Written By: Lindsay Hurty
Her name popped up on my phone on a Tuesday night at dinner time. As a mom of young kids, her call arrived at an inconvenient time. But this was the first time she’d ever called my cell, and the last time I saw her, a few months earlier, was at her mom’s funeral. So, I took the call.
“Hey, Julie…,” I led.
“Hey!” she said. Familiar as we were with each other’s voices, we hadn’t been connected by phone for decades. But Julie’s was the voice of my elementary years. My across-the-street neighbor and best friend, Julie and I hung out and talked on the phone daily. Hers is one of five home phone numbers (from back then) that is seared into my memory.
“My dad said he saw you….” she began.
Now here’s what’s wild. As an adult, I live in the house that I lived in when Julie and I were best friends. My husband and I bought the house from my parents in 2007. And her childhood home, where her parents continued to reside, remains across the street.
In fifth grade, everyday before school, I got up extra early to go over to Julie’s house. And with her mom, we would set up on their family room floor and play triple Solitaire for an hour (at least!) before school started.
A gamer to my core, I loved this! I felt entirely at home in their home, and we reveled in our daily rhythm. (I remember more about our time playing cards than I do about 5th grade.)
And although Julie moved away in adulthood, over the years, I’ve seen Julie’s parents many times in passing; her mom always eagerly giving me a hug and a reminisce about those treasured days playing cards before school.
Julie’s mom was one of the moms of my youth. We’re lucky if we get a loving mom. And we’re blessed if we grow up and get to be loved by the moms of our friends too. Julie’s mom gave me her love.
“Yeah, it was good to see your dad…” I told her. A few days before, I’d been walking my kids home from the same elementary school that Julie and I had gone to 35 years ago, and her dad happened to be on a walk too. We happily greeted each other in surprise.
My kids patiently dawdled while we caught up for a few minutes. And although Julie’s dad is a fiercely private man, he opened up to me. I asked how he’d been doing, and without reservation he shared that his mourning over the loss of his wife was brutal. He was, in an internal sense, shattered.
Although I hadn’t known it until her funeral when he spoke about his dear wife of over 50 years, their love story had been a magical one…a since-high-school love story. She had been the cheerleader he pined for; in the end, he’d won the heart of the girl he never thought would notice him, and he loved her fully everyday since.
“It meant a lot to him to see you,” Julie told me on the phone. “I know it’s random that I’m calling,” she added. “But, I just drove my kid to hockey practice, and I had some time to kill in my car, and I just thought I’d call you and tell you.” We went on to talk about how she was coping since losing her mom. Her voice changed when I asked, like there was no room for air.
Because we’ve known each other—because we were girls together—our phone call quickly got to the heart of why she called. She didn’t know it when she called, but seemed to realize once the emotions bubbled, that she just wanted to talk to someone who was connected to her mom. Her friends, in her adult life, knew that she’d lost her mom, and they showed their comfort; but, as Julie said, “I don’t really talk to them about what I’m going through because they didn’t know my mom, not like you did.”
And it’s true. I think, within adult me, I’m still very much that 10 year old kid, who looked both ways before crossing the busy street, in the brisk morning, to let myself in through their front door and start shuffling the deck of cards that waited for me. I still know that part of me. Sometimes, I can feel her feelings. And in that way, I still know Julie’s mom. Yes, decades have passed, but those childhood days when our moms are so entirely momming, those are impressionable days of youth. I knew her mom’s snacks, her style, her smell, her idea of cozy, her laughter, her generosity. And Julie, I think, yearns to connect to her mom in the ways that only memories can.
Eventually, when hockey practice was over for Julie’s child, she remarked while laughing, “I really didn’t intend to call so we’d be crying! I just wanted to thank you for talking with my dad.”
After we hung up, I felt like something important had happened. Our friendship was somehow reignited. How weird after all this time. It scared me a little—my life was full, being so in the momming days myself—and I didn’t know what the expectation might be for this rekindled friendship. But I decided in that moment that I had something of immeasurable value that could help with Julie’s healing: I held memories of her mom. I decided to be open, to make time for this new connection with my old friend.
A week went by. And on Tuesday evening, same time, Julie called from the hockey rink parking lot. And she called again the next Tuesday, and the next. We’re a season deep at this point. And what was hockey practice has become baseball practice for her child.
Julie, like her dad, is exceptionally private. She’s never been on social media, so unlike other childhood friends of mine, I had almost no sense of what her adult life is like. And she was in the dark about the details of my life too. We’ve consistently sent each other annual holiday cards, but what, of the real stuff, can be gleaned from those?
So, our Tuesday calls have been spent asking about each others’ lives, and we’ve both shared from a place of truth about who our kids are, what our marriages are like, how we spend our days. We’ve had calls on dates of relevance: her mom’s birthday, Julie’s first without her; her parents’ anniversary, would have been their 54th. Each of our of Tuesday calls flip back and forth in time, from our girl days to our mom days, because our memories are comfortably elastic like that.
We each have a daughter who is about the age that we were in our card playing days. And from how we know and describe our girls, they seem like they’d be friends. They’re both creative and thoughtful and great sisters to their brothers. I loved an unexpected text that Julie sent me with a picture across the table from her girl, with cards spread before them, playing Solitaire together.
On a recent call, we got talking about puberty and periods and how we haven’t yet mommed through that transition with our respective girls, and I reminded Julie that I was with her when she told her mom that she’d gotten her first period. I went on, giggling, describing how I’d never forget her mom’s reaction. She screamed with joy, congratulating and embracing Julie so hard that they fell together onto Julie’s bed! From my vantage point, Julie just kind of disappeared underneath her mom’s body.
Having not yet gotten my period, I remember feeling incredulous at her mom’s reaction—so much excitement. I’d imagined that getting my period would be embarrassing or perhaps shameful, but Julie’s mom made it clear that it was miraculous and fabulous!
Julie thanked me for reminding her of her mom in that way. And I felt fortunate to be able to gift her that memory. We both agreed that we might react the same way with our daughters when the mom-moment arrives in our own lives.
One Tuesday, I’d been having a rough day. My spirits were shot and I’d been crying. I forgot that it was Tuesday, but right on time, Julie called. Naturally, I picked up and all I said was “hello.” And immediately Julie asked what was wrong.
“What do you mean?” I asked. The tears prickling.
“Something’s wrong. I can tell,” Julie said with conviction.
“All I said was ‘hello,’” I replied.
“Yes, and I can hear it,” she persisted.
“Julie, I’m going to cry,” I warned her.
“Okay,” she said, unfazed.
“How is it?” I put out there, “that you and I haven’t been in each other’s lives for decades and I say one word and you can tell that I’m not okay?”
“I don’t know, but I can hear something weak in your voice,” Julie explained. “Tell me….” And then I did. I told her a whole long backstory of a situation that had nothing to do with her mom and her healing. And she gave me space to just get it out and feel the feelings. She didn’t have a fix-it solution, or know any of the players, or have anything to gain from my stuff, but she stayed with me on the line and offered me the gift of simply listening.
I had thought our Tuesday calls were meant for her. A place for her to feel close to home and to her mom. A time when she could not be okay and just hate that her mom died. And our calls are for that. But also, they are for our growth forward, from this place, for both of us.
We were girls together. We share memories and knowledge and truth. We skipped 30 years of knowing each other, and miraculously, it doesn’t seem to matter.
And I keep thinking about her word choice when she picked up on my low mood, that she heard a weakness in my voice. Weak. It felt particular. Does that mean that my childhood friend can also recognize the opposite, my strength?
Perhaps the closest bonds from childhood can give us insight into our strongest, most persistent parts. The parts that withstand the test of time and experimental phases. As kids, if we have the good fortune to live in a safe and nurturing home, we tend to be true to our natures. And Julie and I were witness to each other’s true natures all those years ago.
And today, we’re lucky enough to have each other to be reminders of who we are, who we’ve always been.
I wonder if she would agree. I’ll have to ask her… next Tuesday.
Written by: Lindsay Hurty