This woman knows me better than just about anyone except Myron.
She lives too far away from me, in the house where her grandparents lived when we were kids. I do not see her nearly enough, but the minute we are in touch with each other, miles and time melt away. She knows what I am made of, and when you are with someone who knows your building blocks, you breathe in a deep, effortless way that you cannot at any other time. I have never had to say to her Please be happy for me. It’s her default. Even when I dated someone she still calls Sonic the Hedgehog, she was happy for me.
She has often apologized to others for what I’m made of; she knows it isn’t actually as nice as it should be. “You don’t have to apologize for me,” I would say. She did it just the same. It’s because of the way she loves, which is one of those all-or-nothing loves. I never seem to issue those of my own volition; people have to drag them out of me with heavy machinery. Michelle did it with the phone.
In my childhood bedroom (another Scintilla post I have not written; blame a migraine and everyone else’s great posts which I can’t stop reading), my mother installed a powder-blue slimline phone. She mounted it on the wall and it had a shortish cord, so I had to stand up near my bedroom door to talk. This is not an ideal situation for a thirteen-year-old girl. But my mother did not think like a thirteen-year-old girl, and I was expected to be grateful for any bit of telephone I had.
Michelle called. Did I have the homework? Did I see what X was wearing? Did I have a crush on anyone? What was I going to wear tomorrow? Did I like Bon Jovi?
Girl loved her Bon Jovi.
I answered her questions, said Igottagobyeseeyoutomorrow, and hung up.
Years later, she laughed. “I tried! I couldn’t keep you on the phone!” I didn’t know how to have a conversation. But I put in the time in person. We did things with Girl Scouts, with choir, on our own. We laughed once for two class periods straight, uncontrollably, in tears and gasping for breath. Somehow none of our teachers sent us out of their classrooms. We double-dated; I’m still not sure which one of us was actually stuck with the guy who looked like Cousin Itt. We grieved and got drunk and stayed up too late bothering her Nana until three in the morning, sometimes all at the same time. We watched Dirty Dancing (a hundred times) and The First Nudie Musical (once was enough). We made peanut-butter rice krispie treats and pastitsio and we wore matching French maid costumes, and fought with each other while wearing them. We used our criminal minds to get away with murder all through school. We walked around the high-school track late at night singing The Mamas and the Papas and watched meteor showers from her front yard. We edited a yearbook that brought tears of pride to our adviser’s eyes.
She shared her family with utter selflessness. During the summers I spent weeks at a time at her house, coming home for clean clothes and to prove to my mother that I was still alive. I did chores and ate meals at her table and babysat with her. We played B94 and sprayed Sun-In in our hair and sprawled on beach blankets in the sun. I basked in the love of her parents and the energy of her siblings. But it was always Michelle who gave the most, who loved hardest, who side-eyed me when I handed out bullshit, who made me feel like I was just fine as myself (even if she had to apologize to others in the process). When my brother died, it was Michelle who picked me up at the airport when I flew home, who held me and demanded nothing. When my mother was dying, she did the same. And when I got married, she drove all day to come here and stand at my side, bearing my mom’s charm bracelet. She’s family, in a way that no one else I’m actually related to can be.
At the end of Stand by Me, the adult Gordie writes: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” And no, I never did. I have had fun with other people, and shared secrets, and loved with what my heart had to give, but the love you give when you’re a child is different than any other love, wider and stronger and less judgmental. It depends on nothing and generates its own power like a star. You can apologize for it and let it collect dust and even put it away, but its power can do anything. Thirty years is nothing to a star.
(And she will know why I chose Guns & Roses for this video.)