The Ties That Bond

Sandy & Judy - 80s

Bad photo – good friends. circa 1986

I reunited with a very good friend last year. She is one of those friends that you wish was family, until you realize if she was family, you’d probably kill each other. I was seventeen when we met, she was 23 and newly married.

She likes to tell people she taught me everything I know about dating and men. I was young and didn’t want to be tied down in any serious relationships. She gave me tips on dating two guys at the same time. They key was, they had to be from different schools. We still laugh about this.

The first time we drifted apart, she was getting divorced. It was complicated. We’d met when my folks and I moved into the house next door to Sandy and her husband. My 24-year-old brother had just died from leukemia and Sandy’s husband helped ease our loneliness.

Neither my parents nor I took sides in their divorce, but Sandy was the one to leave the house next door, so we had more ear time with her husband. It turned out, he wasn’t always truthful. Eventually, the wolf came out from his sheep’s clothing and moved on to his next prey.

I married, and in a very odd turn of events, my husband and I purchased the home Sandy and her ex had lived in. I found some of Sandy’s personal things left in the house. In returning them to her, Sandy and I drifted back together and for the entire 23 years I lived in that house, despite extensive remodeling and doubling its size, she called it her house.

There were new bonds to deepen our friendship. Sandy had remarried and we were both at the point of starting families. I easily become pregnant, Sandy had difficulties. My second daughter was a year old before Sandy and her husband adopted what would be their only child. It had been a long and frustrating journey for them, and I still remember the early morning call announcing, finally, their success.

Miffed at being waken before dawn, I grumbled at her that whatever she was calling for had better be good. It’s another of the things we still laugh about.

Through raising our kids, working, and stumbling through the ups and downs of marriage, Sandy and I were inseperable. Not a week went by that we didn’t get together, and most of those times we were cooking up some fun.

There was the Halloween she showed up on my doorstep, after kids and trick or treating were well over. “Can Judi come out to play?” she asked my husband. There was a band and costume contest at a nearby pub. Neither of our husbands were socialites, making Sandy and I each other’s best dates.

“I don’t have a costume,” I said. She was wearing her husband’s letter jacket, had her hair  pulled back in a high ponytail, jeans rolled at the cuff, and white tennies on her feet.

“You have your husband’s letter jacket, don’t you?” Our husband’s graduated from the same, rural high school. She knew there was a jacket matching hers, hanging in our closet. In five minutes, we were out the door—rock and roll Bobbsey Twins.

More precisely, thanks to the mock 45-records Sandy had pre-made out of cardboard and that we pinned to the backs of our letter jackets, we were the Sue sisters—Peggy and Run Around. We didn’t win the costume contest, but we got a fair share of attention.

Ours was that friendship, there for the good and the bad alike. The bad included two more divorces, one for each of us. I took to saying we’d been to hell and back together.

We both remarried, and for Sandy the third time was the charm. She finally found her soul mate. Three years later, he died of brain cancer.

His funeral was 65 miles from my home, and smack in the middle of a week that brought a hundred year flood to our area. Major highways washed out, bridges collapsed. Everybody cautioned me not to take the chance of traveling. Everybody except my husband, who hugged me and said he’d get me there.

After that, we started saying we’ve been through hell and high water together, nothing could separate us. We were wrong. Grief separated us.

Approximately a year after the death of Sandy’s husband, I suffered a huge falling out with my youngest daughter. I pressed too hard. She ignored calls, blocked me on her social media accounts and finally threatened to exile me permanently if I continued my relentless pursuit to “work this out”—it felt like her death. I’m happy to say it was resolved after a period of estrangement.

Grief is complicated, and there’s no rhyme or reason to how any given person navigates their journey of loss. Sandy and I drifted apart. Perhaps it was because where one of us had always been the shoulder the other needed, now we both had need and no capacity to give.

There were a few attempts to pick up the pieces, but one or the other of us was always too busy, not motivated, weary of trying . . . That went on for almost four years.

Last summer, my hubs and I were hosting a yard party to thank a group of his friends who’d helped us replace our roof when winter damage and then heavy rains caused major leaking. I texted my old friend: Having a Raised the Roof party. Would love to see you here, plus one if it applies.

To my great surprise, she responded almost immediately, I’ll be there.

I wondered, and worried a bit, over our meeting again after such a long separation. Would it be awkward, cool and cautious? When it happened, the heart took over where the brain hesitated. The minute I saw her approaching, without a second thought I jumped up and ran to her. We came together, melding in a tight hug.

Sandy and I picked up where we left off, never missing a beat. We have not spoken of the separation. There is no need. Just as we still finish each other’s sentences and laugh at all our private jokes, we both know the path of grief and pain the other had to walk alone.

Our friendship has new parameters. She travels, a lot. At any given time I have no idea where she might be. I send texts, Where in the world is Sandy Carmeneigo?”and receive answers, Skiing in Wyoming, Hiking in the Boundary Waters, or Visiting the grandkids!  

It doesn’t matter that we aren’t joined at the hip, as we once were, we know this is for the long haul. We used to laugh about spending our final days on this earth together, terrorizing the staff at some nursing home. I hope that’s at least another twenty years off, but, more and more, I’m beginning to think that’s exactly how this story will end.



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