Happy Birthday to my Best Friend

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It’s my Best Friend’s birthday today. She’ll always be capital B, capital F, because she’s the original.

We grew up across the street from each other. When we weren’t building forts in the woods or playing cards around her kitchen table, our favorite thing to do was to walk down to the mini mart, load up on candy and junk food, take it back to our bedrooms and read books together all afternoon.

It only takes a phrase to bring it all back. Just say “the butter churn” or “the time we killed that old lady” or “the BAKC” and we dissolve into giggles.

When we were in elementary school, we used to walk to Grant’s, a variety store like Woolworth’s. We collected coins by foraging for them beneath sofa cushions and stealing them from the top of my dad’s dresser. Somewhere in Kim’s house was a giant wine bottle – the thick green glass, screw-top kind – that was filled with change, and we may have grabbed from that too.

Our destination was the restaurant inside Grant’s. We ordered big plates of french fries to share because that’s all we could afford. One time, our waitress was an older lady with white hair and white socks and orthopedic shoes. There was something about those white socks that broke my heart and we felt so sorry for her having to wait tables at her age that we decided to leave her a really big tip. We left a huge shifting mountain of sliver on the table.

To get to the store, we would cut through back yards and down the hill past the old bus depot to the parking lot. Once there was an elderly woman and her husband in the backyard with their little dog. When the dog saw us, he raced towards us, his chain caught on the woman’s foot and she fell. I think the man shouted at us. We got scared and ran down the hill to the store. What if she had died when she fell? What if we were charged with murder? What should we do? We needed to strategize.

We decided to take an alternate route home, being careful to watch for police cars. Once home, we changed our clothes to escape detection and stayed inside reading books. I can remember lying on her bed, reading paperbacks – I think I read The Call of the Wild – with a sick feeling in my stomach. It wasn’t until much later that we felt safe going outside. I’m not sure we ever cut through their yard again.

One night when my parents were out of the country – I was in middle school and Kim was in elementary school – Kim and I were alone hanging out at my house and one of my older brother’s friends called and said, “Who just picked up the phone? I called and someone answered and just breathed into it.” I mean, he really should have known better.

It doesn’t matter that we had not heard the phone ring, that he could have misdialed, that this made absolutely no sense, we were convinced that this meant someone was in my basement and had answered the downstairs phone. To defend ourselves, we grabbed a butcher’s knife and the butter churn, a heavy wooden churn about 4′ tall that we kept in the kitchen, and rushed out of the house. We sat in the front yard in the dark staring at the house for signs of movement while we strategized about what to do. (You can see we do a lot of strategizing.)

It never occurred to us to call the police or tell a neighbor. I read a story once where a young girl swallowed a pill that someone offered her. She didn’t know what it was and spent hours wondering if she would die. She never thought to ask anyone about it – she just waited it out.

We thought the best thing to do would be to search the house for the killer (I KNOW!). But not alone – we needed backup. We walked to my next door neighbor’s house and got their dog. Clancy was an Irish Setter and my first job was to walk him before school. I would let myself in through their unlocked back door around 6am and take him outside. So it was nothing for me to show up at night and open the door and put his leash on and walk him back to my house.

Armed with the butter churn, the butcher’s knife and Clancy, we entered the house and unlocked the basement door. Our hearts were pounding. We pushed Clancy to go first. He was so freaked out by our behavior that he was trying to hide behind us. We searched every room of the basement and didn’t find anything.

I really wish my parents had surveillance cameras; I would pay good money to watch that tape.

There have been stretches of years when Kim and I didn’t see each other. We rarely talk on the phone. But every summer when I go back, it’s like we’ve spent no time apart at all.

Happy birthday, Kim!


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