The first time I saw Elizabeth, or remember seeing her, was in junior high school in home economics class when we were thirteen years old. I was seated at one of those long classroom tables that accommodated ten or more girls. Another friend named Sheila was sitting beside me. I remember remarking to Sheila as Elizabeth walked by us that I thought Elizabeth was such a pretty girl. Sheila responded with, “Yeah, but she needs to stand up straighter.” No doubt, Sheila was just a little jealous.
So there was Elizabeth seated at another long table that formed an “L” with ours. Sheila filled me in on her. Seemed she was the daughter of a doctor in town. She had two brothers and a sister and was a nice person.
I don’t know how it ever came about that we actually spoke, but somehow we got to know each other. I believe it was in that very home- ec class.
I had been reading books about magic, spirits, and séances. In some conversation or other, I was brave enough to mention these things to Elizabeth and a couple more girls in our class. Well, that did it. We decided to hold our own séance. We decided to contact the spirit of John Kennedy. Whatever made us think of contacting John Kennedy is beyond me!
For days, we met on the steps of the porch to the home- ec building. We sat in a circle, chanting. We commanded the spirit of the president to come to us and speak. I don’t think he ever responded. If he did, he likely whispered and we couldn’t hear him. It’s a thousand wonders that some teacher didn’t catch us and think we were doing the devil’s work or some such.
It just seemed as if Elizabeth and I thought along the same lines. And I was so flattered that she actually liked to have me as a friend. I mean, really. She was the daughter of a doctor for heaven’s sake! That was special in my books.
So, we wrote stories, we held séances, and we laughed. Our friendship blossomed. Of course, I didn’t tell her our family’s secret. She would never have been my friend if she knew that. The secret was that my dad was a chronic alcoholic. So I would not be worthy to have her as a friend if she knew about that. That’s how I felt.
At lunchtime, we walked the short distance from the school to the small downtown. I usually did not have enough money for the school meal but could get a Coke at the drugstore. We drank vanilla cokes as I remember. They were a dime. Then I took to saving my lunch money for Beatles records.
I don’t recall how many times I stayed over night at Elizabeth’s house. I really didn’t like to stay away from home, but I had such a good time when we were together that it was worth it. Even when Elizabeth’s little brother Richard gave us a hard time. I felt sorry for her for having such a pain for a little brother. It seemed to me that we hardly saw her brother, Robert, or her sister, Susan, but when we did, they were always nice to me. So were her mom and dad.
Just when I was feeling secure at school and having a great best friend, Elizabeth told me that her family was moving to another town far away from the one we went to school in. I was crushed. I thought I would never see her again. But she assured me that we could get together in the summers.
Elizabeth was right. During the school year, we wrote letters back and forth. We made up pretend lives, make- believe characters, wonderful, beautiful dreams. Every time my mom, brother, and I drove the ’54 Ford into town from the farm, I could hardly wait to go to the post office and pick up the next letter Elizabeth sent. There were times I felt, in the loneliness of living on the farm, that those letters were all that kept me connected to the world. Those letters gave me something to look forward to, gave me something to dream about. They were magic to me and just as good as gold.
When summer came, I couldn’t believe it when Elizabeth’s mother actually brought her out to the farmhouse to stay with me. Sometimes, she rode the bus from her town into the town where we had attended school. Mama, my brother and I would be there in the old ’54 Ford to pick her up. Typically, if my dad was not home for whatever reason, we just stayed out on the farm. If he were home, Mama spirited us off into town to stay at my Granny’s house. We were happy wherever we were, as long as we were together.
There were even a couple of Christmases that we got to spend with each other. One Christmas, Elizabeth, who could sew, made us matching dresses. She still has a picture of us together in our dresses. We also had look-alike hats that we wore when we pretended to be spies for U.N.C.L.E. (fromThe Man from U.N.C.LE. TV series). We were very cool.
We wrote stories. We wrote songs. We made up dances. We wrote and performed skits. We held séances. We worked with the Oujia board. We tried to make wine out of the grapes from Granny’s arbor in the backyard. We cooked lunch for my Grandpa. We tormented my brother. We took on secret identities. We played many, many pranks. We were always dreaming and scheming. We were going to be famous writers some day. We were going to go to Hollywood. We planned to buy clothes at an army surplus stores really cheap. Of course, Elizabeth could alter clothes to fit us since she was the seamstress. And more of the plan: Travel and living would be simplified by securing a travel trailer. It would all happen for us. We knew it. We had to stick together.
Eventually, I shared the story of my dad and his arabesques with Elizabeth. As I should have known all along, it never mattered to her. I was what mattered to her. Our friendship was what mattered.
Those were the best times of my life. I am blessed to have had them. I still remember the empty, lost feeling that enveloped me when I watched Elizabeth’s mother driving her away at the end of each visit. I have felt that depth of loneliness only a few times in my life. I hope to never feel it again.
Of course, the day came when I started running around with a local group of girls. We went into town every Saturday night, looking for boys. Then the day came when I actually started dating. I wrote Elizabeth fewer and fewer letters. I was growing up and in a new direction. I eventually had a “steady” boyfriend and all my attention focused on him.
My mom grew emotionally stronger and gained the courage to leave my dad. She began managing and operating the town’s café. Mama, my brother, and I bought a small house and moved into town. We were emancipated, free.
Approximately fourteen years passed. During that time, I had a recurring dream of seeing Elizabeth far away in the distance. She was too far away to hear me calling, and she walked away. I woke up from this dream with, as Elizabeth calls it now, “dream dregs.” Those were sad moments. They took me hours to shake off. In fact, at any significant time in my life when I was sad, I had that dream.
I thought of Elizabeth often as my life progressed. I went to college. I married. I had a son. So did Elizabeth.
One day, by happenstance, I ran into Elizabeth’s cousin Mike at Mama’s café. Mike was doing some work in town and stopped in for lunch. Imagine my delight when Mike told me he had Elizabeth’s address.
I took a chance and sent a letter.
I took a chance and sent a letter.
Of course, Elizabeth sent one back!
I remember when I received that letter that I sat down and cried tears of happiness. It was as if no time had passed between us. And that was that.
We continued to stay in touch. We vowed we would never ever lose contact again.
If I could have a sister, it would be Elizabeth. She has "been there" through my moves, my divorce, my marriage, and everything in between. She is always there. She is always supportive. She always listens. She is the definition of a true friend.
Since receiving that letter, so long ago, I have never again dreamed the sad dream of Elizabeth leaving. That’s because she won’t. I didn’t realize it then, but she never really left. She was just waiting for me.
--Published electronically by Island Grove Press, 2007.
Donetta Lee holds all rights.