Old friends, New friends

I went to Bowling Green to cry. That’s not what I would have said I was there to do. That’s not what I even believed I was there to do. But that is what I did. Seven months to the day after I helped memorialize my best and oldest friend, Jennifer, I went to see her again. In the cemetery.

I flew into Nashville on a Friday morning and leisurely ambled toward Bowling Green in a rented, rather fancy, Jeep Grand Cherokee. I had only paid for a small, un-fancy, SUV. But while I was standing at the rental car counter filling out paperwork, the agent asked me a question.

“Do you know the song, Delta Dawn?”

What a random question to be asked in 2022 at the Enterprise rental car garage kiosk. And this man was too young to be asking me the question.

“Actually, I do!” I answered confidently. “I’ve been singing that since I was a toddler. Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on…” I continued past the point of his question.

“Yes!” he exclaimed. “I knew it was flower! Excellent.” At this point, I was fully invested in the lyrics and in the conversation.

“Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?” I asked the man. He didn’t care anymore about my faded roses. Or about my vast Delta Dawn knowledge. I could have gone on for another half hour. He was done with me.

But when it came down to walking the row of fleet vehicles and choosing one for me and for my friend, Mackenzie, the Enterprise man upgraded us to a large, sweet ride. We used that ride to get into town, find a decent lunch, and then get Mackenzie to her friend’s house. I moved on to my hotel.

I spent a couple of hours that evening with Jennifer’s mom, talking. Crying. Reminiscing. I’m hoping the fact that she let me into her house means she has forgiven the rogue piercing we orchestrated in her upstairs hall bathroom in 1991. We “borrowed” an expensive needle not quite designed for ear lobes. I’ve got some serious ears. The needle didn’t survive it. I almost didn’t.

When Jennifer’s mom and I were done talking, I took myself to Chuy’s and finished the day with enchiladas. Sometimes an enchilada is all you got. From there, I went back to the hotel to decompress. My hotel room should have been comfortable. I couldn’t specifically identify what was wrong with it. But it was dim lit and carried a vibe of cauldrons and voodoo dolls. So much so that I had cancelled my second night there before the 6 p.m. cutoff, walked across the parking lot to a different hotel, and booked a new room for the following day.

For the last week or so, I haven’t made it past 4 a.m. in my sleep patterns. I would guess this is largely linked to my caffeine habit. So until I make a few adjustments to my routines, I can’t complain about it. Whatever the cause is, the pattern is that I go to sleep fine. I do not stay asleep fine. Saturday morning, I attempted to doze a little between 4 and 8 a.m., without much success. I was thinking about my plans for the day, looking up at a ceiling that was still too dark to see. I didn’t know how to find where Jennifer had been buried. I hadn’t been at the graveside that day, because it was my youngest child’s 14th birthday. I had scoured airlines, willing to do almost anything to make it work. But the only way to stay for the burial was to miss the birthday. And I knew what Jennifer would have told me on that decision. Go home, Missy. And so I did. But it has nagged at me for 7 months that I missed this final piece of it. Being a visual processor, I needed to work through this one in person. And there, on Saturday, it was time to do that. I wondered if I would be able to find her in a cemetery full of beautiful lives and stone-etched stories probably not so different from her own. I had convinced myself that with enough tenacity, I could find her without help—without ever having been there. I didn’t have to, though, because while I was lying in a quiet room thinking about it, her sister sent me a video leading me to the gravesite.  That was all I needed to get there. It was also all I needed to know that I would never have found it on my own.

I watched the video right before crawling out of bed for the day.
I now knew how to get to her.
I didn’t know what I would do when I did.

Everything else I did that day felt like a cliché. Hoards of people just like me have sat in front of graves just like hers. Like me, those people love deep. Like me, those people grieve hard. But I don’t care about that right now, because those people aren’t me and their person wasn’t Jennifer.  

It was 78° and overcast when I climbed out of my Delta Dawn ride and walked over to the plot of earth that was a mix of clay and crabgrass. As is typical of so many things post-Covid, the headstone is in process and is taking forever. And though no headstone could do her justice anyway, not having one seemed beyond pitiful. I sat down next to her and said hello. That was all I got out before I started crying. So much has happened in 7 months. There are life stories that were in the conflict stage when she died that are in the resolution stage now. There are stories I thought would never have a different ending that might actually get a different ending. There are things I wanted to tell her.

So I sat there and told her.
But mostly I just sat there.
For 5 hours.

Between the cemetery and dinner, I checked into the second hotel across the original parking lot. It felt more like brunch with your cousin and less like I walked in on an animal sacrifice in an empty warehouse. And at the new hotel, Jennifer’s sister came to see me. These meetings are bittersweet. Never is it more evident that she is gone than the moment I sit and talk to her sister on a hotel couch. But I wouldn’t trade that time for anything and it breathes life and energy into new connections. I will hold onto these connections with everything I have, because it keeps me from letting her go.

When Natalie left for a wedding, my stomach got the better of me. It was 4:30 and I was famished. I was so famished that I seriously considered again treating myself to Chuy’s next door. But Ellen had told me to go to Cambridge Market and get Jennifer’s regular order. Southern Pecan Chicken Salad and White Bean Chowder. That didn’t even sound good to me in the moment. But I couldn’t take the predictable Chuy’s route again, so I grabbed my laptop and headed to the place Jennifer loved. The chicken salad was good, but I wouldn’t have sent a postcard home about it. The white bean chowder was another story. That one might make the family Christmas card.  After the first bite I was trough eating, my face so close to the bowl I could feel the heat coming off it as I ate. I almost licked the last little bit. I didn’t but instead left some bowl clingers to take a picture of what was sticking to the sides. I have pipe dreams of somehow recreating this soup in my own kitchen. As if. I’m not capable.

On the way home from Cambridge, I was no longer hungry. But the Hot Now sign was on at the Krispy Kreme next door. I may have been full, but I’m not stupid. I got the donuts.

My night ended with a couple of really good hugs, one of them from my travel companion and the other from Jennifer’s daughter, Hallie. I’ve known Hallie since the day she was born. I met her friend Mackenzie the day of Jen’s funeral. Now Hallie’s friend, Mackenzie, is also my friend, Mackenzie. There are a lot of these connections that have formed because Jennifer’s glue was so strong and her message so beautiful. I continue to witness her impact on my tribe.

Hugging Hallie was something I needed to do. Sometimes you just know that you are standing in a moment. This was one of those moments. I stood in it for as long as I could without being creepy. And then I froze it in my mind.

So I guess I did go to Bowling Green to cry. And I did cry. A lot. But I was alone for most of it and smart enough to stop at Kroger for Kleenex.
I also went to Bowling Green to put my eyes and hands on Jennifer’s people.

And I did that.

We said we’d do this.
And we are doing this.
And we will keep doing this. For as long as it takes.

(The following are notes I typed on my phone on Saturday, June 30, one while sitting quietly in the cemetery and the other on the sidewalk in the middle of a run I took pretty much so I could say I hadn’t packed my running shoes for nothing. Because that’s how I roll.)


The God who created you has taken you home.
You are not here, but I am sitting at a plot of earth, staring at your name and dates on a plate the size of a business card.
As if that can sum you up.
The grass has not even grown over the earth where they placed you.
The God who created you and took you home
created the grass that tries now to grow over you
and the crickets that hum quiet strains of a daytime lullaby. Maybe just for me.
The God who created you
and took you home
created the tiny green bug that scoots along a piece of crab grass below your name plate.
He is on a mission, like you always were.
The God who created you and took you home
created the mosquito that bites my hand three times while I sit here talking to the air and pretending it is you.
The God who created you and took you home
created the crow that calls from a nearby tree
and the tornadoes that stripped that tree of its friends
and the breeze that shivers in what’s left of its branches.
You are not here, but this is as close as I can get to you right now,
so I’m going to sit awhile.
The God who created you and took you home
created me too.
And He’ll take me home, too.

I’ll see you at home.

The Chase

I know how to be alone.
And with the exception of a couple of pivotal meet-ups, I have been alone this weekend.
I do not feel sorry for me.
And I do not wish different for her.
But I miss my friend so much.
I have asked myself so many times why it’s such a big deal that she’s gone—why I can’t turn a life knob and move to another station.
After all, we only saw each other a handful of times a year.
And after 2017, she was never inside my house again.
Why is it such a big deal?
It is.
It is a big deal.
We were each other’s safety net.
Each other’s confidant.
Each other’s history holder.
Each other’s constant.
Each other’s ‘wait that doesn’t sound right…what’s going on?’
Each other’s what do you need?
Each other’s answer to the question what do you need.
We were each other’s.
And now I’m only mine.
And it’s a big deal this weekend because she isn’t here
and I am.
I am where she used to be.
And she is where I want to be.
I have been tempted to ask her back.
I have searched for a meet in the middle.
But it looks like I’ll have to go to her.
For now, I’m here alone.
And that’s okay.
I know how to be alone.

3 thoughts on “Old friends, New friends

  1. Missy, you put us there. With you. The loss of a best friend is sometimes under-valued. I get it. It stinks. I’m sorry. Thank you for sharing such beautiful thoughts and verses.

  2. Dear Missy, I am part of a web of 6 friends that has lasted many decades. We are bound together like you and Jennifer are still bound together. Your love letter to Jennifer will not be the last letter you write to her. Missy you were always the kid in the neighborhood who watched the chemistry in the mix and decided the best way to enter the fray. I am not surprised that your friendship with Jennifer was so complete. But I am still heartsick that you and she are not together on the planet. Love to you, Miffie

  3. Time does have a way to make our tears pass, but the emptiness takes a little while longer. You miss the friend you remember, the times you had together. Would you have Jennifer return and not be that friend due to sickness, and pain. No, you would not. So slowly all will pass. Until that time your being at her grave I am sure helped you see that she is not really here but in a much better place. I too know what it is like to loose a dear friend. I miss Connie so much especially since Mike Sr. has moved down here. One day she too will remember me. Dee Anderson

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