It began in 1971, first grade, my friendship with Amy. In my memory, she had a head of beautiful, long, thick hair; mine was short and stringy and if I dared to grow it long, it looked even stringier, if that were possible. We shared a love of horses and she had a pony; there was no room for a pony on our ¾ acre lot. Her mom was the Art teacher in school; I loved Art – I think the only time outside of PE we weren’t made to sit still, because you know, I was 7. She was smart; I wasn’t exactly in the top 10 percent, yet. And there was something about her that drew people to her; already at age 7, I was the proverbial wallflower. She doesn’t remember this, but Amy was popular – everyone liked her – and I liked her.
It was a sad day when she moved to Austin, a mere 60 miles up the road, the summer between our 3rd and 4th grade years. I missed my best friend.
We wrote to each other regularly, maybe even weekly. The US Postal Service our only viable way of connection because long distance phone calls were too expensive, so said my parents. I anxiously checked the mailbox every day, waiting to hear from my friend. Upon receiving the coveted letter addressed to me, with her return address on it, I wrote back as quickly as I could. What exactly those letters contained, I can’t say; I suppose at the age of 9 and being girls, bubble gum flavors and puppies might have been among our favorite topics. And boys. Maybe boys.At some point (I don’t really know when), the frequency with which we wrote lessened.
I remember visiting my sister when she was attending college in Austin and passing an elementary school I envisioned Amy attending (though I knew her school was on the other side of town). I remember being in college, at the same university as my sister, and thinking of Amy as I passed that same elementary school. Later in life, when I worked in Austin, my office just a few miles from that same school, and I thought of Amy.
By the time I was in college, the letters had stopped. Here I was, in the same town where Amy finished her childhood, she was a mere 30 minutes away in Georgetown. We both had the means to see each other, but we were each in the process of finding our young adult selves. And so, we lost touch.
Fast forward to 2015. I’m active on Facebook (way more than I should be!) and that excitement that I felt going to the mailbox every day returns in a flash - in pops a friend request from who else, but Amy! I was shocked, thrilled, giddy, and I dare say, tears welled up in my eyes. We chatted here and there (she tells me she never forgot me, I tell her I thought of her every year on our birthdays, which are one day apart), and of course, kept up with current stuff through FB. But I want to know everything – since 1974 – everything about her life. She’s back in Austin (and has been for quite some time) and I’ve returned to our hometown. Again, a mere 60 miles separates us.
A few weeks ago, she says she’s coming for a visit! Her dad used to be the pastor at a small church that is literally a block from my hairdresser’s shop. Amy is an English and Literature professor and is authoring her next book, which begins with her time in the area. She wants to visit the church and asks if I can meet her there. As luck would have it, I had an upcoming appointment with my hairdresser and we arranged to meet that same day. And so, it was set. After 44 years, we are about to be reunited.
As the day drew near, I got a little nervous. Maybe it was giddiness. Maybe it was excitement. But it was happening! I couldn’t believe it. I share my (low-level) anxiety with a mutual friend, someone we went to elementary school with, who encourages that I am still the person who, like when we were children, cherishes friendships fiercely and Amy will see that.
When I arrive at the church, it is locked. I scan the parking lot and try to decide which of these cars belongs to Amy, which one looks most like Amy. I decide none of them do. A quick text tells me she’s in the office. I smile. But I’m shaking on the inside. This is happening! When we see each other, she interrupts her conversation with the pastor and gives me a huge hug. She, her friend Caroline and I toured the church grounds and spent a lot of time in the chapel. The parsonage, where Amy lived with her family, has long since been torn down and replaced with something more modern (circa 1980 or so); we stand on what we believe must have been the foundation of her home and remember the trees, the view of the cemetery from her front porch, and where she kept her pony. Everything seemed much bigger back then.
We decide on lunch at a local comforty-food type of place in New Braunfels. I ask if we should drive by our old elementary school and excitedly, Amy says yes – though she doesn’t remember the way. I drive the route our bus used to take, in hopes that it will spark her memory and it does – she remembers the old railroad track we used to cross under and the multitude of cement plants/quarries along the way.
And the car they were traveling in – not Amy’s car at all; it belonged to her friend Caroline.
Comal Elementary is now home to a Catholic High School. As luck would have it, school is out and we’re able to roam the campus. We stood in the parking lot, remembering the structure as we knew it in 1st grade (or rather, as we tried to remember it) and the changes made to it between our 1st and 2nd grade years when the radical “open-concept” was introduced in public schools. The bus line has remained in place since we were 7-year-olds making the huge step into the big yellow school bus. We stood on the playground and talked of the death traps that came in the form of playground equipment back in the day and the splinters which were embedded on various body parts thanks to them; the merry go round and the jungle gym being our favorites, followed closely by the see saw and swings.
We talked of the trauma of moving at the age of 9 and how another teacher, rather than her own parents, was the one who told a very confused little girl that she would be moving over the summer. Of course, we agreed, a lot had changed about the school and naturally, everything looked “smaller” to us now.
Over lunch, we shared a small portion of our own life’s highlight (lowlight?) reel. I had no idea academia (as a profession) could be such a shark tank and my heart hurts to know the struggles she had while taking care of her aging and ill parents. My bumps and bruises came in the form of past relationships. She tells me she never forgot me. We finished our time together with a trip to Naeglin’s Bakery – because – it’s Naeglin’s (and if you’re ever in New Braunfels, it’s one of those things you simply must do!). I left her with this: I wanted to share more with her – I wanted to know more about her. What I meant was, I want to get to know her again and know all about what’s made Amy who she is today, and I want to reignite our friendship.
Her friend Caroline said she could see, just from a few hours, why we were friends all those years ago. We still have a lot in common, though in other ways, we’re very different.
It was during a recent chat that I asked Amy more about her mom, who passed just a couple of years ago (shortly after Amy found me on Facebook). She shared with me, a manuscript she’d written, an autobiographical piece which is not yet published. In 212 pages, she delves into a cherished friendship, her career, her ancestry, time spent caring for her parents, then grieving her mother’s and best friend’s passing, all woven together with her own poetry. This gives me an even bigger glimpse into a long-unanswered question: who is Amy and what is she doing now? If this is a teaching moment, then I am the student; and I’m learning about my friend.
My friend, the English and Literature professor, the author, has lit a passion in me for writing. One that I felt as we corresponded throughout the years and one that I pursued in the form of a Journalism degree. One that I never really had an opportunity to use in my social work career. But one I was inspired by whenever I read a John Grisham novel. "Just Write!" says Amy. And so I am. Together, she and John Grisham have inspired me to begin my blog.