My friend died last week.
We hadn’t talked for fifteen years. There was a falling out over lifestyle choices. But before that, she was my bestie, all the way back to our college days at PCC.
We met during a low period in my life. My husband had walked out on me, leaving only a red rose and a damning note. I’d just moved to Portland from B.C. and knew no one besides my parents. It was hard—I was devastated. I considered following him back to Canada, but then I met Tery.
I should say, Tery met me. An outgoing extravert with an upbeat personality, she noticed me sitting alone at the lunch table and invited me over. I was shy and shell-shocked but soon found I could relax in her easy aura. We began to meet outside of school, and the friendship blossomed from there.
But this is not going to be a biography, nor is it a memoir. This is about how, after fifteen years of silence, I find myself missing her.
I had no concept until her passing how much of my day-to-day life is still rooted in that long-ago history. Today while working in my studio, I picked up an eraser, the Mars plastic type that we had at school. Is it an original or a newer acquisition? Either way, it made me think of Tery.
Tery. When we first met, she spelled her name the normal way—Terry. But we were artists—at least we were going to be—and one day she decided she needed something more unique. I vividly remember the discussion over cigarettes and beer. “Teri” was too common. “Terri”? Too cute. “Terie”? Too easy to mispronounce. She came upon “Tery” and has been Tery ever since.
The Mars plastic eraser isn’t the only thing I’ve saved all these years. I have a forty-five year old bottle of India ink, a palette knife, and a big, square watercolor brush that cost a small fortune back in the day. And that’s only what is here in my workroom. In the living room are picture albums that date back to the 80’s. In the attic is a stack of black and white prints we took for photography class and printed ourselves. (I haven’t looked either since Tery’s death. Maybe I will do it soon… or maybe never…)
One picture that comes to the forefront of my mind was taken by a friend—Tery and me looking out a window at our favorite bar hangout, Zoe’s in Multnomah. That photo shouts, “We are young. We are artists. We are women. We have our lives ahead of us.”
After we graduated (May of 1980 with Mt. St Helens ash falling on our portfolios), we went into business together across the street from Zoe’s. Despite the stars in our eyes, it took only a year for little Woodrose Art Shop to go under. As I look back, I can see that was the year things began to go downhill.
But I promised not to pontificate on the past. Stuff happened. We turned thirty; we got married (a few times, in my case); we had lots of friends and did crazy things in out-of-the-way places.
Though it took another twenty years for me to get it, that lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. I replaced it with something healthier; she didn’t.
In our last real conversation, Tery berated me for changing, while I preached about my “better life” from a pink cloud of early sobriety. There was no common ground, and we both knew it.
My newfound program asks us to make amends to those people we had hurt, and I knew Tery was among them. Sober, I came to accept my part in the arguments, fights, and misunderstandings we’d had along the way. Looking back to that time in Mazatlán when I was so angry at her flippancy, I see two things. Firstly, she was who she was—my expecting her to change was my problem, not hers. Second, I was as drunk as everyone else, and ornery as well. That was my part too.
But I never went to her with those amends, though I thought about it hundreds, maybe thousands of times. I told myself—and tell myself still—it wouldn’t have made a difference. She was never going to see booze as a bad thing. Her death attests to that. Still, it doesn’t make me right.
Should I have gone to that house she shared with her husband Dennis, where so many parties happened; where I’d run to when my lover and I fought; where we swam in her pool and played pool on her table; where she threw me out once for a misunderstanding;? Where we watched the Super Bowl each year and the very first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Should I have sucked up my fears of rejection and more so, of making a bad situation worse, and gone to her (and Dennis as well, because I owe him amends along different lines)? I just couldn’t see it. In my mind, it always ended badly. In my heart, I already knew it was too late.
In the end, I reverted back to being shy and shell-shocked, where Tery remained fierce and fearless.
I hadn’t talked to Tery for fifteen years, and now I think about her all the time.