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  • laurenwhitehurst8

My Oldest Friend

I don’t know many who can claim that one of their closest friendships started the same year as their birth. But Lynn’s and my dad were law partners before we were born, and we are three months apart in age. So naturally, our dads threw us together even before we could parallel play. Sometimes those matchups don’t work so well. This one did.

Lynn and I grew up together. We attended the same school from junior kindergarten through senior year of high school, and we never lost our connection. We weren’t always best friends, but we always knew we were special to one another. I took a day trip to Chicago yesterday to attend Lynn’s father’s Celebration of Life, and it has flooded me with memories.

I smell Mr. Miller’s pipe tobacco aroma that pervaded their den, and I hear the click-clack of the parkay floor in their entryway — the only surface that worked to run Evil Knievel's motorcycle on the jump ramp. I taste the Mac ‘n Cheese Mrs. Miller would cook for lunch, super creamy from cheese whiz, and the turkey and cheese sandwiches on kaiser rolls we sometimes ate instead from the commissary in the building. I hear the scratching sound of Lynn’s pet guinea pig in the kitchen corner, even if I cannot recall its name. I remember us playing “Life of Barbie” in her pink bedroom (jealous) with the townhouse (kept in the closet and set up every time by Mrs. Miller) and the plane (brought with me), as well as gathering items from around the house to sell in our store, leveraging the Miller’s adding machine and the real order forms with duplicates Mrs. Miller purchased for us. I also can see her dad from their apartment windows facing Lincoln Park, where the morning after a summer sleepover, we would watch him walk away, heading all the way from Diversey to his office in the Loop on foot.

I was the sole honorary guest at Lynn’s house more than once when her family trimmed their Christmas tree, since our family didn’t celebrate. I also called her every Christmas morning as early as allowed to hear all about her gifts, a sacred ritual until I started having a Christmas morning with my own kids. Lynn’s house was the first one I visited by myself on the CTA bus, my mother delighted she no longer had to traverse the park twice in one day. I still know Lynn’s house phone number and apartment number by heart – I realized this when my mom asked me for the information for her condolence note to Mrs. Miller. Even today, I can envision Lynn’s entire apartment in my mind — it is as familiar to me as my own at that age.

The memories are too numerous to recount, and they become less cute as we aged. But suffice it to say leaving Lynn for college was a little like leaving a sister — we were just that connected by our shared experiences of playdates, teachers, school, sports and friends. College distanced us a bit. I visited her once, and I honestly cannot recall if she visited me. We were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings; we saw each other at high school reunions or other friends’ weddings. But she ended up in Seattle, and I settled in Atlanta. Once we were both married and had kids, we were just busy. We spoke a few times a year (still sometimes on Christmas morning) and remained very good friends. But it’s fair to say we certainly lost a little of what we had. I guess that’s a normal consequence of life’s path when you live across the country from one another and are in those years where making time for anything but job, kids, spouse is just tough.

And yet, that didn’t persist. When Lynn’s family moved to Spain for a year in 2016, for some reason, our contact became more frequent, mostly via email. Maybe it was that emails are easier to fit into your own schedule versus calls which require mutual availability. Maybe it was because she sought out pre-trip advice on our travel experiences with kids, since mine are older. Regardless, something rekindled. We sent long emails to one another all that year, and we even spent two days in Seville as families, my kids corrupting hers with Charlie’s Angels shooting poses for a picture at a fortress and her kids wowing ours with their Spanish skills learned in immersion school. Who would have thought more distance would make for less.

Since then, we are a priority for each other again. Lynn and I speak every few weeks, and we find each other when we need someone who knows our roots and who cares so deeply that any topic is fair game. We talk about our kids and our efforts at balancing meaningful work and family, and we share our hopes, plans and struggles. We are there for each other to celebrate and to console. Our friendship is a treasure.

Mr. Miller’s life celebration taught me much about Lynn’s dad that I didn’t know. Not surprising — my memory of him is as Lynn’s dad smiling to see me, but fairly quickly going back to his newspaper or his work. I loved hearing about how he had prioritized his family in his life, his daughters and grandchildren beaming with pride and love as they talked about him. And it was wonderful to hear his friends discussing funny experiences and his colleagues citing his amazing accomplishments. What struck me most though was one speaker’s comment that what made Mr. Miller’s loss so acute for him was the sheer number of shared memories they had, the life experiences they had encountered together. It made me consider just how many memories Lynn and I share, from childhood and from recent times. And I know we will have more. What a fitting and poignant idea for that day.

I almost didn’t take the trip yesterday because of my recent leg injection. I cancelled after the doctor said he wasn’t keen on it, but after a restless night post-telling Lynn I would not be able to come, I emailed him and pressed the topic. I really cannot imagine missing the celebration for Mr. Miller or missing a chance to express my condolences to Mrs. Miller and Lynn’s sister. But most of all, I cannot imagine not being there in that moment to support my oldest, dear, dear friend.

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