She had long, black Shirley Temple corkscrew curls pinned back from her face, framing her freckled face and shy smile. She sat in the very last seat of the very last row of Intro to English; I immediately sat by her, relieved to see someone who looked friendly and unattached to 40 of their best girl friends. I said something really cool and witty like, “You have curly hair. I don’t. I’m new. I bet you couldn’t guess.” At any rate, we became fast friends.
Moore became the backdrop of our friendship. We logged hour after hour at the local mall, ate at the locally owned fast food restaurants, drove the empty evening streets of the loosely connected 80s neighborhoods. We were too cool to be seen with our parents, so every day after school, we walked blocks away from the football field to meet my dad for a ride a home. Every weekend spent at her house, we wandered listlessly from convenient store to novelty shop, reveling in the freedom a 16 yr old believes she has. We worked together at a political polling firm, equally hating it with every fiber of our being and simultaneously loving the freedom our paychecks bought us. Freedom as defined by the ability to buy CoverGirl products with our own money, but still! FREEDOM.
Being the popular, up-to-the-minute girls we were, we spent Senior Skip Day at a local antique store. We commemorated prom with a family style dinner at an Italian chain; my date forgot his wallet, Jen paid for us both. We ditched our dates for several dances, threw caution to the wind, slurped down complimentary cherry cokes, and danced the evening away like the white girls we are. At graduation, we sat in the same row, our Honors white gowns billowing around our crossed ankles, crying big ugly tears of happiness and sadness…excited to see what our futures held, sad to say goodbye to the daily ritual of high school best friends who are thoroughly familiar with one another from our handwriting to our favorite vending machine snacks to our biggest adult fears.
We were both reporters for the school newspaper, The Lion’s Roar, eventually becoming co-editors. We spent nearly every weekend at one another’s house writing angst-ridden teen poetry, watching hopelessly unrealistic romance movies, and talking about everything from the possibility of aliens to our views on God. We knew one another’s families intimately, going on family vacations nearly every year. She was one of the last friends to meet my grandmother before her death. She told me, in the darkness of midnight, as we lay on pallets in her living room, that she fervently believed the ghost of her grandmother visited her home, often stopping by a vase of memorial roses on the fireplace mantel. The air crackled around us, these infinite moments shaping our world views with the yellow, fuzzy nostalgia that eventually wears thin with age and experience.
As the school year came to a close, we scheduled our Learner’s Permits tests and made elaborate plans to spend the summer with the windows down, the music up, and our hair blowing in the wind. Instead, the May 3rd, 1999 F-5 tornado tore through the sleepy suburb of Moore, our hometown. The entire town was demolished, houses whisked away in the windy mile-wide vortex. As my mom and I hid in the bedroom closet, holding hands and praying, I remember manically hoping Jen was safe.
After the terror was over, we emerged to a new world of pure destruction. The news shots didn’t do justice to the damage. Enormous stone buildings were reduced to teeny piles of grainy sand, whole 18 wheelers were scrunched into harmless balls of tin, and lives were lost. In 1999, cell phones were rare among the common so Jen and I didn’t have the luxury of texting our safety stats. Instead, I poured over newspaper listings of the storm related deaths, always holding my breath until I scanned beyond her last name without seeing her family listed.
Eventually the phone lines were restored, and we made contact. Luckily, we were both ok, our families spared. Years later, her family would move to Arizona and we’d briefly lose touch. But, in the way of Oklahoma, a natural disaster would prompt me to search for her online, find her, and reconnect.Today, she is the mother of two beautiful twin children, a boy and a girl. She’s a gifted teacher, caregiver, and leader in an adult trade center. We remain the best of friends, reminded of our teenage bond and continuing friendship every time we hear the distant rumble of thunder.
Come what may, we’re the very best of friends, we’ve survivors, after all.