By Every Family’s Got One Guest Writer — Kathy Radigan
Four years ago, I spent a very rainy Friday afternoon in a temple sitting with other mourners as I listened to a rabbi say beautiful things about a friend I knew…
long before I was a wife, mother, and writer.
Michelle was a strong, kind person who had lost her hard-fought battle with cancer.
My mind couldn’t help travel back to a time before we met the men we would marry or answered to children calling us mom. It was a time in our lives when anything and everything was possible.
I was 23 and she was 25…
when we met through a roommate finding service. Her old roommate was starting law school in California and I was looking for a place I could afford without any financial help from my parents.
We would giggle, laugh, and cry as we shared our pasts and dreams for our future. Some nights we would discuss our views on politics and feminism. Other nights we would contemplate what type of wedding we envisioned for ourselves, or what age would be the perfect one to start a family.
I tried to remember…
if in all those late-night conversations we had ever spoken about what we would like said at our own funerals.
I know we must have because there wasn’t much we didn’t share during our hours-long gabfests. We sat in our beds, in rooms that were separated by a thick plaster wall. But since our “doors” were nothing more than curtains, our voices carried easily through the old railroad flat.
We were so proud of that dump!
She would hate that I’m calling it that. But it was ours. We paid for it with paychecks from grown-up jobs. Nobody was supporting us. We would remind ourselves of this fact whenever one of our friends would come over to crash overnight in the city and tease us about our home.
There was a lot to tease us about. The apartment had an old-fashioned kitchen with the sink behind the shower. The toilet was in a separate room across the hall. You had to walk through our bedrooms to get to the living room. I won’t go into detail about the roaches.
We would laugh…
along with our overnight guests as they pointed out the many faults of our home. After they left we would pat ourselves on the back. We had our own place on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Our friends who were so critical still lived in the suburbs with their parents.
After a year-and-a-half as roommates, we moved into a new apartment on the 26th floor of a high-rise with a doorman. The apartment had a dishwasher and a very distant view of the treetops of Central Park.
We were moving up in the world.
The method for our all-night gabfests changed because of the apartment’s layout. One of us would have to knock on the other’s door and then come in to lie on beds that took up most of the room to discuss whatever was going on.
I remember coming home from my first date with Joe and telling Michelle that he was a nice guy, but he surely wasn’t the one I was going to marry. Three weeks later, I told her I was in love for the first time in my life.
And I remember the night…
she came home all excited over the great guy she met while out with a few of her friends. The next day she went with me to buy my wedding dress, and when the saleswoman had her get into my dress so I could see how it bustled up in the back, we wondered if it was a sign that this new guy was “the one.” He was.
A little over a year later I was with her when she got fitted for her wedding dress.
All those memories and more…
were front and center in my heart and mind as I heard tribute after tribute to my old friend.
As often happens as we get older, our lives had moved on and our friendship had faded. We never had a fight, we just drifted apart. I hadn’t seen my old roommate in years though we had exchanged phone calls and vowed to get together as soon as we could.
Somehow, we never were able to make it work with our busy, jam-packed lives.
As the service came to an end…
I was brought back to the here and now as I glanced at the time and was reminded that I had to be home to get my nine-year-old off the bus.
I looked around the room filled beyond capacity, mostly with people I didn’t know.
People who knew and loved my friend.
I was happy to see that the life Michelle had dreamt of so many years ago was the one she had achieved.
And I was glad that I could say that same about my own.
Yet I couldn’t stop thinking of the girls we were back then when most of our daily decisions were as life-altering as what outfit to wear on a date or what restaurant or movie to go to after work.
The word “friend”…
never seems to do the place Michelle held in my life justice. And roommate doesn’t quite fit either. She was family. Dare I say, a sister.
As the oldest of three girls, I certainly wasn’t in the market for another one. And true, Michelle and I didn’t share the same parents.
But we did grow up together.
We went from young women with our futures completely in front of us to women who were able to choose the lives we wanted.
I am so grateful that I had that time in my life to spread my wings and learn how to fly. And I’ll always be eternally grateful to the soul sister I learned to do it with.
A version of this essay was previously published on My Dishwasher’s Possessed!