A childhood friend is getting married. That’s nothing new or different. Pretty much all of my friends are married with children.
Why now? Why, after eight years of friends walking down the aisle, am I writing a letter to a soon-to-be-newlywed?
Two words: Cancer. Chemo.
Something I have come to understand in a very real world sort of way.
So, here is my attempt at sharing with my friend the emotions and thoughts that are running through my mind as she prepares for her big day.
How did we get here?! I’m pretty sure you were just at my house watching TV. Most likely something on the Disney Channel – “In a Heartbeat,” or “Lizzie McGuire,” or possibly a “TGIF” favorite like “Step By Step” or “Sister, Sister.” And the day before that, we were at camp, scoping out the boys and way-too-old-for-us-college-age counselors, making friends with girls from other towns, and fighting with the friends we actually went to camp with (oh, the cat fights!).
Then there were all those sleepovers with movies (remember when you had a crush on Jesse from “Free Willy 3”??) and popcorn, late-night discussions on every topic imaginable. There was that one time we played “LIFE” and got into the biggest fight of our life! And how can I forget all those underwear pranks? Weekend retreats and week-long trips to exciting places like Indiana and Rochester (remember the one pull-out couch we slept on in Rochester? The mattress caved in in the center and we were quite literally stuck together the whole night!). We never seemed to listen on those trips. Always laughing and giggling, whispering, and talking out of turn. Singing songs at the top of our lungs. Laughing past lights-out. Pointing at cute boys and yelling out childish things like, “MY FRIEND THINKS YOU’RE CUTE!” only to be hit and whacked in the arm until we begged for mercy. The people we met on those trips – the boys with the Light Sabres (from Pennsylvania) and the weird or annoying girls from “that one town,” will forever provide entertainment.
The times right after receiving our driver’s licenses – I’m surprised either of survived those car rides – going to and from the mall or movies. Eating out at Applebee’s with our gang of friends. Spending money to see chick flicks in the theater (why did we go to “Tuck Everlasting”? We didn’t actually like the movie, did we?!).
And, seriously, how did either one of us manage to escape our youth without an ambulance ride? The clumsiness and klutziness found us tripping up and down stairs, falling off of chairs, slipping on perfectly dry floors, and grabbing at whatever objects looked stabilizing (including garbage cans). Remember that one bike trip? You hit a tree or rock or something, and your bike veered violently off the dirt bike path. We watched as you avoided catastrophe and landed at the bottom of a tree-lined hill. The laughs (from me) and the cries of, “ARE YOU OK!?!” from our friend were met with your no-longer-breathing-laughter as you walked your bike up the hill and had all your limbs examined.
The incredibly brainless statements and questions we made to each other and in front of each other could fill an entire book. You were there when I made a fool of myself at Blockbuster. I was there for your, “That sounded better in my head,” moments. And together, we caused quite a scene.
And those times – at camp, sleepovers, road trips, and Friday night hang-outs were just the tip of the iceberg.
Because all those years are full of family memories, too.
How many Monday nights did we spend at playgrounds and ball fields watching our moms and dads slug it out on the softball field? The Friday nights spent at someone’s house, yelling at our annoying siblings, playing ping pong and watching “TGIF” while our parents sweat it out on the volleyball court are endless. Then there were the Sunday afternoons spent at fine-dining establishments like Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and Arby’s, our families laughing so loud the whole restaurant could hear.
Trips to Florida – riding in the backseat of mini-vans listening to BBMak and A*Teens, our heads buried in books, our fingers braiding bracelets. Splashing in swimming pools, swimming in the ocean, “looking for shells,” and shopping for swimsuits (glad you were there to see the little old store owner lady walk in on me in the dressing room!). Mini-golf and amusement parks, shuffle board, and Amish pie. The horror of hotels – the memory of your mom singing and knocking on the adjacent door in the Georgia motel – only to find out the room my family was to stay in was already occupied by a little old lady, will forever be a highlight of that Florida road trip. And the tornado that caused a stand-still in Atlanta traffic while we three (our other good friend was with us) had to pee! Almost missing our flight from Atlanta to Florida was quite the adrenaline rush!
Then there were those shorter road trips to camp grounds, tenting out with all of our friends’ families, running around with all the kids, biking on BMX bikes (trying to be cool), freaking out when someone called the police – all of us kids pointing fingers at someone else, sitting up at bonfires listening to the hilarious stories our parents shared, and reading whatever “it” series we were into at the time.
And if that isn’t enough, there are millions of memories with our dads. Father-daughter retreats. Father-daughter camp-outs (oh, the pranks and games!). Father-daughter days (the day we played “hair salon”!). Father-daughter teasing. Father-daughter eye-rolling.
Whether it was your dad or mine, we knew that hanging out at either of our houses involved teasing and sarcastic remarks from our dads. I’d try not to laugh at your dad’s jokes. You’d do the same for me. Never wanting to encourage the corniness.
And now, you’re a day away from your wedding. I won’t be able to make it to your big day to celebrate. Your dad will walk you down the aisle. And I won’t be there to see it.
But I can imagine every step, tear, and smile. Not like the imagining of a young girl dreaming with her friend about “when you get married.” This image I’m viewing is much more special. Much more sentimental. Because I know that it will be a good day. And a hard day.
You’ve always been the funny-girl with humor and ha’s to make anyone laugh. But I know that you are fighting a big fight with your dad right now. A fight I have recently fought with my mom. A fight with Cancer and Chemo. One you’ve fought with bravery and guts since our senior year of high school. And back then, I was clueless. I didn’t know how to be there for you – except to keep laughing with you and listening whenever I could. And back in October, you texted me at the number I’ve had since high school, and told me that you were sorry. You understood the monster of cancer. And you were there for me if I needed anything – thinking of me and praying for me and my mom.
And I guess all these memories and moments are my attempt to tell you that I’m here for you. As you prepare for a day of celebrating your new life with a new last name, one that I will never be able to remember or call you. As you ride the roller coaster of emotions, joy and happiness and tears and bittersweet sorrow as your dad gives you away to the man you’re going to marry. Your dad will hug you. Tell you he loves you. And it is in that moment that I would be watching from my seat, crying and wiping tears from my eyes. The sight of you in your gown, hugging your dad, frail with the Cancer and Chemo would remind me of all of our memories with and without our dads and families.
It’s a childhood we cannot revisit. Not completely or physically, at least. But a childhood that was filled with good. Good friends. Good families. Good memories. Good laughs. Good times.
And I wish that for you. A day of Good. A wedding day filled with the love of your family and friends. A wedding day filled with special, special moments with your dad. A great man. A man who passed on his humor and wit to you, the friend who made me laugh all those years.
So, on your wedding day, know that I’m thinking of you. Remembering all those memories. Remembering you, my dear friend.