It was a picture perfect Sunday afternoon. The sky was an endless brilliant blue without a single cloud to mar it. The trees were showing the first hints of green and overhead, geese were heralding their arrival home with exuberant honking.
My husband and I had spent the afternoon running small errands but mostly we were just spending our day together, driving aimlessly without hurry, talking about this and that without any interruptions from teens or child or dog or neighbour. The day marked our 17th anniversary but we were exhausted from celebrating high school graduations and Mother’s day. It was enough to simply be together. Far too many of our days are spent apart.
We pulled into a gas station, the light on the fuel gauge blinking furiously, and as Bruce walked into the station I poured over Instagram and pondered the wisdom of flooding my stream with endless pictures of my children in their fancy graduation finery, wondering how many pictures of pretty dresses would be too many, completely lost in thought and remembrance, when suddenly my vehicle shook with a loud bang.
Startled, I looked up to see a woman hugging the hood of my car, peering at me through the windshield and grinning like I was her long lost best friend.
My heart thudded as my brain scrambled to reconcile the image of the person before me with a person I used to know.
I was nine when I met her. I had gone down to my bedroom to change into my pajamas and was standing in just my underwear when I made eye contact with her. She stood staring into my bedroom window with the bluest eyes I had ever seen, laughing at me, her short brown hair spiked up with blue mousse.
I screamed and ripped a shirt back over my head while racing upstairs to tell my parents about the weird peeping tom standing at my window but she was quicker than me and was already standing at our back door, grinning widely.
“Wanna come out and play?” she asked through the glass.
So I did. We were inseparable from that moment on. Friends forever we swore.
Forever never existed for us.
Her eyes were exactly the same. The blue of them matched the incredible sky over head. But everything else about her had changed, almost imperceptibly. It was like looking at a painting when you accidentally put your contacts in the wrong eyes. It’s all the same and yet everything looks different.
It was her and yet she was not anyone I had ever known. Memories of our past came flooding back as she hugged me hard and stood back to examine me.
She was my everything for so very long. When my world was upside down she was always there to get me right side up. Her family became my family and I practically lived at her house to escape the doldrums of my own.
I never really noticed the fractures in our friendship until they became crevices that couldn’t be over looked. The further we drifted the tighter I tried to hold onto her, not realizing I was choking the love out of her.
I thought I could save her, or help her, or heal her; all of it, until at long last, I was so swamped from anger and guilt that my love was not enough for her that I let her go. I released her. I turned my back on her because I didn’t know how to watch her suffer any longer. I didn't want to suffer any longer.
I told myself I had to protect my family but really I had to insulate my heart from her choices. I wanted to be there for her and I could never understand why she wouldn’t let me. I couldn’t accept the fact she found more comfort in a drug-fuelled haze than she did with my love.
I couldn’t accept her any longer.
The last time I saw her was the day I buried my son, eight years ago.
I remember very little from that day. I was numb from disbelief, cocooned with shock. There were so many people there to say good-bye to a boy most never really knew and I was overwhelmed. But I remember her.
She stood outside the church, smoking one cigarette after another, trying to convince me to let her take my children for a night.
She was a shell of her former self. I hadn’t seen her much the last few years and I hadn’t realized how far she had sunk in the abyss of drugs and hopelessness. Medical problems combined with narcotics had taken a steep toll on her health, until the person she used to be was buried beneath this new unrecognizable child-like person.
I lost my temper on her that afternoon and as soon as I raised my voice with her, I regretted it. She didn’t understand why I was upset. She couldn’t comprehend. She wasn’t there even though she was standing in front of me. Brain damage took the person she was and twisted her into someone new.
We stood there facing one another, both of us broken, fractured far past the reflections of who we used to be.
I buried my son that afternoon alongside any hope of ever reconciling with the person she now was, missing the girl I once knew her to be.
There we stood, outside a gas station in the middle of nowhere, history flooding both our memories. Bruce came out, with slushies in hand, to find my past standing directly in front of me. If he was surprised he covered it well. He has always been more graceful than I could ever hope to be.
She talked and answered our questions, but she never asked any of her own. She didn’t want to know about my life but she wanted me to know about hers. She wanted me to know she remembered me.
That she loved me.
That she thought of me often.
She rambled as she wiped her makeup and sweat off her face, smearing it more. But in between the rambles were moments of clarity and lucidity and I could see her, my friend, as though she were trapped beneath a glass surface, ready to break loose.
She’d lift up her sunglasses to show me her eyes, telling me she was sober at the moment and working hard to get clean. That she’d been using this or that over the years but she is doing better now. Then she’d hug me again, and I’d feel her frailness once more and I’d marvel at her strength.
She talked fast and yet her mouth never really moved. She bounced from subjects and emotions faster than my brain could process, my mind was too busy trying to cope with the fresh heartbreak occurring within my chest.
For as much as she talked she didn’t really say anything. I still don’t understand how her brain works, or the pain she feels, or the choices she makes. I never did and I’m wise enough now to understand that I probably never will.
She battles demons I can’t even fathom, on a daily basis, and life has taken her down a path I can’t follow. Years ago I blamed myself for this. If only I had done something different, loved her enough, been a better friend. And then, years later, I blamed her, for not fighting hard enough, for not choosing wisely, for not caring enough.
I don’t blame myself anymore, and I don’t blame her. Addiction, mental illness, fortune, it all conspired to rob her of the life we once both dreamed of.
She isn’t the same person she used to be. But then, neither am I. I will always miss the person that she once was and mourn the person she could have been. I will always damn the addiction and disease that took her from her family, from me.
She was my best friend forever, until we forgot forever existed.
I remember now. And I’ll forever hope you slay your dragons and overcome your addiction and your pain, Blue Eyes.