternoon watching our husbands jump out of a plane.
It was during this time that we began to stack up the skeletons in our closets. Some stories that only she and I know. She is the keeper of my skeleton key, and I of hers. Of all the people in my life, I think I trust her the most. She has never let me down. More than that, she doesn’t have a judgmental bone in her body. I can literally say anything to her. Wendy is my “Ride or Die” and “If I Die, I Want My Husband to Remarry Her” friend.
By January of 1994, my husband, Sean, and I had made the difficult decision to move back to Texas for financial reasons. She helped us pack and was there the day before we left. It didn’t feel like goodbye, it just felt like “see you later”.
I may as well have been on the moon, because I wasn’t there to help her as she lost her father, and then married an asshole. He treated her terribly, and all I could offer was support and long-distance phone calls. She eventually kicked him to the curb, and by February of 1996 I was missing her so badly that Sean decided to surprise me with a trip to Vegas. The bigger surprise was that he flew Wendy out to take the trip with us. I love that I have one of the best “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” stories now. I cherish the time we spent together.
Over the next few years, we survived tricky relationships and risky pregnancies. We both now have two beautiful daughters, and she is one of the best mothers I have ever known. I knew that if anything ever happened to me, I would want her to raise my girls.
The glue that continued to hold our friendship together was love, trust, and marathon phone calls. Sometimes, as happens with busy lives, months would go between calls. But we always knew the other one was there if we needed.
Here’s the thing…in the years that followed, Wendy lost her mom and her sister. She became the keeper of her paraplegic brother when he moved in with them. She dealt with a deteriorating marriage and tolerated living in an extremely isolated area. Eventually, her health began to suffer. Anxiety and an eventual diagnosis of Muscular Dystrophy have all but sidelined her. But she continued to put herself last, taking care of her girls and her brother and her husband. The girls eventually grew up and moved out. Her brother eventually had to go to a home where he could get the medical care he needed. And she made the smart, yet tough decision to leave her marriage and live on her own. Because of her physical needs, she stays with a friend, so she still doesn’t have her own life. But it’s the best she can do at the moment. And it kills me to live so far away.
I tell you all this because you wouldn’t know any of it to know her.
Picture a wagon wheel. That center piece is called the “Hub”. That is Wendy. She is the hub. Each of those spokes are her friends. She is the one who remembers birthdays. Who will always answer the phone when it rings. Who keeps everyone in her prayers. She is the one who remains positive and upbeat and laughs easily and long. She doesn’t know the word jealousy and celebrates all your victories. She will suggest shows and movies and comedians and books. She sends cards for no reason. She is there for the dying when no one else is. She is the friend who will never talk about you behind your back. She HAS your back. She keeps your secrets. She knows your stories. And she truly loves you, and all your ugly, messy flaws. With a heart as big as the sun.
It is very easy to take a friend like this for granted. To forget what they are going through, or to really be in touch with how difficult life is and has been for them. It is hard to remember that her girls are grown and gone now. They lead busy lives in a very “Cat’s in The Cradle” way, so she is experiencing loneliness in a very heartbreaking way.
And yet. She is our Wendy. She remains the Hub. She remains a light in our lives. I am grateful that she is among the living. And I am blessed that she will always pick up the phone when I call.
I challenge you to pick a person in your life right now and write their Dia de Las Vidas “obituary”. Then share it with them.