When I was a little girl, as soon as the school year ended, summer was there to greet me with its seasonal offerings. Lightning bugs. Softball games. Sleepovers with my best friends. Staying up late. Sleeping in even later. Our family trip to Minnesota. Swimming. Roasting marshmallows. Spontaneous fun. It was magical. Purely magical. I used to wish that it would never end, but it did. It always did. Then, summer as I knew it ended for good.
After I left the academic world and entered the working world, summer lost some of its shine that set it apart from the other seasons. It no longer marked a reprieve from the daily routine of life, as much as it was consumed by it. Some of its magic returned when I began to experience the wonders of summer vicariously through my two daughters and recreated some of the moments and memories of summers gone by with them. As an adult and a mother, I got into a new summer groove and learned to enjoy it in different ways. A few years ago, the significance of summer changed yet again.
2015 and 2016 were two of the absolute worst years of my life, due to a number of events, two of which took place during those respective summers. I jokingly, and somewhat not jokingly, have referred to the first day of August as the kickoff to my birthday month, but in 2015, that first day marked the last day of my friend’s life. The following year, June 26 went from being just another summer day to the day that my sweet friend took her last breath. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of them for some reason or another, but with the arrival of summer, I find my mind drifting back to those two summer days in particular.
The summer before we started our first year of high school, I was introduced to Michelle by a mutual friend. We attended the same all girls’ Catholic high school and shared the typical rites of passage for teenagers. First dates. Learning to drive. Graduation. Fortunately, we did not part ways after high school, as we headed off to college as friends and roommates. Our first day in our college dorm was also the day that we met Charlene. Looking back, it is hard to wrap my head around everything that has transpired since that moment all of those years ago, because no matter how much time has passed, it still feels surreal.
We each shared similarities and differences, and we each took different paths after college. Charlene and I drifted apart in the pre-internet and pre-cell phone era, but we reconnected over a decade ago and became even better friends than we were in college. We both were divorced moms of two young children, and we were struggling with dating and relationships. We also discovered that behind our big smiles and witty banter that we both battled depression and anxiety with varying degrees of success. We shared laughter, tears, and our darkest secrets during communication that is best conducted in the wee hours of the morning, when our minds could not be silenced.
When my world imploded eight years ago, she was one of the first people to rush in and never left. If there is one person you want in your corner when the chips are down, it is a Jersey girl, or more specifically, one of my Jersey girls, and Charlene was, and still is, just that. My Jersey girl. Her no nonsense advice and empathy, not to mention our shared love of music and writing, helped to save me. She could not save herself, though, and made the rash decision to find peace in death instead of life. Years earlier, I had been faced with the same decision that she had to make that night, and I wished that she would have chosen differently. I feel as if I failed her, but I couldn’t save her. Michelle grieved with me, and less than a year later, I would be grieving Michelle.
Michelle and I drifted in and out of each other’s lives following college, never venturing too far, though. Through our respective joys and heartaches, Michelle was there with her big laugh, not taking herself or life too seriously, and offering me a caring ear and kind words. When I was drowning in the depths of depression and anxiety, she was one of my biggest cheerleaders. I can still hear her saying, Oh, sweet girl, with such genuine love and concern, as I poured my heart out to her, and she was a touchstone of love and light in the cold and darkness that enveloped my mind and heart.
As I began my breast cancer journey, she was in the final stages of hers. I was so scared for her and for myself, but as I watched her fight with everything she had, I found courage, strength, humor, and humility to face my own journey. Her love and grace comforted me then, as they do now. My sweet friend is my hero, which would elicit an embarrassed laugh from her, but it is true.
As I head into another summer, my thoughts turn toward Michelle and Charlene more and more, and I miss both of them so very much. I still have lingering survivor’s guilt, but more than that, I have such an immense love and appreciation for their presence in my life. I still talk to them, and I know that they hear me and are watching over me. When Michelle died, I silently asked Charlene to go greet our girl, and I know that she did.
That’s another story. . . .
Categories: That's Another Story