Whenever I'm down, I call on you my friend
A helping hand you lend, in my time of need so I
I'm calling you now, just to make it through
What else can I do? Won't you hear my plea?
Friends may come and friends may go--
But you should know that
I've got your back, it's automatic
So never hesitate to call
'cause I'm your sister and always for ya
and I don't know. . .
I don't know what I'd ever do without you
From the beginning to the end
You've always been here right beside me
So I'll call you my best friend
Through the good times and the bad ones
Whether I lose or If I win
I know one thing that never changes and
That's you as my best friend
~ Brandy, "My Best Friend"
I remember my third day of medical school well. Well, not the full day of it but one part in particular. I'd just parked in the lot next to our academic building and had slung my backpack over one shoulder. Since it was the start of the year, I wanted to hustle inside and get a comfortable seat in the lecture hall before it got too crowded.
Like always, I was walking fast. But this time, since it was that point at a new place where I was just making my mark, I wanted to be early. With blinders on, I picked up my pace. It surprised me when, despite how quickly I was trucking, someone would decide to sidle up next to me, match my pace and make small talk.
"Hey there! I'm Lisa," the person panted.
Mid-stride, I swung my head to the side and noticed this woman walking lock step with me. I hadn't seen her on the first day of orientation but something about the way she introduced herself made me immediately know that she was just as new to our medical school as me.
"Oh, hey. I'm Kimberly," I replied. I pulled my strap over onto my shoulder and then reached for her hand, legs still moving the entire time. "I'm sorry. I'm just trying to make sure I get a decent seat."
"Oh, no problem. I'm a fast walker, too." Her voice was hi-pitched and her tone was familiar. I noticed that immediately. That and the fact that, like me, she had a smattering of freckles over her nose and cheeks. She was smiling at me in this warm and easy way. Like an auntie or a neighbor welcoming you into her home for a slice of homemade pie.
"Nice to meet you, Lisa," I finally replied.
Swiftly, she spoke again. "I went to Hampton. Where'd you go to school?"
"Tuskegee." I took a few more steps and then looked back at her. "Hey, Tuskegee and Hampton! We've got the Booker T. Washington connection, right?" I chuckled and offered her a high five. Lisa obliged me, quickly affirming that she knew the association between her fellow Hampton alumnus, Booker T. Washington , who would go on to later found my alma mater in 1881.
She was wearing her sorority jacket. This isn't such an unusual thing for folks who graduated from historically black colleges. The most striking thing perhaps was that it was the first obvious thing we didn't have in common. Lisa was an AKA unlike myself, a recent initiate of Delta Sigma Theta. "AKA, huh?" I feigned a look of disapproval as we continued up the path.
"And proud of it!" she giggled. "Delta?"
"You know it!"
"Mmm. Some of my closest friends have that problem." We both shared a collective laugh as we took the last few steps into the Basic Sciences Building. We diligently found our seats in the freshman lecture hall and started what would be the first of many days just like this.
And the rest, they say, is history. That was the day that Lisa Walker became my best friend. And I guess I say that because every memory after that gets blurry and runs all together for me. That walk from the parking lot has always stood out because it really is impossible for me to get my mind around the time at Meharry or beyond where she wasn't just that--my best friend. It's a title she holds to this very day.
Now. As far as close woman-friends go, I am deeply blessed in that area. Without question, my collection of "Ruths" (as I call them) sustains me. And you've heard me speak of that very idea of women being there for women and how important that is. Regardless of marital status, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic position, women need women. And me? I've been fortunate to have them surrounding me.
Yes, I have.
But a best friend is different. You grow up together and grow through things together. You become uniquely vulnerable to one another. The spinning merry-go-round of joy, pain, sunshine and rain is one that you try your best to cling onto together without getting thrown off. And with best friends you do cling on. Or you get right back on the second you're flung into the sandbox. You mature and learn that love and acceptance are found there like nowhere else. That being you is just fine. Especially with her. Your best friend.
Do I have some other super-duper tight-girl besties? Of course I do. And so does Lisa. But it's weird. There's this unspoken thing between those who enter this kind of friendship that is its own kind of special. Separate from what I share with my blood sisters or my mom. Just. . .I don't know. . . .different. And I guess any woman who knows of this kind of friendship is nodding her head and understanding. Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, having this kind of best friend doesn't undercut or minimize other friendships. In fact, quite the contrary. That kind of friendship makes you a better friend. It keeps you in check and teaches you loyalty.
At least that's what I think.
And you know? Not every woman will know of this. That is, a real, true, bona fide best friend. A Big B, Big F best friend, as my sister Deanna used to call it. Some have "good girl friends" and that's it. Or they're best friends with their spouse--which is fine--but again, different. So no. Not every woman can say she has a ride-or-die, undeniable, go-to BFF. But what I'm saying is that I do. And I'm so, so glad.
Damn, I am.
Anyways. Stay with me. I'm going somewhere.
Okay. So last month, I heard some awful news. A college friend and sorority sister had a sudden death in her home. A massive pulmonary embolism which the doctor in me recognizes as a very ruthless thing to have. What's even worse is that her own mother found her and tried to do CPR. She had two daughters, countless friends and was simply an amazing human being. She truly was.
Sassy and quick-witted. Fiercely loyal and ready to have your back. Thoughtful and attentive. Her name was Jackie and I'm so glad to have known her. I really am.
JoLai was the one who told me. She abruptly cut into what had been a lively phone chat and blurted out that she'd just heard it via text message. With emotion in her voice, she quickly hung up and left me to wrestle with that bombshell.
Of course, I felt all the things any person feels when hearing of the untimely passing of a peer. But now, my feelings always have this new complexity since Deanna's death. I cried immediately upon hearing the news. Jackie and I didn't talk much so I admit that I wept for her mother first. Then for her daughters. I knew that for her mother, a resilient and strong woman, this unnatural order of events would introduce her to a level of pain unlike any other. I'd seen it up close and personal in my own parents. And that? That broke my heart. And breaks my heart. Because no mother should have to attend her child's funeral.
And so. I looked on social media at the beautiful words and photos posted in her memory. Friend after friend reminisced on special moments and priceless memories shared with her in school and beyond. I loved it all, particularly because Jackie was not only my friend but Deanna's close friend. The pictures of Jackie that started popping up often included her friend, my sweet sissy, too. All of it warmed my heart.
It sure did.
But then, as I clicked through post after post, something grabbed me by the neck and squeezed the air out of me. A simple, yet sorrowful post that read:
"I have to say this is the worst day of my life. I feel like someone just ripped my heart out."
And that was it. No photos. No hashtags. No nothing. But those words, coupled with the knowledge of who wrote them, invoked a sympathy so deep that I had to close my computer and drop my head into my hands.
Those were the words of her best friend.
No. Not her close friend. And no, not her very, very, dear friend. This was her Lisa. Her 3am phone call. Her bridesmaid that didn't even need to be asked or assigned since it was a given. The peanut butter to her jelly. The hip to her hop. Any who knew Jackie, knew that she and Joye, her best friend, went back like car seats. Not only had they attended Tuskegee together--they both came there after transferring from Syracuse where they'd met as freshmen. Years, miles, husbands, children, health issues and anything else that could potentially tease them apart never had a chance. These two were like peas in a pod, sisters from another mister. And you know? It was just one of those things that everyone knew. Jackie and Joye were best friends. Big B, Big F friends. And like Lisa and me, I doubt that either of them could ever remember a time that they weren't.
And so. After reading Joye's words, it dawned on me what she, too, had lost. I imagined the terrible, raw and gaping hole that had to be throbbing in Joye's chest--or the chest of any person who has just lost THAT kind of friend. Their Big B, Big F Best Friend. Especially one with a personality as big and alive as Jackie's.
Of course, my thoughts constantly went to her mother and her two girls. But closely tethered to that would be this relentless, gnawing sympathy for her Big B, Big F best friend.
On and off, I also had these fleeting thoughts of what it would feel like to hear such news about Lisa. The thought made me so immediately nauseous and tearful that I'd do my best to think of something else. Once I even told Lisa all about Jackie and Joye and my morbid thoughts. I could tell that she, too, had never even thought of what that must be like.
When Deanna passed away, I was so consumed with the grief of my family that this thought never crossed my mind either. That is, this specific idea of what Deborah, Deanna's very best friend must have been feeling back then. Or what she feels to this very day.
So I guess that's what I'm reflecting on this evening. The blessing of living into your adulthood with a Big B, Big F best friend--one with whom you become so close that the whole world knows it, especially the two of you. You know? I wish a Lisa or a Jackie or a Deanna or a Deborah for every woman. Because even when you are surrounded by throngs of amazing friends, having that Big B, Big F one is like climbing into bed with freshly laundered Egyptian cotton sheets.
Comfort on a whole 'nother level.
So yeah, despite how painful the thought is, I have let myself think about what it means for someone to lose that person to death. I try to get my head around it but honestly can't. Instead I've just decided to let it remind me of how blessed I am to have my Lisa. I appreciate how much better we make each other and how much we've grown together through the years. I love that we give one another space for other close friendships. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don't. And with your Big B, Big F friend? It's all good.
The older I get, the more I see. And I'm okay with expanding my view to include the suffering of others. Today, it includes that of a best friend who is trying to navigate a world that suddenly doesn't include hers.
So to Joye and Deborah and any other Big B, Big F friends who know this unusual grief, I'm so, so sorry. No, I don't know what it feels like to lose a best friend. But I do know what if feels like to have one. That I know for sure.
Now playing on my mental Vine.
And my mental iPod. . .