I don’t know what to say, even though there is much to be said. So very much indeed. I guess the best place to start is at the beginning.
Although it was more years ago than I care to admit, I will never forget the moment I met Charlene. It was our freshmen year of college, and she and her best friend, Sue, lived down the hall from my best friend, Michelle, and me. Shortly after getting settled in, Michelle and I set out to meet the other girls on the floor of our dormitory, and among the first people we met were Sue and Charlene.
Sue and Charlene. Charlene and Sue. Their names were, and still are, mentioned in the same breath, as they were always together, from high school to college and beyond. The first time we met, it was like a clash of cultures. Michelle and I wore sensible polo shirts and Bermuda shorts, while Sue and Charlene wore spandex and brightly colored tops. We looked like we stepped out of “The Preppy Handbook”, and they looked like the coolest, baddest chicks who had rocked out at a heavy metal show. They were the fast talking, straight shooting Jersey girls, and we were the freshly scrubbed goofy Kentucky girls. At first glance, we looked like polar opposites, but after many glances over many years, we discovered we were kindred spirits in many ways.
We were in and out of each other’s lives during our four years together, before graduation took us down separate paths. Sue and Charlene returned to New Jersey, Michelle ended up in Ohio, and I returned to my old Kentucky home. Since this was before the advent of the internet, cell phones, and social media, if you can even recall or imagine such a time, I lost touch with the Jersey girls along the way, but I never forgot them. Every Bon Jovi or Bruce Springsteen song, college memory, or New Jersey reference would bring a smile to my face, as thoughts of the Jersey girls flooded my mind and heart. Sue and Charlene. Charlene and Sue.
Reconnecting with them a number of years ago on Facebook rekindled our friendship, and as adults, we connected on a whole new level, especially Charlene and me. We still were separated by hundreds of miles, but we bonded as divorced moms of two children, our immense love for music, the solace we found in writing, our spiritual journeys, our irreverent sense of humor, the trials and tribulations of relationships, and all that our respective big smiles hid. We battled different demons, but we shared the same fighting spirit and our quest to love and be loved unconditionally. We had plenty of laughs, shed lots of tears, talked about our hopes and dreams, admitted our flaws and fears, and had each other’s backs. I knew that I could confide in Charlene and that she would understand, and I also knew if I needed a laugh, she would deliver. Last weekend, though, everything changed. Forever.
Charlene died unexpectedly. There remain many questions surrounding her death, and those questions will go unanswered, for the only person who can answer them is gone. Regardless of the answers to those questions, they will not change the fact that Charlene is not here to answer them. I have no answers, only memories of her and a heart and mind that are trying to grasp the idea that my Jersey soul sister is not here with all of us.
When I heard the news of her death, I responded with temporary disbelief, as I was convinced that I had either been misinformed or that this was some horrible joke. My denial quickly and painfully gave way to a torrent of tears and guttural cries, and then, I went numb. My tears stopped, and my voice went silent. I have not cried since that day, which is nothing short of miraculous, as I wear my heart on my sleeve and shed happy and sad tears freely and often. There are so many emotions I am feeling, but for now, they remain protectively under cover.
That night, I found myself outside on a gorgeous evening, and I was preoccupied with thoughts of Charlene. I kept thinking back to our college days and the events of the past 7 years that we had shared, and eventually, I found myself silently talking to Charlene. I asked her what happened, where she was, and if she could see all of us who loved her, and I also asked her to send me a sign to let me know that she was safe and sound at last. True to form, Charlene did not let me down.
As I reached a remote corner of my backyard, one that is not visited by anyone other than myself and the small creatures that scamper about, I saw something white on the ground. I almost didn’t stop to investigate it, but since it had not been there a week earlier, my curiosity got the best of me. When I picked up the object that had been face down in the dirt, I gasped in shock when I turned it over and saw what it was:
This statue of Jesus does not belong to anyone in my family, and I have never seen it before. It had dried mud on it and was in plain sight, and I could not figure out whose it was or how it got there. As I held it in my hand, I suddenly heard myself say out loud, “Jesus, Char? Really?!” I had expected to find a feather, which was a symbol that had great meaning to her. Charlene and I are not necessarily religious, so, it seemed like a rather odd sign, but it also seemed strangely appropriate. As I stood there in silence, I could almost hear Charlene laughing and saying, “Well, KJ, you asked me for a sign, so, I sent one that even you couldn’t miss!”
I miss my friend, and I mourn for her, her family, her boys, and all of her friends. My heart holds a very special place for Sue, for I know that part of her is now missing, yet it will always be Sue and Charlene. Charlene and Sue. Always.
Reminders of Char are everywhere, and I find it no small coincidence that one of her favorite movies, “Jaws”, is on television this evening. Penny Lane and “Almost Famous”. The Grateful Dead. Her happy place, aka Plethora Boutique. The Jersey Shore. Brian and Jackie Blue. Sue. Her lucky lighter. Her sparkling blue eyes. Her big laugh. Dayton. Feathers. “Magic Power” by Triumph. Harley Davidson. Spirituality. Love. Family and friends. And my favorite reminder and memory of all, Sue and Charlene. Charlene and Sue.
There is so much to say, but I will end this by sharing her last words to me, two days prior to her death, “Keep looking for the light, Kristi Jo. I love you!” Char, I love you right back. Shine on, Tiny Dancer.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story