My Friend is Gone

My friend is gone. I know she is. And while I know it, I feel like she’s going to Facebook message me any minute, and be like, “Can you believe this? You all thought something happened to me? Totally crazy. How are you, when can we get together while you’re in town?”

I physically and emotionally can’t wrap my head around, the fact that she’s gone from this life, forever.

In between my constant bouts of disbelief, I’m sad. Shaken to the core, sad. I’m sad that she and all of her friends and family won’t get to see her future self. Especially because her past self that I got to experience was really beautiful.

Not beautiful in a showy way. Her past self was beautiful in a subtle and sweet way. Constant and gentle, like waves of the ocean on a partly sunny day. Real and genuine. Not frilly, fake beauty. Just simple and natural splendor.

Brittany and I met in 9th grade through our mutual friend, Jessica. Jessica and Brittany were on cheerleading teams together throughout middle school. Together, we shared the most impressionable and angst-filled time in our lives. We were teenage girls in high school, trying to navigate our education, our very busy social schedules and marathon phone conversations. Seriously we hogged those cordless phones. There was always a busy tone. Unless you were fortunate to have call-waiting. We solved the problems of the world on those long phone conversations. Like what face wash we were going to start using to stop getting pimples. Like, how we were going to get our parents off our backs. And what we were going to wear to the school dance coming up.

We were always planning our next epic girl’s sleepover. And planning our next trip to the mall. Who was gonna drive us? Your mom, or my mom? We juggled our school obligations and our ever-changing cast of boyfriends. Most importantly we juggled our smoke breaks. These smoke breaks were SACRED. Very communal. All of us girls would meet up at the planned time, and puff Newport Menthol 100’s like they were the most delicious things on the planet. We would stand in a circle, bum cigarettes and share all of the updates from the school day.

Who was dating who? Who back-stabbed so-and-so? Who was asking who to the semi-formal? Bla bla bla. Normal high school gossip and banter.

Cigarettes were also sacred at our almighty sleepovers. We used to paint our faces with gobs of makeup and curl our hair – even if we weren’t going anywhere. We’d put on 90’s rap music like DMX, Eminem or Big Pun and either sing the choruses or rap the lyrics – all while looking at ourselves in the mirror. Then, we’d get ballsy, and gently open the window. It was time for that good ‘ol sacred smoke break.

Our bodies would be hanging halfway outside the window – our arms stretched out as far as they could reach – and our long cigarettes wedged tightly in between our pointer and middle fingers.

Even with all of that effort to conceal our smoking – our bedroom always filled up with smoke. I don’t know how we didn’t get caught at school or at our homes. Or how we didn’t puke. Or how we didn’t look 90-years old by the end of the sleepover.
Well, maybe I looked 90-years old after those sleepovers. Especially after like 4 hours of sleep. But, Brittany certainly didn’t. She’d wake up, fresh as a daisy.
I remember one morning we woke up, and meandered into the living room of Brittany’s house. Her mom, Carrie was already awake.

We formed a circle around the table upstairs and Carrie looked at Brittany. She told Brittany that she was beautiful. Brittany looked at her mother disbelievingly and a little bit shy – just like any teenage girl would look when receiving a compliment. Her mom went on to tell Brittany that she was the most beautiful in the morning, right when she woke up. And it was true.

Brittany’s skin glowed naturally. So did her blue eyes. I was insanely jealous of her natural beauty growing up. And more recently jealous, of her ongoing youthful looks. What I loved most about her look was her signature half-smile. She reserved her biggest, fullest smiles for only the very best moments. The moments deserving of it. In between those swelling moments of happiness, she’d give ya the half-smile. I like the idea of a half smile to this day. Mildly satisfied, and content.

I imagine she gave out a lot of those half-smiles when we worked together at a pizzeria as teenagers. After all, we were getting paid to smile, among other things.

We worked at Avicolli’s Pizzeria. Before Avicolli’s was a fancy, stand-alone restaurant – it was an old-school, Italian pizza shop in Seneca mall on Route 57 in Liverpool, New York. And we, at the right bold age of 14, were allowed to work there.

Although, I have to admit, the legality of our employment status was probably very questionable. Let’s just say we were given a job. And our parents let us work there. Whether or not it was actually legal – is a whole other issue.

Brittany got the job before me. She interviewed, and was hired on the spot. And like the supportive friend she was – she passed my name onto the big boss. I put in my application stat. As a teenager, with a shopping obsession, I was elated when I got the job. I was going to receive Money AND I got to work with one of my best friends. It felt like hitting the jackpot.

That job, that low-down- horrible paying job (ahem, we started at $4.25 an hour) was more than a job to us. We learned a lot about adult life. Or “adulting” as it’s called now. We learned how to be responsible workers. We learned how to mop floors. We learned about customer service.  We learned how to work on a team. We learned about sweating for peanuts. And about how to flick off your boss behind their back when they were being as ass.

That job, as hideous as it was in so many ways, was more than a job. At Avicolli’s we foraged a life-long friendship with Megan. The “pizza girl” who was there before us, to show us the ropes. Megan taught us how to answer phones, take orders, count money, mop – and re-mop (and re-mop again) the black and white floors. We learned how to count money, correct orders, and how to make a tip at the pizza counter. We learned how to take 7 minute smoke breaks.  And how to work until 2AM at 14 years old – Extremely illegal. We learned about the intricate, intimate and delicate bonds of friendship.

Acts of friendship are the most real and noble aspects of the universe. The friendship among young women, is especially special.

When we weren’t goofing around, I mean working, we were tanning. During the summer we were sizzling like lobsters in the sun. Cooking like hot dogs. We slathered baby oil on our very white skin, and watched it burn. What is this thing called sunscreen? We knew no such thing. When we reached a good level of redness on one side, we’d flip. And keep flipping for hours while the 90’s tunes blared from a boombox.

Our favorite things to do included going to the New York State Fair and to the mall. We had a great trip to the Turning Stone casino camp grounds and the casino itself- where we used all of the adult amenities possible in the women’s locker room. We dressed up for Halloween and went to lots of high school parties.

And while all of these memories I have with Brittany are undeniably beautiful, I can’t deny that we went through a period of being basically estranged. After high school we went our separate ways. I moved out of state. We went to school and built our lives. Neither of us made efforts to reunite.  There was no negativity there – we were simply apart. Distance. I never stopped thinking of her – wondering what she was doing. Wondering who she was dating. Wondering what she looked like. During the time that Facebook boomed – I wasn’t on it. I wasn’t connected to social media at all.
So I thought Brittany and I were not connected.

But we were.

I didn’t realize how connected under the surface we really were. How bound we were to those pivotal moments of our youth. How inextricably tied we were to each other – having experienced and gone through adolescence together. We went through so many moments together – sharing in the same exact, parallel existence for a very crucial moment in time. I didn’t realize all of those shared moments – meant we’d be connected for the rest of our lives.

Until recently.

A year ago – when I set up my Facebook account – she was one of the first people I requested as a “friend.” She accepted immediately, and wrote me a Facebook message. We were right back where we started. Right as rain. As if time had stood still. Sure, a lot had changed. And we had a lot of catching up to do. But, us, who we fundamentally were, and our feelings towards each other had not changed. She was still the kind, compassionate person I remembered her to be. She was still more of the listener – than the talker. Who she was, who we were - was forever frozen in time.

None of us can truly know what we mean to other people. Brittany’s contribution to my life was great. And wonderful. And I wish I told her how much I missed not seeing her after high school. I wish I told her how much I thought about her throughout those years. I wish I told her, I mean really conveyed, how badly I wanted to see her over this Christmas holiday. How much we needed cocktails to catch up.

All of us, here on earth, are indebted to each other. This debt to each other is a kind of faith. A really, beautiful and strange faith. A faith in each other. 

I will forever be indebted to Brittany – and I will always have faith in her. I will always believe her into my life. I will believe and have faith that she’s here to stay with me in my soul. The place she’s always been, and will continue to live. Uninhibited. And always loved.

I love you Brittany.

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