Thursday, April 7, 2011

That Wheeling Feeling

Today I woke up this morning and like most mornings, half asleep I picked up my lap top, checked my email and logged into Facebook.  Because of the time difference between now and the States, when I log in the morning I see all the posts of my US friends the night before.  It's always a great catch up and pick me up to start the day, seeing what my friends, both near and far, close and not-so-close, friends I see a lot and friends for whom a decade or two has separated our last visit.  It's just my routine.

This morning I was more tired than usual after having spent three full days in London at a course that I am taking for work.  People who think business travel is so glamorous should try sitting in the basement of an office building, in a room with no windows looking at flip charts, white boards and matrices all day long.  As much as travel is a perk of my job, and I do admit that I often use those little trips for weekend mini breaks to explore places I have never been, or places I have been many times and just love, this time there was not much to enjoy. Fly in, sleep, go to course, eat dinner, sleep, go to course, eat dinner, go to course, fly home, experience delays. To boot the Internet connections were not working in the room very well so I hardly had any FB time, so I was looking forward to a good pick me up morning, lots of posts to see, articles to explore and etc.,

This morning though something different seemed to catch my eye on Facebook.  I saw someone had written on the wall of a friend, a guy I was in Jewish youth group with as a teenager.  I was friends with his sister Sue and for a time we were very close friends.  This morning I woke up to see condolences to Phil about Sue and sure enough when I clicked over to her wall I was shocked to see more of them.  I sat there for about a half hour just incredulous, thinking this can't be true, it must be some joke.  On Sunday, on my way to London I was Facebooking about people watching in the airport and Sue commented back.  I always enjoyed her posts.  She was a music fanatic and often posted video clips on Facebook.  Her musical taste was without reproach as I always loved every song she put up there and always wished I had been at the same concerts she went to.  I often looked forward to her posts because many of them were invariably about music.  Somewhere between the time of that post and my return she suddenly died.

I met Sue when I was 13 or 14 in BBYO (Jewish youth group for all you non-Jews who may be reading this).  We became instant friends.  She was kind, funny and quirky in the best possible ways.  She was kind of what I was inside but too afraid to show to people.  She lived in Wheeling and I lived in California, PA, which was less than an hour away and we wrote lots of letters to each other between BBYO events.  There were quite a few BBYO kids in Wheeling, and being part of the Washington, PA chapter, being just 25 minutes apart, we were close chapters and did a lot of things together.  One of their spirited slogans was about getting the Wheeling Feeling (and I won't even go into the handshake that went along with that).

For me though at that time in my life Sue was like a life raft for me.  I was, without having the self awareness at that age to realize it, just torn apart by my parents' divorce.  The rug was pulled out from under and I was struggling but too utterly frozen and petrified by rejection to allow myself to be vulnerable, so I covered it up with trying to be funny all the time, but the truth was I was quite acerbic a lot of the time and I could see that I turned people off because of that which made me sad, then scared and insecure and then needing to be acerbic and on and on. The only person who never reacted to that was Sue.  She was always there, always standing by me and always kind and funny and supportive.  During weekend events she always called me up and said, let's make sure we stay at the same house (often Jewish families put us up during weekends in different towns and cities).  Since we didn't live so far apart we occasionally saw one another as well.  She often invited me to Wheeling and I spent several weekends there with her family, her parents as kind and thoughtful as she was.  We talked about everything at all those weekends, which at that age was pretty much boys, and even then she was so into music and would talk on and on for hours about her favorite band or a concert tour.  She was like a rock music savant, and I admired her knowledge which was so much greater than my own.  And because I looked up to her so much I said I loved every song and band that she loved, just because I wanted to please her.  But the truth was that most of the music she loved was really great.    And mostly we just had fun and we laughed, for hours, belly laughs, laughs until you have coke coming out of your nose.  The best kind of laughs.

I met Sue a couple of months after my parents separated.  During my parents' separation I had been given the choice to live with my mom or my dad and ultimately I chose my dad, because we were very close, because he seemed, in the wake of the divorce to be the more normal parent, but mostly because staying with my dad meant being close to my grandparents and my cousins and I wanted that, while my mom planned to return to Miami.  Even though I made a clear choice and my parents decided to wait until the end of the school year to make the change.  One night in March or April my mom and I got into a huge fight.  She had been suffering a lot too, the divorce was hard enough, but my mom, this upper middle class housewife, now found herself struggling financially, having to go back to work after 20 years of raising kids and alone, in the 1970's, so she was also ostracized as well, by my dad's family, by their common friends and by the Jewish community of Washington, PA.  I couldn't see it at the time of course but it  was pretty awful for her.  Anyway this particular evening we got into an argument about my leaving my stuff laying around the apartment and she just freaked out and unloaded on me.  And just before she left the house to go to work she told me to leave.  I think now she just provoked this because the thought of me going to live with my dad and leaving her alone was just too much to bear, so if it ended with a fight she didn't have to face that.  Anyway after she left I called my dad and he came and helped me pack my stuff.  When we were carrying the last  stuff to the car I suddenly remembered that I had a BBYO event in the local synagogue, it was an evening program with a sleepover in the synagogue.  I suddenly panicked as I had spent most of the day in a tearful fog and couldn't imagine trying to put on a happy face or getting through the night without crying.  My dad talked to me for a long time and told me it was my decision but he really thought it might help me feel better if I went, that being around other kids might put the day out of my mind a little bit.  So finally I decided to go.  I tried to put on a happy face as I went into the synagogue with my sleeping bag.  When Sue came we set up our stuff together and hung out and she was her usual fun, funny self and I did even manage to forget a little bit about what an awful day I had.  In the night, when people were just hanging in their little groups (and lots of people were making out), we just hung out and talked and laughed a little.  After a while we got tired and decided to try and lay down and go to sleep.  But with so many people still up and milling about it was hard to sleep and I just couldn't.  I could see that Sue was getting tired but I was tossing and turning and finally she sat up and asked me if something was wrong.  I said no, and she said, "I can see that you are sad, I don't know what it is about, but if you want to talk about it, you can.  I don't know if I can help but I can listen." I told her that I would tell her what happened but after I did I didn't want to talk about it anymore.  So I told her that my mom had asked me to leave and even though I had chosen to live with my dad it still felt like she was kicking me out and that she didn't want me.  I told her that when I tried to sleep all I did was think about it and couldn't sleep.  Without missing a beat she said, "then we're just going to have to stay up all night and talk and have fun so you don't have to think about it and be sad." So we did.  We stayed up and listened to music and talked to the other people who were too stubborn to sleep and we gossiped about all the couples making out in the stairwell which had been converted into a kind of Jewish make out room.  She got me through one of the worst nights of my life and in retrospect was a very a very good thing in my life at a time when very good things were scarce.

To be honest I don't remember the last time we saw each other.  I think we lost contact somewhere during college.  We wrote letters but at some point they became fewer and far between and we lost touch of each other, until Facebook put us again into each other's realms.  I enjoyed getting back in touch with her and hearing about her life.  I knew that like everyone she had her share of difficult things but I was glad to see that overall she was happy in her life.  It made me warm all over to know that she worked as a record store manager, she could have been anything but it made me so glad to know that she lived her passion every day and loved what she did.  She read my blog and sent me messages about it and offered, even after so many years, her support about Maya and her situation her warmth and kindness didn't waiver.  

In some way it kind of feels strange to be so affected by someone's passing when I hadn't seen that someone in more than 20 years.  Without Facebook we probably never would have drifted back into each other's lives (in that cyberspace kind of way).  But even though a friendship isn't lifelong, doesn't make it any less meaningful.  Some people come into our lives for life and some just for brief moments and many more in between.  Sometimes those brief moments are the brightest lights and that was what Sue was, is and forever will be for me, a bright light.

Goodbye my dear friend and thank you.

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