The Oldest of Friends
Friendship was a hard learned lesson. Standing in a huge oak floored room with a wall of mirrors I glanced across the room to settle my eyes on a girl my own age, resplendent in a pink leotard, black leg warmers, white tights and pink coke-bottle glasses. We were attending our first day of beginner ballet.
Of course, at the ripe old age of two (and a half!) I was unconcerned with self-esteem, acceptance and life-long friends. I just knew that the girl wearing glasses that could see to the moon was going to be my friend. At least until class ended.
Koo-Koo (Kook) lived 2 blocks from my grandparents house where The Brother and I spent our summers and afternoons after school. We attended the same elementary school, dance classes and shared most of the same friends.
She was shy and sweet, wearing plaid and lace with a big floppy bow in her hair most days. Our friendship started out with the innocence of childhood. I remember running around my grandparents backyard chasing baseballs and racing through sprinklers trying to steal cool water during the hot, humid summers. Winter would displace us to the basement of my grandparent’s house playing endless hours of “School”. We were inseparable, where one went… the other was soon to follow.
Life handed me a partner in crime. One that could finish my sentence, or even creepier… read my mind. We suffered through elementary school. She was at my side as I went through months of frightening tests, only to discover that I had ADD. I was there for support as her parent’s marriage dissolved and left a trembling Kook with nothing but confusion.
Middle school brought hard times. We were on separate “teams” at our new school and I had taken up yearbook. After school we could be found at the dance studio. Our evenings started with an hour of tap, then an hour break when we would walk to McDonalds to discuss our days over a box of fries, back to the studio for another 2 hours of jazz or ballet. At 15, I stopped dancing and never went back. That was strange. We didn’t have anything in common anymore. What was the point of our friendship?
High School brought collision of our lives once more. Our every waking moment was spent with each other. Movies, football games, parties… Graduation was a bittersweet time for us. Kook and I were “old souls” and were ready to move on with this thing called life. We were accepted into the same college, shared most of the same classes and commuted together every day.
Then, she met a boy. In fact, she saw a picture of my brother’s college roommate (also a Marine) and became instantly smitten. Love at first sight. We drove to New Orleans for Mardi-Gras in 2000, where Kook firmly decided that this boy would be hers. We were just a couple innocent girls stuck in the middle of Mardi-Gras with my brother!
Kook and my brother’s roommate began dating and pretty soon they were madly in love. ‘What?‘ I thought? ‘That’s my Kook! You can’t have her!’ Never had we let a boy come before our friendship… this must be serious. It was my first experience with jealousy. What an ugly feeling. What an ugly thing that can destroy a lifetime of friendship.
I met The Husband soon after and sought her approval… knowing that if anyone would be on my side, she would. “It’s too fast, Cat.” she said. And then began a very slow year in which Kook’s wedding was planned and my brief courtship flourished. Our friendship grew apart. Neither one of us knowing what the other was wanting… acceptance… approval… happiness.
We stood by each other’s sides at our respective weddings. Happy faces smiled at the cameras. It was a dance, like one of our childhood. Smiling and performing for the audience. Neither one of us knowing that we each felt lost and alone without the other.
Life took interesting turns for each of us after our weddings held just six months apart. These stories I’m not yet willing to share because they’re filled with pain and sorrow but also, unbelievable happiness.
It wasn’t until four years later that we reached out to each other. She was moving from Hawaii to Africa with her husband. We talked about the past, what we felt and our sorrow at letting it all fade away. Finally, I felt as if that little piece of me was filled, that void that our failed friendship had left in my heart…
I’ve been there through life’s journey with Kook. From childhood innocence, getting rid of the coke-bottle glasses, divorce, ADD, puberty, dating and love, we’ve seen it all. Somewhere along the line there is an hazy portion of life. The struggles and triumphs of marriage. First deployments. Moving across country. The birth of her first child.
She’ll be home for Christmas this year and I intend on taking a bottle of wine (and sparkling cider for her uh… pregnant self) and catching up on our mysteries. For now, I’m content in knowing that I learned what real friendship was. I learned to dance.