My Wonder Woman.
Or, An Ode to My Childhood Best Friend who has ALS
Would squeeze me tight when she saw me. Would share the same sleeves of borrowed sweaters. Would move about wildly when telling a story. Would link my arm as we strolled. Would carry firewood for her dad. Would eventually rock three babes to sleep.
Would walk miles with me, up and down Farm Lane. “Hi Irene,” she said midsentence, as we waved to someone passing us in a wood-paneled station wagon—what were we talking about? Anything. Everything. In long, puffy winter coats as we slid on the ice on a beloved snow day. Barefoot on the hot, uneven asphalt in the summer, against her mother’s wishes. All along North Valley Road, past the triangle. To the playground. To the Post Office. To Pine Valley Swim Club, where we squirted on baby oil and basked in the sun on side-by-side weathered lawn chairs and talked about boys. Matching blue bathing suits. And to the Creek, when we did things you do when you are 14-year-olds, but you shouldn’t.
Greeted me with a happy, sing-song falsetto. Would let out lots and lots of giggles. Could burst into songs from Free To Be You and Me at any time. Sang along to Meatloaf on an 8-track tape in her bedroom with a brush as a microphone. Would say, “Bless me,” after she held in her sneeze. Interchangeably called her oldest daughter and me each other's names when I visited. Built me up when I was down.
Would draw like magic, would write silky smooth, would cut up salads that I never had in my house. Were not old lady fingers, as someone once told her in the 8th grade, which stuck with her, but were perfect. Did they wear a grandfather’s baby ring? Someone’s. Hers? Tied the Indian skirts we wore (that we thought were perfectly normal till we saw in high school that they could tell we were from Roosevelt.) Gripped mine as we danced that silly dance at any Jewish party. Stirred the cream in my coffee during midnight breakfast runs at the diner on Route 130. So hot in my house that their freshly painted nails wouldn’t dry. They text me now. Thank G-d.
Was soothing to me when I slept over, as she inevitably fell asleep first. As I did Jumble puzzles in some book of hers or was it her grandmother’s? I felt so comfortable sleeping over her house, next to her. Was it a trundle bed? So many secrets we told in those beds, so many laughs. Ice cream in bed!
Was steadfast. Unswerving. No judgment. Never! She told me to stand up for myself. Not let others treat me badly. I needed that. Held me up when I was down-literally and figuratively...I needed her then. Need her now. I need to let her know that.
Flowed easily, readily. Still do, only mine flow with her now…even when we are laughing, or when we are miles apart. Like now.
Giraffe? Did she say that her neck reminded her of one? She loves giraffes. I think of her whenever I see one. Lots of people do. First hickeys, babies nuzzling. Best friends necklace, long gone. Now it tires. Heads are so heavy, aren’t they? Constantly thinking, constantly planning, constantly worrying. It will be ok. She tells me that, so it will.
IT WILL! So I say, slamming things down on my desk. Tuning out, eyes filling up during a meeting. Curtly responding to my son. Snapping at a friend who is trying to help. Disbelief. Shock. Anger. Sadness. ONWARD ME NOW – Wonder Woman as an anagram. No. Nope. No. NO!
We performed in plays together. I remember I was the witch in the Wizard of Oz in grammar school; “I’m melting!” I screamed in a perfected witch's voice…”I’m mellllltiiiiiing!”
She’s melting. My friend. My sister. My life. And I…
…I can’t hold her up.