Written May 28, 2014
As a blogger and essay writer, I have a constant stream of ideas running through my mind at all times. For a while now I’ve been meaning to write about an afternoon I spent with a friend a few months ago. She and her family used to live across the street from us, and we got to know each other while playing outside with the kids. We bonded over mom and neighbor stuff at first, but then discovered a shared sense of snarky humor and a love of all things artsy and creative.
My friend used to work as a set designer on movies, and makes her kids the most amazing, elaborate Halloween costumes. One year, her son’s flying sock monkey costume wowed every house on our trick-or-treating route. Don’t even get me started on the tiny mermaid costume she made for her baby girl.
And the birthday parties… Her son’s pirate party last year featured a cake with edible sand, messages in tiny glass bottles, and hand-painted treasure chests filled with plastic jewels. Oh, and hand-sewn bloomers for her little “pirate lass.” But she pulled it all off in a whimsical, imaginative, unique way, not an “I dropped $5k at the craft store so I can brag all over Pinterest” kind of way.
Anyway, my friend and her family moved to a different neighborhood, so we hadn’t seen each other in awhile. She came over that day with her kids. I was going to write about this playdate for a couple of reasons. One is that not once the whole time did she look at her phone. I know it’s strange and maybe a little sad that this made an impression on me, but it did. She wasn’t trying to do a million things at once, like I usually am. She was fully present. She was there, in the moment, asking me questions and really listening to the answers.
That’s also something remarkable about this friend: she asks really good questions that she really wants to know the answers to. She looks directly at you with these striking green eyes and before you know it, you’re rambling on about something you didn’t even know you had feelings about.
And she does this with kids, too, not just adults. Has real conversations with them, asks about their lives and interests. She remembers stuff about them. She met my son, Miles, when he was maybe 4 years old and still tells the story to this day about how he jumped out of the bushes wearing a green mustache and called out, “Bonjour!” (It was St. Patrick’s Day. I can’t explain the French.) Every time she tells the story, she cracks up. I love it, because it’s clear to me how much she loves my kid. Don’t you just automatically love anyone who thinks your kids are hilarious and brilliant?
And by the way, HER kids are also hilarious and brilliant. One time her 3-year-old son was over, and my boys showed him their bug vacuum. (You use it to suck up bugs, duh.) They asked if he had one and he replied, “No. We’re not that kind of people. We’re Irish.”
Until now, I hadn’t written about this playdate because I couldn’t decide what my point was. Was it a commentary on how smartphones are the devil and are ruining our interpersonal connections? Was it a musing on friendship, and how awesome it feels to know someone who totally “gets” you? Or was I going to write about how we bonded over being artsy types who refused to turn into frumpy moms without a fight?
This friend is constantly telling me how cool she used to be back in the day before she was married with kids. (Weren’t we all, sister.) Like I couldn’t tell that from the funky names she gave her kids and her tattooed, motorcycle-riding husband? (OK, she’s way cooler than me.) But she makes me FEEL cool by introducing me to her other cool friends as “Abby, my friend who’s a really great writer.” Again, how can you not love a person like that?!
Anyway, I knew I wanted to write something eventually about this particular afternoon I spent with my friend, because it stuck with me. When she left I was so glad we’d finally made the time to get together.
My friend died yesterday. Her husband called us early this morning to tell us. We are in shock, and we are reeling with grief. I don’t even know where to begin processing my feelings about this awful, unexpected news.
Except I guess I do. Here. In my own words, in the moment, before I’ve fully processed and revised and accepted and healed. In times of tragedy, people often say “There are no words.” But I’m a writer, and words are what I have. So today, I sat down to write. And I wrote this, about that afternoon I spent with my friend and her kids, and what I remember about it, and about her. I wrote what I want people to know about this special person. She was my friend. She will be missed.
LINK O’ THE DAY: My new favorite hobby is hitting refresh on this site. Over $24k (!!) has been raised in 2 days (!!), from friends, family, and people who didn’t even know her. If that’s not a testament to how many lives she touched, I don’t know what is.
READ O’ THE DAY: No matter what age you are when you lose your mother, you never forget her. A part of her is always with you. That’s the lesson I learned from Erin Kienzle, whom I heard read this touching piece in the Charleston, SC, “Listen to Your Mother” show a few weeks ago.