DeDe and I worked together for one year at a local hospital in the late 90's. We were both mammographers and since our patient load was light, we had a lot of time to talk. She did most of the talking, about her pending divorce, her kids, her weight, her sister with multiple sclerosis.
When my best friend of almost twenty years passed away, DeDe said to me, "I can't imagine how you feel right now, because I can't imagine how I'd go on without Sally."
Sally was her best friend, a woman I met through DeDe. She would one day be my coworker and confidant.
Last week Sally notified those who knew and worked with DeDe that she had passed away. DeDe's friends and family met in an upstairs party room at an Italian restaurant to celebrate her life. We released balloons in her honor, small pieces of paper attached to the ribbon with favorite memories. I hugged Sally as the perfect orange spheres lifted up into a gray sky. For a moment, an old pain returned, that of losing my own Deedee fifteen years ago.
A few years ago I wrote about Deedee here, a piece titled "Immortal Frog" that attempted to describe a twenty year friendship. I wasn't satisfied with the piece, then or now. It's hard to convey perfection or deep loss, to take a reader all the way to heaven or hell. I will never be able to recreate that love in words, to explain it, paint it, make it real for a reader.
I thought of Deedee this afternoon while driving, which is happening a lot now, and I realized that it's because of DeDe's death. Duh. But today was different. Real or imagined, I could feel my friend in the car with me, like a fullness within and without. I could almost smell the Agree shampoo in her thick hair, see her square earthy hands, hear her high-pitched laugh. I felt connected to something rich and old and forever. I'm not superstitious enough to believe it was actually her, but like particular smells, our deepest loves stay with us, in high fidelity.
I thought about the laughter we shared, and not just any laughter, but the sort that becomes gasping, raking animal sounds. On the telephone we would build up a rhythm and humor tension, and before we hung up we were barking and choking. It was a soul orgasm. I used to tell her, "We're adding years to our lives."
We felt immortal back then.
Fifteen years later, I feel deeply mortal. I don't think it's an age thing. I think it's a laughter thing. I just don't do it like I did. No one makes me laugh like Deedee, for whatever reason. With her, I was home. I've tried to find her in others, thought I had a couple of times. But she's not out there. There was only one. Our friendship was perfection, the fit. We built it, admired it openly, talked about how lucky we were.
What I missed most today was picking up the phone. I used to be able to pick it up at any moment and call her. But today, when one of her favorite songs, Danny Boy, came on the car radio, I wanted to share it with her. I considered calling my sister or one of my other friends, started making up excuses, digging up words to say. But no one else could have filled the void.
There was no one to talk to, not the way I wanted to talk. I have friends, and I love them, but they aren't her and today, no one else would do.
As often happens, the thought occurred to me that maybe I might find it again, that perfect friendship fit. Then reality hit, not hard, just a soft nudge. Maybe it was Deedee saying, No, you won't find it again. But that's okay. Once upon a time, it found us.