When I was five I was blessed to make a friend who is still my friend 35 years later. Her name is Teresa, and she lives in Indiana with her husband Steve and their five children, three of whom are triplets. One of those triplets has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. His name is Tyler and he lights up people's worlds, just like Teresa has been lighting my world all these years.
I write about Teresa because two weeks ago I realized I missed her 40th birthday on March 10. Some best friend, huh? She didn't miss mine. I got a beautiful card where she listed all my good qualities. I open it up and read deeply when I'm feeling down. So I will send her this blog in hopes that it will make up for missing her milestone birthday.
Growing up, Teresa lived down the street from me. When we were eight or nine or ten or somewhere in there, we started a secret club. We called it the Dot Dot Dot, named after secret book which had three giant red dots on the cover. Our clubhouse was my ponderous willow tree in the back yard. We had been banned from Teresa's giant oak, after the mailman caught us swinging from the tallest branches during a hurricane-like wind storm. Plus, she had more little siblings to bother us. So we met in my willow.
Willows are great places to hide from people. I know because I spent hours in that tree over the years, bawling my eyes out over lost loves, fuming in anger at my parents, and trying to manage my teenagerly mood swings. I loved that tree because if I could find just the right spot, those long, vine branches could completely hide me from people in the yard or people looking out the window trying to find me. They were a cool green canopy, an oasis from childhood cares. It was a secret fortress and general headquarters for Teresa and me and our club.
I might give my right arm to have the "Dot Dot Dot" today to read to myself and then decide if I'd let my kids read it. Where in the world did it go? I can't remember what we wrote on the pages. Secrets of course. But not ordinary secrets. These were "blood secrets." The title page swore us to secrecy and eternal friendship, and then we had to cut ourselves and smear blood on the page and sign our names. I remember comparing whose blood was redder and who made a bigger smear.
We felt awfully grown up, awfully devilish, making ourselves bleed to convey our lasting friendship. It must have worked, though. Whenever I hear the words "best friend" I automatically think of Teresa, even though now I'm a 40-year old woman.
The worst day of my life was in 3rd grade when Teresa moved to a bigger house. I remember being insensed that I now had to be driven to her house. It wasn't even 10 minutes away, but it still felt like a world away to me. Now she was in a new school. Now we couldn't take turns asking Steve Vincent if we could borrow his super-cool mechanical pencil. Teresa ended up marrying Steve Vincent, and it was evident clear back then how much she liked him.
I remember coming home from visiting Teresa's new house, and being very depressed. I sat down on my bed and looked across the room and realized that my gerbil wasn't moving. "Frisky" was dead in his cage. I got Frisky in 1st grade when Teresa and I were in Mrs. Faust's class together. Mrs. Faust made us away from each other because we talked too much. But then we just shouted across the room to each other and that was even louder. So she moved us back together.
So Teresa moved and Frisky died all on the same day. It was way too much for a nine-year old to take. Even so, there were plenty of sleepovers in Teresa's new house. It was huge and had an unfinished basement. Teresa had tons of chores on Saturday mornings being one of eight children, but I always helped her. Her idea of sweeping the kitchen floor was to sweep everything into the middle of the floor. This included dolls, cups, spoons, napkins, notebooks, pencils, car keys, assorted toys and hairbrushes, all in a big pile. She'd leave it there in hopes that people would take their things and she wouldn't have to put things away. Then we'd start doing something else and we'd hear TERESAAAAAAAAAA!!!!! Teresa's Mom had great lung capacity! We'd scrambled back to the kitchen to put stuff away.
On one sleepover we made up a dance to "Love Story." We'd start our on different sides of the room and make our way to the center in a comic thrust of drama. Teresa's Mom taught us the jitterbug at a sleepover 50s party. That was the same party that girls started throwing up and had to go home because they'd drank too much pop and eaten too much candy.
In junior high Teresa and I were LOUD. I could hear her in the 9th grade hall, even when I was in the 7th grade hall and vice versa. She was there when I wiped out 10 feet before the finish line while running the 100-yard dash at a region track meet. She wrote me notes in class and wrote BFA all over them (best friends always). She told me when I was being a jerk and needed an attitude adjustment. She was always calling me a "spaz."
Sometimes childhood friends part ways in high school, but we didn't. Even though we mostly hung out with different friends, I remember canvassing the lunchroom daily looking for Teresa. I wanted to be in touch each day. I wanted to see my oldest friend, even if she was with other people. I'd go sit with her a while talk and then leave, repeating the same ritual on most days. She was security when I probably didn't appear to need it, but really did.
Teresa played the violin and every sport imaginable. She was incredibly coordinated. I played the piano and was interested in student government and the school newspaper. I was more "preppy;" she was more of a "jock." I had a "bob;" she had "feathered" hair. She had brown hair and enormous brown eyes. I had blond hair and blue eyes. In third grade we had exactly the same glasses--enormous brown things that covered half our faces. In 7th grade we both got hard contacts and forever had bloodshot eyes until we got soft lenses in high school. That same year we got braces. We were gorgeous!! We had our picture taken in one of those booths in the mall. I am wearing a necklance with a cursive "E" dangling from the chain and "studs" in my newly pierced ears. Our braces are sparkling like a diamond mine.
Teresa told me all about periods and sex. She showed me pads and those obnoxious belts that her big sister had. I was aghast that men and women participated in such an act. She was equally disgusted that her parents must have done it multiple times to produce her siblings. We wondered if you could go through life without having sex. We vowed we never would participate in such vile behavior. Hah! We have nine kids between us!
Guess who I went running to when RP kissed me right in the hall at school? Who did I tell immediately? When GF held my hand at Lagoon? Who did I cry to when I thought my heart would break half way through my junior year? Yep! In return I knew her every thought and feeling and listened to her chewing out KF mercilessly for ignoring her at school even though he was supposed to be her boyfriend.
How many times in my life have I called 277-9484? Millions. "Is Teresa there?" "TERESAAAAAA!" Bang. "HEY EL!" she'd say as she picked up the phone. And then we'd blab endlessly about so and so and who did what and who liked who. My Dad would be telling me to get off; her Dad would be picking up the other line to see if we were still talking. Then I'd get off the phone and write her a note to give to her the next day, encapsulating everything we'd said on the phone and what I thought about it. Of course I wrote BFA all over it, and folded it into a special envelope.
I told Teresa stuff I never told anyone else. She never betrayed that confidence. She never made me feel stupid, even though she always got better grades than me. She never judged; she listened. She was the epitome of a true friend.
So, to my oldest, dearest friend---HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY! You have literally meant the world to me for nearly all my life. Here's to another 40 years of friendship!