|"Two beers or not two beers: What was the question?"|
I tend to date things by major life events: the death of my mother (1993), when Chris died (2002), and when I began to skydive (1990). Thinking back, I try to imagine what else was going on, usually based on how much we each weighed at the time, the length of our hair, and how much gray is (or is not) in my hair. Norma Jean has only a little gray even now, but I am completely white-haired today.
Some other clues taken from the picture: under Norma Jean's leg is a little dog, maybe her dog Radar, but I'm not sure. It was taken at Fia's home in Texas; I recognize the couch. We had purchased the t-shirts at a mall earlier in the day and decided to take a picture commemorating the caption we found amusing enough to buy. I've got no idea if I ever wore that shirt again, but I have a vague memory of posing for the picture. It was in the days before we had digital cameras so I didn't see it at the time, and Pete was busy taking lots of family pictures.
I've got a brother and four other sisters, but the one who is my best friend is Norma Jean, always was. We grew up together, moving from place to place as Daddy was assigned and reassigned in the Air Force. We moved so often that I had many different schools and teachers that simply evaporated from my memory banks. There was a period in the 1950s, however, when we stayed in one place for several years: at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California. I think that's why when I think of where I grew up, that area and those memories are the most vivid. Norma Jean and I often recall events that happened during that time; we are the only ones who share them, since our other family members are either gone or weren't born yet.
After we became adults and had our separate lives, Norma Jean and Pete with their two kids, and I with my numerous tumultuous marriages and liaisons, we only saw each other at these gatherings. But it didn't matter: whenever we got together, we would go running or on long walks or shopping expeditions and it was just like we had never been apart. Our connection has always run very strong in both of our lives. When Chris died, Norma Jean was the first family member I called. I had to cry on her virtual shoulder. That was ten years ago now, and the ensuing years have only bonded us more closely.
Although we have very different personalities, so many aspects of our lives have begun to dovetail ever since Pete died. I went to Florida in February 2011 when he died and spent three weeks with her. We woke early every morning and cried together while we drank coffee and thought about the way forward. She and Pete had made arrangements for her to be relatively well off after he would be gone. She owns her own mobile home in a retirement community and has no debts, allowing her to live comfortably on her social security and some small investments. After I came back to my own home, we got into the habit of talking on video chat two or three times a week. Usually we talk for a long time, often a couple of hours, and the time flies by. It's like we are together, being able to see each other's expressions and mannerisms.
During this time we have begun to share other aspects of our lives: she pretty much stopped eating meat after Pete died and has begun to eat vegetables that she never ate before. I feel like I can take some credit for that. She now loves kale and brussels sprouts and eats them every day. She has turned me on to ways to prepare flax. The list goes on and on, and every once in awhile we discover that we made the same decision about a purchase, independently from one another. We laughed as we held up matching water bottles for the other to see, and on her birthday last week, we shared a glass of wine in our matching wine glasses, pretending to clink them together as we talked.
She sees her next-door neighbor relatively often, so I don't worry about her being without any support in case of emergencies. They each have a little dog and combined their back yards so the dogs can play together. Pete and Doris' husband were close, and they died within a few months of each other, making Norma Jean and Doris both recent widows. Doris has been traveling for the past month or so, and it worried me that Norma Jean has been alone. I am glad that her son Peter has come to visit, because I now no longer worry in quite the same way. I had been counting the days until Doris returned, but now I feel vast relief. It's the only downside to being so far away from my best friend: what if she needed me? How could I get there in a hurry?
She chides me for being a worry wart. I can't help it. She's very important to me, and if something were to happen to her, well, I get distressed just thinking about it. Of course, that's what happens: some life event marks another place where everything changed. I just hope it will be a long, long time before anything like that changes my relationship with my sister, my best friend.