It’s been five years since I lost my friend Patti to a rare form of cancer. She was only sixty at the time and her sheer will and determination to fight for her life provided a model for me when I was diagnosed eighteen months later with breast cancer. Over the years, I’ve reflected on our friendship that carried such a special place in my life. Special because she was my very first friend.
She is my first cognitive memory of friendship. We lived two houses apart and roamed the forest behind us looking for fairies and elves, leaving them gifts in the nooks of trees. We were convinced a troll lived under an abandoned metal container next to the fairy ring and we would dare each other to jump on it and wake the monster, then run for our lives to the safety of our backyards. I had my first sleepover in her bedroom that she shared with her sisters and was always welcome for Sunday dinner, considered just another member of her very large family.
Those first formative years solidified a friendship that continued our whole lives. That’s a rare and precious statement; one that we used to get questions about. After all, I moved from New Jersey to Arizona when I was nine years old. How did we stay long distance friends for all those years?
Through the power of words. Our long letters scribbled on stationary diligently mailed each week sustained our connection. (Phone calls were much too expensive!) I never asked her if that helped develop her love for the written word but I think it influenced both of us. Patti had a wonderfully distinguishedd career in publishing and I ended up in theater and communications. Somehow, we both innately knew we could use the power of words to express our teenage angst, deepen our friendship and connect over thousands of miles and a lifetime of ups and downs. Words, well chosen, thoughtfully written and coming from a place of love have incredible power.
Our relationship ebbed and flowed as life took over – college, careers, children – yet every time we reconnected it was just like picking up a conversation from yesterday. Easy, thoughtful, curious, supportive – all based in those early years of learning how to be friends. I’m convinced my tendency to spontaneously break into dance started in her basement as we danced to “I Feel Pretty”. And of course, as the adjacent photo shows, I owe my tremendous fashion sense to her!
My life is richer because of her. Her kindness, intelligence, caring and loyalty showed me what friendship should be. The twinkle in her eye always made me smile and I can still hear her laugh as clearly as if she was next to me. A first friend that lasts a lifetime is a rare and beautiful thing. I am so very fortunate to have had Patti as that friend and I will always carry her in my heart.