Four Miles to Randy

My daughter is a second year college student home for Thanksgiving. Her friends are here or she is there—wherever there is—with them these four November days. They make up a clump of best friends. Cora, Sadie, Maddie, Emmet, Henry, Ian and Maisie grew up together in those torturous and wondrous high school years and still are cocooning their friendships with as much time as possible. As I heard laughter and that muffled raising and lowering of voices from the fire pit last night, I began thinking about my own high school best friend.

We didn’t really stay in touch much after those first years before she had four daughters and I moved to the desert from the midwest plains for seven more years of school. There weren’t cell phones and writing apparently wasn’t what we did. She moved around a lot while I stayed in Tempe and got on with whatever things I planned and random bits I didn’t plan which set a course far from our communication.

So with the house lights out late last night and young friends noise outside I opened up my laptop. I remembered that Randy and I had communicated relatively recently through Facebook messaging. A FB privacy curse I suppose but in this case a blessing that our bursts of hello are still there. Our last words of 1/08/15 are us being us—close and understanding, catching up in clips with some facts, some wishes, and some sorrow.

We would call each other on the party line countertop phones from our family kitchens on beautiful fall days when she didn’t have to work in the fields and I didn’t have 4-H or not-much going on. We’d make a plan. We’d leave our houses and walk on the railroad tracks then meet in wherever that middle was between our eight miles apart. Then we’d stroll slowly along the shelterbelts together, sit down and just talk. Or not. We looked for the deer we’d seen last time in those tree rows, we had a fallen tree we’d straddle, lay on, lean against, and pick at as the slow afternoon wore on.

We weren’t the popular cheerleaders in our tiny country school, we weren’t the smartest or anythingist. We were just together in our ideas. Not so much our dreams, they were too hard to imagine outside of one step at a time. She wanted to work in a hospital, I wanted to be an artist or musician or I didn’t exactly know. Tiny steps were all we could imagine, college catalogues came in the mail, and sometime in those days she met her husband.

My brother told me last spring in one of our every few month phone calls that Randy had passed away. I hadn’t actually forgotten this since then but I had not given it time which is a kind of worry and noticing of the loss; mine, her family, her circle of care. So last night Google and Facebook let me see her face and prod snippets of our times. The photographs didn’t tell me details of who she was as a friend, mom, grandma, caregiver—but seeing her face, I was deeply familiar with the gist of her listening, empathy, her humor which I want to call dour, a bit gloomy but realistic, true, and honest. I loved that about Randy. She was not light. She was real and an anomaly to me in those teenage days because of her ability to poke seriousness away from sadness and into curiosity. Her dad had died when she was very young and she had identical twin older brothers and two younger sisters. Her farm house was tiny but always smelled good with cooking though I remember it mostly empty and quiet. The kitchen was dark, the stairs to her bedroom was tiny, even to us then.

Randy was frank, sometimes quiet, always thoughtful. But I don’t want to give the impression we didn’t laugh. We laughed together as much as we needed. I walked from Forest River on the railroad tracks to meet her halfway more than once and probably less than a half dozen times. This is my main Randy memory which holds our relationship of companions. One time we pointed over the wheat field at dusk toward the flat horizon to focus our attention to the beauty or maybe to our fear and longing to both stay and leave that place, that time that we agreed wasn’t so easy.

From our railroad walks we’d end up at her house or mine to ask one of my or her brothers to drive one of us home. Randy, I remember this about you and our time which was daily and inclusive of all things high school and I’m positive these are the moments we’d talk about tonight if I could call you.