Today is an interesting day.
It used to be an amazing, wondrous, fun-filled day.
For a time it was a day of sadness and regret.
Today is my best friend's birthday. Her birthday was a week before mine and for years our celebrations were intertwined and inseparable.
Kerrie Ann, my dear little soul sister. Happy birthday love.
Kerrie and I met when I was 12. The circumstances were less than ideal. When I was 5 years old, my parents separated for a year and during the course of that year something really bad happened to me. To this day my mind mercifully hides the details from my conscious soul, but for years my physical reaction to certain experiences and my mental reaction to LOTS of circumstances convinced a slew of therapists, counselors and psychologists that I had been traumatized. We just couldn't break through to the extent of the event.
Fast forward seven, almost eight years, and there I am meeting Kerrie Ann. I had ditched school for three weeks straight. My parents and I were in counseling for what seemed like forever and we had lots of problems. The school-ditching was the last straw. The only solution left was to throw me in a teen-unit at some hospital to work with me on a daily basis.
Can you imagine being 12 – almost 13 – and watching your parents walk away – down an unknown, scary, sanitized hall – leaving you alone? At the time, I could only focus on that all I had done was act out, miss school, yell and scream at my folks a lot. And there I was, left in a room with two lesbian punk-rocker drug addicts. I knew that because they made sure I was clued in the moment my parents walked away.
Today I know that was one of the hardest things my folks ever had to do.
That night I sobbed tears that seemed to manifest from somewhere deeper and darker than the physiological tear-ducts from which they sprang. I was more scared, lonely and grief-stricken than I had ever been in my life.
And then came Kerrie. She bounded up to me, smiling and hugging and announced we were friends. I had become her cause. She became my saving grace. I spent almost a month in that place…Kerrie was there longer. Regardless of what I had ever endured, the physical, emotional and sexual abuse Kerrie had experienced made my life look like a cake-walk.
We stuck with each other for years…she was my best friend through junior high and high school. We didn't attend the same school, but she continued to be my saving grace through those years. I was scared of everyone and everything….my peers frightened the hell out of me. I felt like I just wasn't good enough, dressed right, smart enough, pretty enough. I sure made it impossible for anyone to befriend me because I was sure no one could possibly like me. But Kerrie was always there.
I went to college after high school. Kerrie didn't. We had two very different lives. My parents were still married, we were reasonably well-off, we were all educated and intellectual. Kerrie's family was disintegrated, dysfunctional, poor. It grated on her self-esteem and she looked up to me as something to aspire to. I didn't like that so much. I just wanted to be her friend.
We eventually parted ways…that happened a couple times. The first time was because she started down a path of self-destruction and I think, even to this day, her "abandonment" of me at that time was her way of protecting me from a dark and scary life. She turned to drugs and I never did. We reunited after a couple years, she had cleaned up and we both embarked on a spiritual path of living our lives under the Grace of God, helping others and self-reflection. But where my life took an up-turn, Kerrie could never quite shake the demons of her past. We again parted ways and this time was a longer and more arid separation.
Years passed by with intermittent communication. I got married and didn't invite her. The few times we had met up, the beautiful, sweet, always-friendly girl that I fell in love with was barely there. She was changing permanently. She was back into drugs and alcohol. I didn't like being around her. Plus I had issues of my own. Shortly after getting married I got pregnant and had my first daughter. My husband and I were living with my parents while trying to buy a house, and out of the blue Kerrie showed up at their front door, not knowing I lived there or that I was home on maternity leave.
I had yet again failed to include her in one of the biggest events of my life. There I was with my brand-new baby and Kerrie…my best friend, my little soul-sister…stood there, cooing outwardly at my daughter. I can only imagine the turmoil of hurt that swirled inside her at that moment. The fact of the matter was that I was trying to lead the life of my dreams…married, kids, buying a home. And my friend had become an embarrassment. There were no conversations with her that weren't dripping with innuendos and rude, foul language.
Six months later I received news that Kerrie had died. She'd had a heart-attack. And I knew it was drugs. Those of us who had known her for years sat around our table at the post-funeral luncheon and we all just knew. The coroner called it a coronary, but we knew it was the drugs that finally did it. Her soul had tired of the fight long before. It was just a matter of time before the body followed.
I don't know why my life turned out so differently from Kerrie's. I don't know why I have been able to trudge through the events of my past, face the darkest and ugliest corners of me and emerge healthy, happy and free. I don't know why one person can face painful truths and another cannot. I am not better than anyone. I certainly was never better than Kerrie Ann. We were one and the same. We both tried for awhile to fix our pain by shoving shit down our throats. And certainly there was a long spell after her death that I spiraled down, way down, into black depths of depression and abuse and came very close to dying by my own hand. So I still don't know why, when we started off on the same road to freedom from pain and misery, why she didn't get to stay and I did.
Today if you were to ask me how I am, I will answer you "I'm great! I'm very happy!" And, amazingly enough, that's no bullshit. I'm not trying to fool you or myself or get you to go away, or make you feel like I'm some special girl. Even in the midst of heartbreak, upheaval and chaos...which seems at least for now to be hovering at a safe distance from me...it's there and I'm dealing with it...but I can say from the deepest parts of me that I am happy. That's huge. Because for so long I lived a life of self-loathing and fear. When those are your main motivators, life is not lived, it is existed. I've stopped looking without for solutions to my need for happiness and started looking within. Today I can look at my past, the good and the bad, and say I'm grateful for every moment, because they shaped me. Today I really like me. And today I'm less afraid of you…in fact, I'm perfectly fine accepting the fact that not everyone likes me. That's just scientifically impossible. The most important thing is that I like what's under my skin, and under my skull.
I've long ago forgiven myself for "abandoning" my friend in her time of need. Because I've learned that nothing is guaranteed, everything happens for a reason and that no matter what transpired, we still loved each other. That connection never broke, even when we didn't see each other for years.
Each day that I wake up, I am thankful for the gift of life, and today is a day I'm especially grateful to celebrate life. I shall always remember the loving, smiling friend…the bright sweetness of that little girl's smile. The honest love and care that she exuded to a scared stranger. That's the Kerrie I celebrate today. Because that's WHO she was. And it's from my experiences with her that I am who I am. So, I live my happiness with a salute to Kerrie Ann.