Friday, December 11, 2009

December 11th, 2009

Debra Griffin Haskin

Debra was my best friend. We were inseparable.
We spent long days together and then
had sleepovers at her house.
We both had typewriters and would sometimes
stay up all night pretending to be working
on something very important.
In the late mornings we would work on our complicated,
choreographed dance routines to Captain and Tennille's
Love Will Keep us Together.
When we had to cross the lawns of the dozen
or so houses that separated us, we would pretend
that if a car came along and spotted us
we would immediately be turned into a
mysterious vapor and then disappear altogether. Forever.
Engine revs and headlights sent us running for our lives--
scurrying behind trees or bushes.
If there were nothing to hide behind we might have to
throw ourselves down on the ground and lie as flat
and still as possible until the car passed.
Often very dirty and out of breath upon walking in our front doors,
we never explained the game to anyone else.
Best friends do things like that.

Debra had a beautiful mother, Roz.
Roz was a real estate agent.
I didn't know any moms who were real estate agents.
She seemed to constantly be going here and there,
but was always around when Debra needed her.
My own mother went between here and there, too,
but because of crippling depression and a brutal drug addiction,
didn't always come back from "there" when you needed her to.

I remember when Debra turned 10.
She and Roz let me in on all the plans for the party.
We figured out what kind of cake to have,
what kind of games to play, and who would be invited.

On the day of the party I got dressed
in a pair of brown corduroy pants (that I loved)
and the cleanest shirt I had.
And I went into my mother's room.

"Mama?" I had to wake her up.
"Did we get a present for Debra?
Her party is right now. Mom? Mama?
I have to go soon. Did we get a present for Debra?"

She didn't say anything.
Her eyes were open and she was looking at me,
but not seeing me. Even in my clean shirt
and my favorite pants,
I was starting to crumble a little with anxiety.
"Mama, please."
"Let's see what we can find."

She had a tall dresser in her room
and the top drawer was full of things not clothes.
We all knew this. Sometimes she'd ask us
to get something out of the drawer for her--
a rosary, a crochet needle, an extension cord, a postage stamp.
When she opened that drawer, any hope
that she remembered and had gotten a present just for Debra faded.
"Here. Take this."
"What is it?"
She had handed me a yellow Avon box.
Inside was a jar of hand lotion.
It was the same lotion that my grandmother used.
No. I can't. I can't give this to Debra today.
"Is there anything else?" I asked.

On my way across the lawns,
with the Avon box in my hands,
I didn't hide from one car.
I closed my eyes and wished every car that passed
would vaporize me and save me from the party.

At the door, Roz let me in.
I tried to tell her everything with my eyes,
but she just broke my stare, kissed my head,
and took the small package from me.
Everyone was there and we ate popcorn
and listened to Captain and Tennille. At one point,
Celeste started throwing popcorn up in the air
and trying to catch it in her mouth,
and we all cheered her on, and I temporarily forgot
about the little yellow box of humiliation
with all of the other brightly wrapped presents.
I told myself that it might be possible that Debra
was enjoying her party so much that she
wouldn't even need to open presents.
But seeing the floor covered with popcorn, Roz said,
"Sweetie, are you ready to open your presents and have some cake?"

Celeste's gift was a charm bracelet that got passed around the party.
Debra opened a sparkly baton from Doreen.
Twirled it in her fingers.
Kathrine gave her roller skates!
Nicole gave her a mood ring that we all put on in turn.
Roz stayed close and picked up wrapping paper.

Handing Debra that yellow box was like offering up
every failure a ten year old girl could handle.
It was like saying, "Here, here are my shortcomings.
Here is everything I lack today:
the whimsy of a charm bracelet,
the flash of a baton through the air,
the shiny ball bearings in the wheel of a roller skate,
the mystery of a mood ring,
a mother who can get out of bed."

Debra took the box and shook it.
The heavy jar thudded around.
What is it? What is it? Let us see!
Debra pulled the jar of lotion out of the box.

No one said anything for what seemed like an eternity.
It was so quiet that I was pretty sure my life had ended.

And then Roz said, "Oh! How thoughtful! How wonderful!
Something that you can really use. Let me smell it.
Ummmmm. Look how pretty it is. It's like butter.
It's beautiful. It's the nicest gift so far."
Taking her cues from sweet Roz, Debra nodded in agreement.
Everyone else, slightly confused,
came to believe that it really was the best gift.

In the seam of shock and overwhelming gratitude,
I vaguely remember everyone rubbing their hands together
as the lotion was passed around the party.
I don't remember anything, really, after that.
Like singing Happy Birthday, or eating cake,
or going out into the driveway to try out the skates.

In the 32 years since then,
there have been other people who reached down
and pulled me up when I was surely sinking.
And it may be that I was rescued once or twice
before the day of Debra's party.
But I think that this is my earliest memory of being so keenly aware
of both my need to be saved
and the heroic kindness and grace of those around me.

When I was 12 our family moved away from Atlanta--
and from Debra and Roz.
I have not seen either of them since.
But I got a Christmas card from Debra today.
It had a picture of her and her family.
On the back it said, "I think of you often and always remember
what a good friend you were to me. The best.
Thank you for everything. Merry Christmas. Love, Debra.

Thank you for everything, Debra and Roz.
Everything. Every. Thing.
Merry Christmas.


Anonymous said...

Hello Amy. My name is Laurie. I went to high school with Valerie, and often follow her blog. Today she referenced your blog on her post. When I read this post it deeply moved me. You just never know how the smallest gesture can affect someone. One of my highest goals is that I can touch one person's life the way your friend and her mother did yours. Your writing is absolutely beautiful. With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, this post was exactly what I needed to center my mind and remind me of the things that are really important.

Kim Mailhot said...

My favorite Writer-Lady guided me here. She is right - you can write, girl !
I love Debra and I love Roz. I wish that every girl who need rescuing could have one of them close by when they needed them.
Thank you for sharing your talent and your wonderful story.
Merry Christmas !

Carolie said...

You've brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing your past, and sharing your gift of language. What fine writing.

katshepherd said...

I was guided here by the magnificent Patti Digh and I too, was moved to tears by your post. One of my guiding rules of life comes from a piece that ends with "To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." What a success you are. Gorgeous writing.

Amy said...

I'm blushing. Thank you all for taking the time to leave a comment here. It means the world to me.

Love, love, love.


And I am not surprised at all that friends of Valerie and Patti are sweet enough to say the things they do.

littlegypsy. said...

your blog is beautiful! i too was led here by patti...she has led me to many wonderful things, but this is the best one yet!

Cara said...

This was so beautiful, Amy. Thank you for sharing. ♥

Anonymous said...

Wow, one never knows how our acts of kindness effect each other. May today all of us continue to be kind to everyone we meet especially those who may be hurting. Merry Christmas

Michael said...

My. Oh. My. What a wonderfully remembered, wonderfully written memory. Was guided here by Valerie, and glad I was.

Carolyn said...

Amy, this is lovely--so obviously heartfelt, and such a loving/painful memory.

Why do your blogs so often make me cry?

Pat said...

I once had to give my tomboy friend, Dorothy, a red pocketbook for Christmas. My mother decided it was the right gift. I was not persuaded. There was no Roz in my life at that time but there was a bit of Roz in Dorothy. She accepted the purse like it was the most special gift in the world. (She had asked for a softball) The grace of Dorothy - the grace of Roz. May our lives be filled with their grace.

Funky Kim said...

I'm crying real tears. At my desk. In the middle of my work day. You struck a chord in me. I heart you, Amy!