My parents surrounded themselves with several families when they moved to the States, families who were the same ethnicity. Families who they could speak their native language with, share the same foods, the same cultural norms and had friends who were around my age. We were 6 girls. Three of were only children, one was an only child for a long time until her parents had another son much too late for us to be anything but annoyed by, and two were sisters. We had each other's families known over for dinner parties that lasted until the wee hours of the night, for weekends driven to the beach, all of us crowding in the back of one car, begging to put on Top 40 Casey Kason and dealing with listening to whatever they wanted to as well. My father was notorious for having us also answer various school related topics, I am pretty sure all of us know capitals and geography more from those trips then from school.
These are my memories, these girls, endless hours spent together talking, talking on phones that were tethered with long, stretched out cords. I can see us walking away from our parents at the beach, burning plastic (don't judge we were poor) at the picnic area we went to just to see the patterns they would melt into (don't judge I said). We were a unit, like steps each a year younger than the other. One of us lived in New Jersey, in a house to our apartments, so we spent many New Year's in her basement while our parents danced, laughed, played poker and basically left us alone to listen to our music, to drink our bootleg shampoo bottle of booze that I had brought (it was nasty for the record), to be silly.
We were family and those of us who lived in NY went to the same schools or schools near by, followed each other around, walked endless hours by boys we liked and asked if they had looked at us. We supported each other and debated the merits of Led Zeppelin, the Stones, the Doors and swooned over Rick Springfield at the first concert we all went to, our mothers complained for days about the noise level (of the girls screaming not Rick). It baffled our parents how we could talk so much, then get on the phone and talk some more. We were sisters and fought like such, we loved each other.
Yet we were not the same. I was the oldest and the easiest going, maybe I was bossy at times but for the most part I was pretty much game to go with the flow. G was the next in line. She was always a little bolder, ok a lot bolder. She called her dad by his first name, we met when she was 9 and I was 10. He wasn't her biological father, she knew and told us, we nodded but probably not quite understood. She was like us but she wasn't. She was allowed to roam freer than the rest of us, she was raped at 11 by a group of teen boys. She told me, she made me swear not to say anything or she would deny it, we did not say anything. I am not sure now if we knew what "rape" meant. After all she still hung out with them after so was it that bad? The adult in me shudders remembering this, we did not tell we should have but we thought the parents would be mad at us. I know her behavior was typical of a survivor now, I did not know that then.
We all started smoking pot in our teens, I started to pull away when I realized it was getting beyond just that. I saw the people that we were with and I did not see them leaving the place we were, I was 16. I did not explain this to the other two of the 6 of us who were with me, G and M, I left them and I left it behind because a part of me wanted more, wanted to be anything but stuck in the same place in life. I left her slowly and I loved her a lot but she stayed. She took more and harder drugs. Her depression, as an adult I see it, her self destructive behavior hidden behind an always present smile, a big personality. She couldn't be an addict, she was too smart, too popular, too everything right?
We drifted apart and we drifted back together when my father and two of the mothers died the same year, mere months apart. G's mom was one of them. We shared each other's grief, we laughed at every memory we had of them, we were in our 20s. They died much too young. We lived without a parent each much too young.
Her addiction took her, she thought she was in charge, she could convince us she was in charge but she was out of control because that is addiction. It starts by giving you a good feeling, it makes you fill a void, it takes you. It takes everything from you, it becomes the best friend you need, you want, you defend against those who tell you to give it up. It is a disease and it is rooted in pain and we did nothing to help, she never asked us to, we all had moved on. One of us kept in touch with her.
I saw her not long after I had my son at a party that our New Jersey friend threw. She had tracked G down. She had been in Riker's, she like many in there had been sexually abused and raped by the guards, she was not some character in Orange is the New Black she was my friend and she had called none of us. Not to visit, not to see her, not for help. She had her addiction still and it would wait for her to get out of jail. She had her smile, we all hoped she would be ok.
G died last week. She had been clean for 10 years, she had been with her husband for 20. They had spiraled down and up together, he was helped her stay clean along with him. They gave up heroin. Read that again, they gave up heroin. He replaced her addiction with love, the way he spoke of her was a gift, I was happy she had that kind of love. It was the thing that filled a void that topped addiction. It was something she chose to do because she finally found a way back to being able to make that choice.
We were once 6 girls and now we are 5 and every part of me hurt when I heard of her death at 48. Her smile is what I remembered first, her laugh and the way she seemed like life was hers for the taking, addiction took her potential to be bigger than life. She could not control it, it controlled her.
G made me laugh in her death like she had when alive, she made me remember how good my childhood was and how close to going in a different path we all were. It made me wonder where I failed her and it made me realize that in all of the years I knew her she never asked me to help her except for once, and I did but I could not help the pain she carried since we were children. G is part of every childhood memory I have, part of how I moved in a different direction and now part of the way I spoke with my kids about drugs and what they do to you.
She had love and that means a lot to me. It also reminded me that we need to not be silent about sexual abuse, pain, and offer real treatment for those things along with treatment for addiction. Too many have become one less number to their friends and family and left us with memories instead of being part of the ones we will make. If you know anyone who is an addict try and give them the option to ask you for help - they will not get better until they realize that there is more to life than pain, that the drugs or alcohol they use will not make it better and that they deserve our compassion and support not our jails and indifference.
Then there were 5 and as it always was - we grieved together, we laughed at memories together and no matter where we live we live within each other always. We have been friends for over 40 years, through many decades and from a previous century. Goodbye my friend I will love you always.