Our houses were just 3 blocks apart in West Akron. Almost daily I would walk to the bottom of Mentor Road and she to the bottom of Upper Merriman Drive to the railroad tracks that were a path to both our houses. We'd walk along the tracks, over tressels and back into the woods and streams of the surrounding undeveloped areas that seemed then like the wilderness, but is now an expensive housing development. We'd lay pennies on the tracks and watch them get smashed as we talked for hours and hours about life, boys, dreams, fears....just everything. I smoked pot for the first time with Anne. Drank my first drink; shitty Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill wine, with Anne.
I think about how formative her friendship was to my development as a person. I learned everything about being a friend from her. We loved each other, got annoyed with each other, and sure we got mad at each other as we went through our awkward stages of development....but like a sister, we may get mad at each other, but if anyone talked trash about the other we were the first to defend the other. It seemed I couldn't think a thought or form and opinion that I didn't discuss with her to see if she agreed. That sense of belonging and having someone's opinion matter so much that is the staple part of childhood that as adults we need to remember.
We went through musical formative years discovering some stuff on our own, like the west coast sounds of Jackson Browne, Dan Fogelberg, Poco, Pousette-Dart Band, Joni Mitchell, Sanford-Townsend to the Progressive rock sounds from Yes, ELP and Led Zeppelin. We were more mellow rockers than hard rockers but I remember buying the album "Physical Graffiti" and that plus Led Zeppelin 2 turned me into a fan. Her older sister Lisa schooled us in Beatles, Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones.
After graduation, I stayed in Ohio and she moved to Boulder to join her sister and attend the University of Colorado. Years later her other sister moved to Boulder from San Francisco, and finally her parents retired there. I thought it was so cool that their whole family moved to the same place to be together. Colorado had their hearts and souls and although she missed her friends in Ohio, and came back to visit here and there, she never looked back.
I missed her like hell. So much so that I spent the summer between my first and second year at Kent State in Boulder with Anne. She tried to talk me into moving out there, but I came home and finished school in Ohio. And I have stayed in Ohio and lived only here my whole life.
I spent some time on the phone with Anne recently after the death of her mom. We talked about our parents fondly, as now, both of us are orphans. I marveled at how, even when I don't talk to her for a year, we pick right up. And I get sad when I realize that although I will forever consider her one of my best friends, time, distance and just "life" have just kept us from staying as close as I would have wanted. Every day, when there is news of an illness, an accident, an untimely death of someone taken much too soon, and I stop and realize how precious life is, and I think I need to tell the people I care about how important they are to me.
So today, it's Anne.
She has always been an inspiration to me for so many reasons, and I don't know if I ever told her. As a toddler, she had a tumor behind her eye, and because if this, she had her eye surgically removed. Her whole life she lived with this disability but never, ever did she have any kind of chip on her shoulder. In fact, to even use the word "disability" when speaking of Anne doesn't feel appropriate. It was never anything I noticed about her. When I looked at her at 7, 12, 15 or 20, I only saw her beautiful personality, contagious smile, her lovely brown hair, and admired the cool, hip way she wore her clothes. She had and still has a down-to-earth, natural style that always made her just a touch more "cool" than everyone. Her laugh was infectious and I can hear it when I close my eyes, as I recall us hanging in her basement, bent over with laughter on the carpet as we shared stories of our day. Then we'd go home and call each other on the phone, yes the kind that had a long cord, for literally hours. What on earth did we have to talk about for so long? We'd always find something.
It wasn't until I was much older did I ever realize what going through childhood with that challenge must have been like for her, and how cruel kids can be. If she struggled with insecurity or confidence issues, you'd never know. She had courage I never did, to leave the security of Akron, Ohio and move to a place far away to go to school, and make her new life. Now, Anne is a successful teacher, author and most recently, finished another degree--this one in Bilingualism and Language Acquisition, and she has spent months at a time in Spain. She is smart, fun and funny, and I know my way of looking at life, friends, loyalty and relationships were formed because of her, and for that, I am forever grateful.
I've never been big on "what ifs"...because I know If I'd have done anything differently, I wouldn't have married the man I did, had the two daughters I did, or had the same career. But, now that I'm in my 50's reflecting on my life, my family, friends, and career, I can't help but look at the many possibilities that lie ahead of me. And as I do, I am inspired to approach this next phase of my life like Anne has always approached hers: with an attitude of acceptance, encouragement, an embracing of life, and never afraid to learn something new.
Thanks for the life lessons you are still teaching me, my friend.