Two weeks ago two friends went shopping. They had formed a bond around this happening 20-years ago when they first met. Back when they shopped for treasures on their college budgets in unexpected places. What they found was inconsequential. It only served as goalposts of their time together. This ritual provided a space where they shared conversation, laughter, ideas, each punctuated by the “shzing” of hangers sliding across racks and calls from the next aisle to “checkout” the discovery. Value City and local thrift stores were the inauspicious places they found these looked-over gems or rock bottom remainders that no one had recognized for what they were. Those shopping trips were the comfortable dance to all the best songs they played over and over and over.
The girls are now women; mothers, wives and professionals. They don’t have to reach too far down to find the college girls they once were together. Both have managed to keep that self close by. So when they see each other no matter how much time has passed since the last visit, they find the understanding and love easily accessible, below the skin nuanced by the years they’ve lived since. And as they shopped two weeks ago, they fell into the grooves established decades prior. Though this time it was different. This time they both provided more than memories and a comfort of a shared history. This time they needed each other for physical support as they went through the motions of their historic ritual. While one endures the disease she’s had since they first met, the other faces a new, more challenging diagnosis that shakes the ground they have always felt secure on.
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Finding a way to absorb the reality of Linda’s cancer has left me immobilized… yet flailing. I’m desperately trying to get my arms around all that she is and what she means in my life. As the weeks have passed I have found the place deep inside that only she can touch and I’ve rested there. Within that space has come an outpouring of emotion and words in an unstoppable flow. It’s the soundtrack of our 20-year friendship – a melodic hum that exists beneath everything. And while my feelings are often beyond description, I am taking this time to honor her and what we share. I know it will empower me from now on as I continue to read and reflect on this most remarkable friendship.
So here goes…
I met Linda P. a few months after my MS diagnosis. Tumultuous is not a strong enough term to describe the few years leading up to the Fall of 1988. In short, my parent’s sudden divorce and my mom’s move to Florida led me in desperation to an abusive boyfriend. Escaping that, I moved to Maryland to attend the state university at College Park and after three semesters, I transferred to a different campus in search of a something more meaningful both academically and personally. I was getting used to making these big decisions on my own.
That summer before I started at the new campus began with my 20th birthday and the out-of-nowhere diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. It was a shocking blow to my fragile and forced independence. But in spite of my fear, I continued on by myself looking for a community to be a part of while finishing my film degree. Just a few weeks after I moved to the Baltimore suburbs and started at the UMBC film program, I found a group of people who felt good to be around. Just as the cream rises to the surface, so did Linda. It quickly became clear that we had something special. You know how sometimes you meet someone and they match you in ways you didn’t know possible? Well that was how it was with Linda. And as I search for descriptors to convey all that we have, I get lost in the reverie of everyday moments and how it felt back then to have her energy with me all the time.
Trying to describe a friendship in words is not unlike trying to sing a painting. I’m not sure if it was her spirited way of appreciating every moment that drew me in or her adorable personality. At this time, making new friends and meeting new people wasn’t easy. I was unsure and nervous about what MS would mean for me and this seemed transparent in my insecure presence. Many people couldn’t deal with this uncertain reality of mine and were obvious in their apprehension. But Linda never shied away. She clearly accepted every part of who I was in ways I could not yet do for myself. She gave new meaning and comfort to my world.