This is a monumental day for many reasons. It was the day I met my first husband Daniel. It is also the day that brought not only Hal Sparks into the world but his lovely mother as well.
But the real reason September 25 means so much to me is that it marks a day that would change my life forever.
Thirty years ago I was a new student at Eastridge Elementary School in Amarillo, Texas. I started this particular class late because my mother in her infinite wisdom decided to move up to Amarillo just a few weeks into the school year. This would rip me out of my comfort level at Jane Long Elementary School in Abilene, Texas. I had a great 4th grade year; I had a bunch of friends, a great teacher who fostered my love of reading (Mrs. Borger)… it was not exactly thrilling to me to move to a strange new city with a bunch of kids I didn’t know right at the start of the 5th grade.
All that changed one day when the person who sat in front of me turned around to start a conversation.
Actually, I might have sat in front and started the conversation… but either way it went something like this:
“If you were old enough to vote, who would you vote for?”
(Explains a lot, doesn’t it?)
Turns out both this other person and I were not too keen on either Carter or Reagan, so we decided then and there we were “Independents” who belonged to neither party.
It was an innocent time.
That person’s name was Jeff, and his friendship ended up being one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me, hands down. God knew what he was doing aligning our paths that September in 1980, because little did I know I would lose my father in December of that year. My mom worked nights and without my dad life would have been so bitterly lonely, but that all changed one night when Jeff called me and we stayed on the phone for at least four hours straight. We exchanged jokes that bordered on dirty:
“A little girl came up to her mother one day and told her that all the boys in school enjoyed watching her climb a tree. The mother admonished the little girl and said, ‘They just want to see your underwear.’ The next day the little girl came in to tell her mother that she had once again climbed the tree for the neighborhood boys. The mother was shocked. ‘I thought I told you that they only wanted to see your underwear!’ The little girl beamed proudly and said, ‘I tricked them. I’m not wearing any underwear!'”
We sat up all night watching semi-scary movies such as “A Gun in the House”, and I would scare the bejeebers out of my super superstitious friend by calling him on a spooky Friday the 13th.
We’d take our vinyl records to each other’s houses and share our toys, and even come up with inventive games to play (like pretending there was a T-Rex in my back yard and we had to hide behind the shed screaming like maniacs trying to escape…when the only real menace was my terrier mix Tippy going after his pant leg to protect me).
We also routinely threw my Marie Osmond Barbie doll from dangerous heights to send her to her plastic-y death on a weekly basis, then dissolve into giggles when we’d make up new words like “splateegie” to describe our heinous acts of Barbie murder and mayhem.
I was terrified of his killer chihuahua Bertha, but braved the dangers to enjoy things like endless Dr. Peppers and long hours of play in his bright blue bedroom that had a bunch of cool stuff.
We would go to the local amusement park and ride all the rides until we were ready to hurl. We only made the mistake of sitting on the wrong sides of the Himalaya car once; a word to the wise… the fattest one always goes on the outside, not the inside.
The fifth grade where he literally changed my life seems so long ago now. This year marks our 30th anniversary, and we have so much dirt on each other we’ll probably never stop being friends. This has been despite the fact that I’ve only lived in the same town as he has for ten of our 30 years.
My mother liked to move around a lot, generally following where ever my sister went, and when she decided to leave Amarillo to return to Abilene in 1982, I was crestfallen. No longer could I call Jeff on the phone and spend hours listening to him play his Atari, or hang out at his house or go to Wonderland.
Instead we promised to write each other. Within a week I went out to the mailbox to find an envelope addressed to me. It was on Muppet stationary, as we both shared the love of all things Beaker.
Those letters became the reason I would race for the door whenever I heard the mailman. At first they were just a few lines of text and some cartoon clippings and fun stuff he’d send just because. It would only pose a problem once when we were teenagers and he tried to send me some incense.
Jeff was the one I’d confide all my secrets to, and he’d ultimately be the first person I’d tell that I was raped at age four. That had been my dirty little secret up until I was 14, when a friend of mine was going through a similar crisis and I was scared and confused and dealing with trauma that never seems to stay hidden no matter how much you try to bury it.
It was on this particular day I was so overwhelmed I considered the unthinkable. I sat at my dining room table with a knife quite literally to my wrist in a state of despair I have thankfully rarely known. The minute the steel blade touched my skin the phone rang. I answered it and heard Jeff’s cheery voice on the other end.
The thing that makes this all the more miraculous was that Jeff’s mom almost never – and I do mean NEVER – let him call me. By the time this particular event happened he’d only called me once (and this was a good two years later), and I don’t even know if he snuck that one in.
Hearing his voice made me burst into tears. I told him what was going on and that’s when he shocked me by crying himself, telling me how much I meant to him and that I couldn’t go anywhere. I didn’t know it then but he was going through his own silent hell discovering who he was and who he was expected to be. He needed me, I needed him… the knife was forgotten.
This one event, though some skeptics might want to call it “coincidence”, will forever prove to me that there is a God. There is a higher power out there who is quite capable of miracles… and Jeff’s calling me that day when I needed him the most is proof positive of that.
Which is why when he came out to me years later, I would not forsake him because of religion. I already knew that he was in my life for a reason and I his. I just loved him unconditionally and did not judge him or his actions, because God knows I have enough to answer for when I get to sit in the hot seat. And Jeff knows every sordid detail of anything I’ve ever done.
He loves me unconditionally and I love him unconditionally. That’s never going to change.
I can totally be myself with Jeff. Everyone needs this kind of friend. I don’t have to worry about saying or doing anything that will make him think any less of me. He knows the same. He’s my soul mate in a very real, tangible way. We’ve actually discussed this at times about past lives, and if they do exist we’re convinced that we’ve known each other before. I cannot imagine a life without Jeff in it, he’s as much a part of me as my own family.
In fact, he’s closer.
And I’ve been lucky enough to be blessed with his friendship for 30 remarkable years.
So happy anniversary, Jeff.
Thank you for the memories of pizza and Moonlighting, and laughing so hard we’d cry. Thank you for the late nights of serious and not so serious chat-fests. Thank you for helping me land my first job, and widening my perspective on the world. Thank you for all the letters and then all the IM sessions. Thanks for introducing me to different books and classic movies, both of which made me laugh and cry endlessly along with you. Thank you for letting me be myself and giving me a place where I know I’ll always belong.
Most of all thank you for not only saving my life, but giving me a life worth saving.
I love you. Now. And for always.