My First Best Friend

Well, I have awoken from my turkey coma and have a few quiet moments to purge some thoughts.  This time of year always makes me reflective.  I think about family and personal history and events, both joyous and traumatic, that I have been witness to and/or participant in.  From now until, oh, about January 5th or so I will be never too far from some memory or the other.  Probably not the best testimony for “living in the moment,” but true all the same. 

So I have decided to begin a series of Memoir Posts, sprinkled throughout other posts and occurring simply as they come to me.  And so we begin.

I had my first broken heart when I was six years old.

My family was moving from Indianapolis, IN, to Saginaw, MI, because my father had chosen the nomadic profession of ministry.  Some ministers’ families stay put, or so I hear, but we had about a four-year expiration date on most of our hometowns.  We had moved to Indianapolis from my birthplace of Metropolis, IL, when I was two.  I didn’t remember enough about Southern Illinois to miss it.  But, at six I had formed attachments and felt the pain of them being torn asunder.

I only remember two things about Beth Ann Barker, her name and the fact that I cried for her as our Plymouth Duster left the Indianapolis city limits.  And even as I write that sentence, other snippets come to me.  Her father’s name was Ronald; we called him Ronald McDonald.  I believe I had attempted a sleep-over at Beth Ann’s house once, but cried so for my parents that they came to get me in the middle of the night (it was probably 9:00 p.m., but my memory is that it was the middle of the night).  I think she had an older brother, but that memory is as unclear as a Rorschach blot.

Beyond that, nothing.  I couldn’t even tell you what Beth Ann looked like at that age, let alone pick her out of a line-up today.  I don’t remember her house or her clothes or even the color of her hair.  I just remember that she was my friend and I had to leave her and would probably never see her again.

That scenario would play out time and time again in my life.  Four years later when we left Saginaw, two-and-a-half-years after that when we left Springfield, MO, then leaving Bay City, leaving Saginaw Part II, leaving Denver.   Crying over Beth Ann, crying over Martha, crying over Denise and Michael, crying over Jerilyn, crying over Stephanie.  My heart breaking again and again.

It’s no wonder I had to work so hard to grasp any sense of continuity in my adult life.  Every now and then, Susie and I will be in Kohl’s or Target or Kroger and she will run into an old friend and stop and chat.  After the conversation ends and the old friend walks away, Susie will say something like “We went to high school together,” or “I’ve known her since kindergarten.”  The idea of going into the grocery store and happening upon someone whose thread first wove into the tapestry of my life 40 years ago is as difficult for me to imagine as vacationing on Mars.

As a young adult, I changed (insert any of the following: colleges, jobs, houses, partners) like I changed socks.  Change was not something I had to learn to accept.  It was familiar and oddly constant.   But it eventually became as old and tiresome as living 50 years in the same house you were born in.  I became bored with change and sought something new and interesting: stability.

I have now lived in this house for six years.  I have had same job for nine years (and the same “second” job for 11).  I have had the same partner for seven-and-a-half years.

I don’t want to move.  I don’t want a different job.  And, as Paul Newman used to say about Joanne Woodward, why would I want hamburger when I’ve got steak at home?

The carousel ride has turned into a porch swing.  I embrace the change of seasons as I watch them from the same spot year after year.  I don’t miss the irony in the fact that Interstate 40 is in my backyard, that I can sit on my deck and watch others in motion while I sip tea.

And sometimes as I sit there, I remember just how much it shattered my heart to leave Beth Ann Barker.

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