The End of Friendship
By J. L. Thurston
My childhood best friends were Capricorns and I was a Gemini. Back then those things mattered. We were 12. I always thought my zodiac sign meant something because Gemini is the sign of the twins and that’s what my best friends were.
Crystal was the more petite and sickly of the two. When she was a toddler she swallowed acid and had to get her esophagus stretched every six months for the rest of her life. Because of that, she had a constant cough that was little more than a throat clearing. Nowadays she looks like a mix of Zoey Deschanel and ’70’s singer Kate Bush.
Born a few minutes after her is Michelle. I called her Shelly, sometimes. Even when we were twelve, Michelle was womanlier than us. She had curves and a grace that was just about grown out of the awkward-zone. When she sang, her voice was a mix of Alanis Morissette and Amy Lee.
Nowadays, driving east down highway 116 between Graymont and Flanagan, if you pay attention to the right side of the car, you’ll eventually drive by an empty lot surrounded by fenced-in cows. The lot isn’t totally empty, of course. There’s some very old, misshapen trees, a dilapidated corn crib, and a forest of weeds.
There was once a small house nestled inside of these trees, hugged on all sides by the sleepy cows. It was a three-bedroom modular, the kind of house you see cut in half on the back of semis on the highway. The house was like a second home in my childhood. That’s where Crystal and Michelle lived.
It was nearly 20 years ago that they moved away from that place and out of my life forever. But back then, there was no such thing as the end of friendship. We had spent all our summers, all our weekends, and most of our after-school hours together.
They were born in Arizona. Their parents split up when they were little and they stayed with their mother, Nancy. One day, Nancy sent them off to school. There was something very strange about her. That day at school, the girls were called into the principal’s office. They knew right away something terrible had happened. Their mother had committed suicide and left them all alone.
This tragedy sent them to Flanagan, Illinois, to live with their father, who by then was all but a stranger. He was a free spirit. A hippy with an acoustic guitar who prospected for gold inside the oblong shed next to his little house.
That was how they entered my life. We were typical outcasts, joining together in a close friendship against the other mainstreamers our age. We were in a band. We called ourselves The Dreamers until we changed our name to LiveWire. The kids at school once asked us to have a concert at recess. When we obliged, they threw rocks at us and laughed while we cowered from the stinging blows.
We would spend hours in my room or in one of their rooms, writing lyrics, sharing poems, discussing books, or pondering what our spirit animals would be. In summer, we would play in their yard while their dad strummed his guitar. I can still hear him sing Hotel California.
Then, one day, he left them. There was no word, no notice, no warning. He wasn’t a father, and he had quit trying to be one. He even abandoned his live-in girlfriend, who tried to take care of Crystal and Michelle, but she never really was a mothering type. She didn’t love the girls, though I was baffled that anyone could think they were less than amazing. She had no choice in her mind than to send them back to their grandparents in Arizona.
I remember crying, sobbing, pleading with my mom to let the girls live with us. They practically did, anyway. My mother seriously considered it. But it never worked out.
The last time I saw them, we said good-bye in a way that was not final at all. And yet, it was. I put together a care package for them. Inside of some stapled sheets of paper, I inserted some poems, some doodles, and my most favorite book at that time, Phoenix Rising by Karen Hesse. I wonder if they still have any of that stuff. I bet they do.
A few months ago, I drove by their old place and noticed with a pang of shock that their house had been torn down. It is now just an empty lot, full of space and memories.
I wonder if the corn crib still has evidence of our attempts to fix it up into a clubhouse. Did the bag of nails remain on the floor to rot next to three old hammers? Was the board with our band logo still hanging, perhaps preserved inside, protected from the weather?
I’ve chatted with Crystal and Michelle since they left. You know, Facebook and whatnot. But we aren’t silly children anymore, and our lives had only crossed paths briefly. Sparking and exploding with the brightness and excitement of a firework, only to fade and glimmer to nothing.
They will always remain the fondest friends of my childhood, and I’m sure they are still the sweetest, most generous and creative women to those who know them.
When I was young, I thought there was no such thing as the end of friendship. I was half right. The relationships themselves can end, but it’s the memories that live on. I’ll likely never see Crystal or Michelle ever again, and that’s OK. The people we are now aren’t anything like the children we had been. It’s better to leave our friendship in the past, in the warm heart of our memories, where it can remain an unending joy.