I Miss My Friend

I had three best friends when I was a teenager. Leslie was one of them and the one with whom I kept the best contact. It helped that she moved down to Florida several years ago, which gave us the opportunity to get together.

Our perpetual plan was to meet at The Back Porch Restaurant in Lake Alfred and enjoy lunch and shopping. It was the perfect place to meet—nearly halfway between our homes. We loved it. It’s an idyllic spot for ladies to pull away from the cares of life and enjoy each other’s company. Sadly, we were not very good at keeping those appointments. Things happened, for instance, travel, work, kids, grandkids, and COVID. I am thankful for each time we had there.

We missed celebrating both of our birthdays on The Back Porch last year. I was traveling on mine. She was not feeling well on hers. The loose plan was to meet in December, but of course the holiday activities got in our way. We always thought we’d have the next time.

Bob and I were on our way to our son, Joe’s, for Christmas when I got the call from Tad. Leslie suffered a massive stroke, and she was gone. The words hung in the air as I tried to grapple with what I had just heard through Tad’s trembling voice. No more trips to Lake Alfred. No more crazy phone calls. No more reminiscing about our youth. No more long text streams. Just sadness mixed with the reality that I couldn’t quite grasp—Leslie was in Heaven. I knew that for sure. We both had accepted Jesus as our savior when we were 15. It was another one of our bonds.

Because I don’t clean out my texts often, I sat down and read all our conversations from October 2019 through November 2022. They are filled with laughter and sadness, joy and pain, prayer requests, hurricane check-ups, sarcasm and love. I will miss her crazy laughter and wonderful sense of humor, but the love of a good friend—I’ll miss that most.

The last time I talked with her was in September right before Bob and I headed to Hawaii. Hurricane Ian was coming to Florida, and we wanted to make sure she knew she could evacuate to our Orlando home even though we’d be away. She assured me she’d keep it in mind and teased me for evacuating all the way to Hawaii like some kind of crazy over-reacting paranoid Floridian. I love her.

As teenagers, we spent a lot of time at each other’s houses. They were a mile apart, but we walked it. Kids walked everywhere back then. Leslie had a pool in her backyard – something that was unheard of in suburban Maryland at the time. Therefore, we spent more summer days at her house. One day when we were walking back to her house from mine, she spotted her neighbor coming towards us. My fourteen-year-old self had a huge crush on him at the time, so she wanted to warn me, especially since I had just polished off a couple of Hostess HoHos and my teeth held evidence of that yummy chocolate cake and cream filling.

It was a good thing that I was packing that day. I whipped out my squirt gun and promptly cleaned my teeth. Leslie gave me the all-clear teeth sign, and we both laughed so hard that we couldn’t do more than wave hello when we passed by him. That is a great example of the passage from childhood to adulthood. Having a crush on a boy and carrying a squirt gun while eating junk food. No wonder our parents didn’t know what to do with us.

It was a hot summer day and we joined a few others wading through the Reflecting Pool on the mall grounds in D.C. We were so scared we’d get in trouble.

Once Leslie accompanied our family from Maryland to Florida to visit my grandparents. By that time, my two older siblings weren’t making the trip, so she joined my sister and me in the backseat of our Oldsmobile Delta 88, complete with plastic on the seats.

My grandparents lived in a “magical” world called MoHo Park, which was right off the fairly new Interstate 4, several miles from the up-and-coming, Disney World, and smack next to a prison farm, which later became the 33rd street jail in Orlando. It was a mobile home park for senior citizens. The entire park loved it when families would visit. They freely shared their pool and provided us with bikes to ride. My grandparents were two of the most loving people in the world, so they fit right in there.

During the daytime the three of us girls needed more to do than ride bikes and swim in the pool, so we toured the model homes. I should add that our tours were self-guided. It was great fun and felt dangerous. It wasn’t truly breaking and entering, as all we did was enter. I guess in those days you could leave doors open more freely, even if you did live next to a prison farm.

One fine summer day as we were going through a model home, we heard the front door open and voices wafted back to where we were. Uh oh. Leslie was not one to handle stress well and this time proved no different. Linda and I, I am sure, were not exactly models of discreet silence, but we held it together as we pushed Leslie into a closet. Of course, we joined her. Someone had to hold their hand over her mouth.

To this day I don’t remember if we were discovered or not, but I do remember Leslie laughing and ultimately crying so uncontrollably that I now wonder if those who entered the model home were hearing impaired. It could be! We were in a senior citizen community.

Years later, about a year after Bob and I married and moved to Florida, Leslie called me to tell me she was engaged. Would I be her matron of honor? Of course I wanted to, but there was the problem of money. We were newlyweds with Bob finishing college and me working for Social Security. There was no way I could afford the trip. Her dad sent me a plane ticket. He was a sweetheart, even though he always said he’d give Bob and me a year since I was clearly marrying my best friend and very young at that. Now you know why Bob and I have stayed married for going on 48 years. It was to spite Mr. Smith! I think it eventually made him happy to know we were going to make it!

Leslie and her kids, Kevin and Katie, visited us in Florida when she came down to a roller-skating competition. She competed and was quite good. She worked at roller rinks while raising her kids. We picked up where we left off, but this time we were not the kids. Yet every time we’d meet up, the kid in us leaked out the way it does when you’ve known each other forever.

Last week, Bob and I went to Venice Beach, Florida, for Leslie’s celebration of life. She lived in Florida for a few years prior to moving there, but I had not yet visited since the move. The last time I saw Leslie was the spring of 2020 when she and Tad met my mom and me for lunch. COVID and other things had interfered with our seeing each other, but I’m thankful for that brief time together.

Leslie didn’t know that Bob and I planned to come see her and see her new life and have Bob meet Tad. We knew it would be after the holidays, but sadly we were too late. Our trip to see her was to say a final goodbye to her and give our love, comfort, and support to Leslie’s son and Tad. To grieve with those who grieve and to share memories of Leslie with each other.

I’m sad and I am grieving, but I grieve as one with hope. Leslie knew Jesus as her savior. I have no doubt about it. We will see each other again.

Leslie with her sushi stealing cutie-pie grandson. She loved her grands. She sent me this picture two years ago.