January 15, 2014

when the idea of the grey t-shirt project became something more than a middle-of-the-night spark of an idea, there were some specific friends that I immediately had in mind. without a doubt, heidi was at the top of that list. as I always seem to do, I have gone over and over in my head as to what I wanted to write.. what I wanted to really say. how do you adequately tell the story about someone who basically saved your life, at least my life as I knew it then? how do you translate all of the victories, defeats, heartbreaks, new loves, thrilling successes, devastating failures, mourning and utter joy that you have experienced for the last 35 years.. firmly shoulder to shoulder next to one person, in a paragraph?  I have been so fortunate and ridiculously lucky to have so many friends that have been in my life for multiple decades – they are the closest thing that this only child knows about having siblings and heidi is the one of best examples of this – there is little in my life, at least the parts that matter, that don’t include her. when my parents split, my mom and I moved across town to a condo complex and this 1.5 mile move put me over some mysterious line that required me to change schools. not only was life at home turned upside down, I now had to go to a different school as the “new kid” where I knew no one – I was 8 years old, debilitatingly shy and I was terrified. as soon as I found my homeroom, my new teacher said that she had a student who was going to show me around and gently guided me by the arm across the room. now not only am I an only child, but I’m also an only grandchild and it was my grandmother’s mission in life to dress me as preciously as possible when I was little – so if you know me now, you’ll understand how funny this is.. and kind of ironic. I was wearing a pleated plaid skirt, a crisp white shirt with a peter pan collar, a candy apple red purse, white knee socks and patent leather mary janes – and if that weren’t bad enough, my hair was cut in a then very fashionable dorothy hamill bob. as we made our way to the other side of the room, the teacher tapped heidi on the back and she quickly spun around with a huge smile on her face “hi! I’m heidi!!” she yelled (okay, she didn’t yell it.. but that’s how it felt and sounded at the time) and stuck out her hand to enthusiastically shake mine. I couldn’t move. the only thing the two of us had in common was our height – we were easily the two tallest students in the room. heidi had long, marsha brady hair, wore funky and colorful bell bottom pants with a lime green turtleneck and radiated confidence. when I finally got my wits about me and meekly introduced myself, she threw her arm around my shoulders and helped me find my desk. from that day on we were inseparable and whatever panic, sadness or uncertainty I felt when it came to the divorce of my parents seemed to disappear when I was with her. a year and half later her father got a new job and they moved 2 hours away – a million miles to us then. at first we were both distraught and with all of the drama that two 10 year old girls could muster, we separated.. kicking, screaming and laying massive amounts of guilt on our parents for letting this happen. despite the distance, or perhaps because of it, our friendship never faded – in fact I think it made it even better. when we would visit each other we made every moment count and never took anything for granted. as years passed, we built the kind of relationship where we were so tuned in to each other that for no reason, we would randomly call the other or show up on the other’s doorstep only to find out that one of us had either had the best day ever or that something tragic had occurred. to this day we still do.. it happens with almost creepy precision. together we’ve lived through silly childhood spats, high school, boyfriends, college, being roommates, boyfriends, first jobs, careers, illness, more boyfriends, marriages, breakups, the deaths of family members and close friends and the birth of her children - always together. since moving back east over a decade ago, I have been able to spend more time with heidi, her daughter sky and son avery and I love them all more than I could ever say – when sky talks to me like a confidante and not as her mom’s best friend, my heart smiles. whenever I feel the need to decompress, heal or make sense of things, I head to their yellow house in the mountains. heidi lets me vent without judgement, cry when I need to and can make me breathless with laughter even in the darkest times. last summer they all came to stay with me and naturally, heading to the beach was on the itinerary. one afternoon we all went to chincoteague where heidi, sky and I swam in the ocean, getting pummeled by a very rough surf as heidi and I giggled like the teenagers we once were. as avery stood on the beach, hands on his 15 year old hips as if to say “stupid girls”, sky looked at me and asked if I could touch the bottom – I couldn’t. I joked that we had failed by not implementing a proper buddy system. then, as a giant wave approached, heidi and I looked at each other and in unison yelled “buddy” as we swam toward each other, trying not to swallow too much water as we laughed. the wave crashed over us before we reached each other but I knew, as I’ve known practically my whole life, that she was there.. spinning through the ocean and whatever was to come next, by my side.