Last night after my husband had gone to bed, I sat up and played around on my computer. One of my common “playgrounds” is Facebook. I found a new function (at least a function I hadn’t seen before) that allows one to search for members sharing common schools, workplaces, or cities. Not only could I search for common places that I had listed in my own profile, but I could plug in other schools and workplaces. I decided to see what would come up if I plugged in past employers and schools that friends went to. Long story short, through this circuitous route, I found a friend of a friend of a friend.
Patti (the friend of friend) was tagged in a photo that a classmate (the friend of a friend of a friend) posted on her profile. It was a group shot taken in the classroom in 1966 shortly into the new year when school reconvened. As the story goes, the girls were allowed to bring a doll that they had gotten for Christmas, hence the group of Catholic school girls who all look like they’re playing the role of the madonna. It brought back piercing memories, memories that I no longer have in photo form. Even though the photo was in black and white, I could see in my mind the red plaid uniform jumpers with the mandatory gray sweaters that all the girls wore. The knee socks would most likely be gray and most of the girls wore those white and black “saddle” shoes. There was a lot of commentary under this photo about the uniform length, teachers, and other students, both those present in the photo and those absent.
For me, the kicker was seeing the little girl right in the front of the group, kneeling on the floor. That was my neighbor, a girl who lived eight houses down the block from me. I barely knew her until I started at the parochial grade school in 5th grade, the same year that this photo was taken. However, during the course of the next couple of years, we became very close. We walked to and from school together, something she had never been allowed to do before I became her friend. She had always been driven by her father or the parent of another classmate. However, her mother saw me as a responsible “big sister” figure and allowed Lori to do things in my company that she hadn’t been permitted to do earlier. If she was with me, it was often okay!
We spent a lot of time together over the course of our remaining grade school days together which continued through 8th grade for me. I went on to the high school in the same building and she joined me the year after. We spent tons of hours together on the weekends, and summers were spent in a constant state of travel between her house and my house. For a time in our lives, we were inseparable. We called each other “twins.” I loved her, and I think that she loved me. I remember going away for a few weeks one summer in Pennsylvania, and she wrote everyday. (This was 1968 — much, much before the age of cell phones and e-mail!) Often she would write things like, “I miss you! It’s not the same here without you! I picked up the phone to call you last night but then remembered you weren’t there. How many days until you come back?”
Of course, as soon as I set foot back home after that vacation, I was out the door and down the street to Lori’s house!
We spent less and less time together as the high school days went on, and the most significant factor was boys. She had a boyfriend and I had a boyfriend. My boyfriend became my fiance the summer before the start of my senior year in high school. Lori was going steady with a boy a grade ahead of her and they were talking about getting married when he was finished with college. So, yeah, things like that have a way of taking girlfriends away from each other. I think it was soon after I was married that I felt a need to reconnect with Lori. I felt her absence in my life. I valued her friendship. I realized what I was letting slip away because my focus was so much on the newness of my situation. I reached out to her to resume a closer friendship again and she seemed to welcome that.
Fast-forward another year or so. I was a young woman trying to find out where my sexual orientation fit into my life. I knew that I was bisexual. (I was one of these women who never considered my bisexuality as a stepping stone to becoming a lesbian. No matter who my primary relationship is with, I am and will always be bisexual. How I act on that is another matter.) It was a tough matter. There was no one other than my husband to talk to. With the exception of a couple of gay young men I knew, I had no one to talk things over with, no one to be myself with. In a nutshell, I was lonely and frustrated with the ” in the closet” situation.
I fumblingly attempted to tell Lori. It took several tries but I eventually came out with it. I wanted her to know because she was the friend closest to me, and I cared that I could be myself with her. If I couldn’t be myself with her, then I was losing a great deal in the process. I think that she was confused and didn’t much know what to do with that information. After all, why would I be telling her these things unless I was trying to put the moves on her? I knew she was straight and I knew what lines not to cross, but I don’t think that she understood that. It always seem to come back to the response, “I accept you for who you are as long as you realize I’m straight and not interested.” (Okay, got it! Do you get it?)
I moved several states away from our home city, and we conducted a long distance relationship via the U.S. Mail over the next several years. As I began a new life in a much more liberal city, I opened the doors to the possibilities inherent in my orientation. I wanted to know more about it. I wanted to examine the issues. I wanted to know people who had been in my shoes, who were dealing with the same kind of issues. As I got involved in groups and activities, I told Lori about it. She quit signing her letters “Love….” She no longer wanted to be that close to me. I had given her too much information. No, I was not free to be myself with this person.
I seldom made trips to my hometown, but my husband and I did the summer of 1982. I asked if we could stay with her for a couple of nights as we were heading back home. She agreed and set us up on an air mattress in her guest room.
The following day after our arrival, we had plans out and about, and she asked if we’d be around for supper. I said that we would be. She took some chicken out to thaw. I went out for a lunch date with a friend and my husband spent some time in other pursuits, and we joined up again around mid-afternoon. We went back to Lori’s apartment. She wasn’t there. We hung around, expecting her to come home soon. She didn’t. Suppertime came and went. No Lori. I put her chicken in the refrigerator. We waited until about 6:30 and then called out for a pizza. We ate our pizza, hung around the apartment, and finally went to bed around 9:30 or 10:00. We heard Lori come home sometime between 10:30 and 11:00. We didn’t bother to get up. What the hell was going on?
The following morning, we were up and dressed when Lori finally got out of bed. The phone rang soon thereafter. She said, “My mom needs me for something.” (Her parents lived a couple of blocks away.) She left the apartment. After an hour-and-a-half, I said to my husband, “Let’s blow this pop stand. She’s not coming back. I don’t know what’s going on but I’m not going to stand around playing this game.” We left the apartment keys she had loaned us and got on the road to rack up some miles towards our return trip.
There was never any explanation. I’ve kept track of her from time to time through telephone listings so I’ve had an address. On a few occasions, I’ve sent a letter or a card. Now she’s on Facebook, and our paths are coming precariously close to crossing if we wanted them to. However, she has never responded to any of those cards and letters. There has never been any further acknowledgment of my existence.
I’ve always blamed it on “TMI.” She couldn’t handle the sum of myself that I wanted to share with her. I didn’t have a grasp of the situation at the time. I didn’t know when to keep my mouth shut.
I have never brought it up with her in those letters and cards I’ve sporadically sent. I’ve always blamed it on my bisexuality, but perhaps it isn’t that. Perhaps her complete withdrawal was something more personal to her life and she was too embarrassed or ashamed to share it with me. I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve carried the burden of the guilt for whatever happened to destroy this friendship. I blame myself.
Some people are never forgotten. She will always be one of them.