Daryl has a feature called "Tell me A Story", in which she posts one of her photographs and asks her readers to spin a yarn about it. My story-writing skills have been slumbering, but I have tried to wake them in order to participate this week. So, without further ado, here is Daryl's photograph, and my story to go with it!
I am 84 years old. The woman who was my best friend is inside the building behind me and to my right, surrounded with flowers and her loved ones. I shall miss her. When Alice and I were young women, the world had changed so much. Any young man who was healthy enough to go was off fighting the Germans, or the Japanese, in places whose names we had never heard of until they started appearing in the newspapers, day after day. Many of those young men never came home, of course. Alice and I married two of the ones who did, but that was later.
The two girls across the road are eating ice cream and talking. They are standing close, in their own little world. I remember how it was to have a special friend like that, one who knew you so well, she could finish your sentences, or tease you about something you were sensitive about, until you started laughing in spite of yourself. Alice was that friend, for me.
Because of the war, we had opportunities our mothers never had. We didn't have to get jobs waitressing or doing sales in a department store. We got jobs in a factory, doing jobs where we didn't have to be charming to anyone we didn't want to be charming to. We punched a clock and collected a paycheck the way our fathers had, and it gave us a freedom, and a feeling about ourselves, that we had never had before. We tied on our babushkas, like peasant women, and worked each day assembling explosives, or bullets, or whatever we were told to work on. Some of the girls' fingers turned yellow from the chemicals. We didn't care. We had, for the first time in our lives, money in our purses that was ours, and we could go to the movies, or buy that dress, or put it away, but whatever we did with the money, what mattered was that it was ours and we had earned it ourselves. We didn't have to wait on a man to have the life we wanted.
Watching the girls across the street, I feel a sudden urge and ache to be one of them, to be young, and to be just starting out and discovering things. I wonder if they are discussing boys, or the ice cream, or other girls they know. I wonder if one has a secret, and if she will tell her friend today, or ever.
When I saw Alice, earlier, she looked beautiful, despite age, despite being....so uncharacteristically still. I wept. It is not just the loss of Alice, my dearest friend, but the loss of someone who knew me in a way that only happens when one has known someone else very well for a good long time. Oh, Alice. Who will love your honest smile they way that I did, where you have gone?
I remember sitting in the Aztec Theater, watching "Leave Her To Heaven" with Alice. The woman in it was a banshee, but I liked her anyway. I didn't know that, within a few years, both of us would be married and raising families. The men took their jobs back when they came home, making Fords and De Sotos instead of bombs. We fed babies, and also our men when they came in at the end of the day. Life settled down to being more as it had been before. After so much horror overseas, people wanted normalcy almost above anything else. Alice and I never went to the factory again.
I can't help feeling, as I watch the two young girls, that the one with the shorter hair does have a secret she's keeping. Maybe she is wondering if she can trust her friend enough to tell her what is in her heart. At that age, everything is so confusing, friendships are made and dissolved in the blinking of an eye, and it takes a very special friend indeed to share some secrets. How to be sure that this connection can endure? And, by telling, would she be ruining that chance forever? Either way, the telling or the not telling will nudge her life this way or that. Oh, but listen to me. They are probably just sharing an ice cream and nothing more.
I stood for a moment saying goodbye to Alice just now, you know. Inside the funeral home, with tears spilling down my cheeks, I told her what had always been on my heart, but I said it all silently, as I always did. Then I bent and kissed her. It was the first time I ever had.