Memoirs about friendship abound. One I enjoyed depicts the strong bond of two women, kindred souls who loved writing and dogs. Gail Caldwell titled the book “Let’s Take the Long Way Home,” because that’s what they would do, after a long hike through the woods. Their dogs might be tired, but their people were nowhere near done talking.
As so often happens in these books, Caldwell’s friend, Caroline Knapp, developed cancer and died. Had she not, the friendship might have remained private, known to their friends and family, but not to the larger world. No death, no book.
I’ve read countless books like this. It’s not that the survivor didn’t appreciate the friendship before the death sentence, it’s just that now, with her friend no longer around, she wants to get it all down, to remember. The friend may have been taken suddenly, by a drunk driver, or more slowly, by the accumulating losses of Alzheimer’s disease. Whatever the reason, writing allows the survivor to share her friend with the world.
So I’ve decided to write about my good friend, whose name I will change. When we met, after our college compared our answers to The Roommate Quiz and decided we matched up, she was known to all but her parents as “Teddy.” She considered “Theadora” a cumbersome name, something you might call a great-aunt.
Teddy and I were almost scarily alike. We both loved Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins. We loved Tom Rush’s “No Regrets” album so much, we fell asleep to side two every night in our dorm. We both wore hip-hugging bell bottoms and had straight hair nearly down to our waists. Mine was light brown, hers shiny black, already flecked with strands of white. By her 30’s, it would be all white, just like her Lebanese mother’s.
We took no classes together, because she majored in art, while I wallowed in literature and writing. But we stayed up late with our friends down the hall, and exchanged letters during our summers apart. She moved out of the dorm to live with her new boyfriend, and I did the same soon after.
Still, we had our differences. I don’t mean we fought; I mean we were not clones. Teddy came from a wealthy Chicago suburb, while I hailed from blue-collar Davenport. Teddy had a stereo with components, a word meaning nothing to me until then, since I was still using an all-in-one unit that I thought was a huge improvement over my mono record player. She had flannel sheets for Midwest winters; I didn’t know such a luxury existed. Her parents fascinated me – her mother an instinctive cook, her father a successful insurance man who also wove his own fabric on an enormous loom. My parents were just my parents.
She was an only child, born after a series of miscarriages, so her mother wrung her hands every time Teddy flew farther away. We roomed together one last time during junior year, off on Coe’s New York Term, having a blast in the big city. But after that, we drifted apart. Teddy moved in with a bunch of other students, after living alone with a dog or cat for years. I left campus during my last semester, to live at home while I finished my honors thesis on J.D. Salinger. I was shocked to see her at graduation, her beautiful hair chopped off at the chin. I’d had mine cut short years before, but she knew I was doing it.
At some point, Teddy grew determined to move to California. To this day, I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the weather, or the free-spiritedness of the arts colony she found in Laguna Beach. While she made plans to emulate Joni Mitchell (Teddy could sing, too), I grew scared of the world, and persuaded my high school boyfriend to marry me and take me away to Colorado, the only way I knew to be “independent” while being taken care of. My dreams were more domestic than hers.
Teddy visited while I was pregnant with my first child. She flew to Denver, staying with us until she could find an old Volvo (her dream car) to buy. She did, and when it turned out to have a stick shift, she hired someone to teach her, then drove it all the way to Laguna. As my mother put it, “Teddy always comes up smelling like roses.” Her fearlessness took my breath away.
Her life was far from perfect, though. After moving to L.A., a man began stalking her, making her life hell for years. Was he the serial killer they caught soon after she stopped sensing her stalker’s presence? Maybe. She eluded him, regaining her courage, and later spent two years in Paris studying photography and perfecting her French. My daughter and I visited her there in 1995, renewing a great friendship that should never have been neglected.
And now? Am I mourning Teddy, or “Thea” as she chose to be called in her more mature years? Well, no. I can’t say that I am. Am I saddened at what those years did to her? Heavens, no. I didn’t mean to lead you on, but Thea’s fine. Still a California woman, still strikingly independent and beautiful, still hiking with her dog and new friends, writing mysteries and sending me eloquent emails instead of long letters.
I just thought it would be nice, for once, to celebrate a friend who is still here, though far away. To take joy in a friendship that still carries that gorgeous scent of roses. Hey, Thea. I’m so glad you’re still in my life.