Whether shaking our heads or laughing our heads off, you inspired a chorus of “Oh, Ann!” from as far back as I can remember. And I remember our friendship all the way back to 6th grade. I think that was the year we became friends. The first stories that come to my mind are your favorites.
One of your favorite stories -- that you LOVED to tell -- was about how you put me in my place early in our friendship. I don't remember this, but I guess I'm not surprised. You loved to remind me that when I wanted you to do something you didn't want to do, as kids, I'd say, "I won't be your friend." At one point, you were complaining to our mutual friend Dawn about this and she advised you, “Just say, ‘Okay.’" The next time I threatened you, you followed Dawn's advice and, to your surprise, I just looked dumbfounded. I didn't have a response and I didn't stop being your friend. Every time you ever retold this story, you laughed hysterically. And so did I. I think you continued to savor and enjoy that moment of empowerment throughout our long friendship.
Another favorite story of yours was the time you came to our apartment in Anaheim, which means we were about 13. You watched me pour a root beer for each of us and eye the glasses ever so carefully to see if they were perfectly even. But then I handed you the one that had slightly less in it. You got mad and pushed me down. You would have GIVEN me the one with more root beer. But it infuriated you that I was so intentional and obvious about taking it. I'm thankful you put up with me in those formative years. And I’m sure you played a role in my social development by calling me out.
One of my earliest memories of our friendship was getting into a fight as we walked off the playground at Potrero Heights. I don't remember what the fight was about or why we were so mad at each other. I just remember using profanity for the first time in my young life and cussing you out. I remember the exact spot and the exact words as if it happened last year instead of 50 years ago. You cussed me right back. And then we were friends again. Our fights never lasted.
One of the few places I was allowed to spend the night regularly in my early teens was your house. I remember our sleepovers fondly. Your mom went out of her way for us ... and she also embarrassed you frequently. I remember saying, "Oh, Ann! Be nice to your mom!" And you'd roll your eyes. We feasted on Cheetos and Dr. Pepper and snuck down the street to meet boys we weren't supposed to be with. I'll never forget wishing I could be as thin as you and and envying your gorgeous, long, thick hair. I felt inferior to you. And you felt inferior to me. Neither of us felt superior. And I thought we both realized that. Until one night in 1974.
We were trying to fall asleep at your apartment in Chino (so maybe 14-15ish), and you announced, "I know you only hang out with me to make yourself look good in comparison." I was mortified. And to this day, I remember lying there in the dark trying to convince you that was absolutely NOT true. I'd actually have given anything to have your gorgeous dark eyes, your thick hair and most of all your flat stomach! We were both insecure. And while most people saw me as very self-confident, I think you knew I really wasn't. Because even if your theory had been true, comparison doesn’t equal confidence.
We were certainly equals in being feisty and mouthy. And both of us were experts at frustrating our mothers. The only difference was that you got away with a lot more than I did.
I remember telling you after we were adults how much I had loved spending the night at your house. I felt so at home and it was such a treat for me because I wasn't allowed to spend the night with hardly anyone. You said, "Well, I'm glad you liked to come to my house because I was a nervous wreck any time I was at yours. Your parents were so strict and your mom kept everything so perfect. I loved your mom and dad. I just didn't like having to be so worried about stepping on the carpet with the perfect vacuum lines and no foot prints ... or doing something wrong."
MY favorite embarrassing story is from years later. We were 32, married, and mothers of young boys. I remember sitting together in church the night after Magic Johnson announced he was HIV Positive. Our family happened to be big Laker fans at the time, and Magic Johnson was my son Danny's favorite athlete. So he was pretty devastated. And it broke my heart for him. It also made me feel a little protective of Magic and sensitive to criticism of him. I didn't condone his lifestyle but I was truly sad about his diagnosis. And I was expressing my sadness. Let’s just say you were not a Magic fan.
I don't know how in the world we got on the subject of Magic Johnson and his lifestyle during church, but we did. You were hard on him and showed what I considered to be a lack of compassion. So I’m sure I lectured you. As usual, we both had our strong and differing opinions. We whispered angrily back and forth while everyone else was singing and worshipping. We became more agitated. And then it got heated. I can't remember which one of us left first, but I remember that the other one followed outside. We continued arguing in the parking lot. We even yelled at each other. Eventually, we were convinced by a third party to stop fighting and come back inside. I love this memory. Because when we humans hit 30, we think we are so old and so wise. But we were neither. And I know you agreed on this point because we've laughed about that incident in our past many times and how stupid we both acted. By 60, you sometimes wonder who you even were at 30. Someone else, for sure. But we navigated through all the changes and versions of ourselves as lifelong friends ... even when our individual roads diverged.
My favorite joyful memory is when you called to tell me about Charles. It was the happiest I had ever seen you. And I just knew he was sent by God to heal your heart and bless your life with his love. After my divorce, I remember telling you many times that I hoped God would also send "a Charles" to me one day. And then after I met John, I remember telling you I had "my Charles." I don't think either of us ever expected to be loved so well. And it was special, as friends, to share this fairytale part of our lives. The unexpected surprise God had for both of us. We shared a bond of gratitude for the “happily ever after” we had longed for and settled into.
One of the things I loved most about you was that you were unapologetically you. Like all of us, you knew you had faults and shortcomings. And I know you wanted to be the best person you could be. But you didn't feel like you had to be perfect for anybody. At least, I was convinced you didn't. And I did feel that pressure. I remember telling you how much I had agonized (as a kid and young adult) over being taught God expected us to reach perfection and knowing in my heart that I wouldn’t ever be perfect. Your response: "I never even thought about it."
In more recent years, you were someone I felt empathy from and solidarity with when it came to some of the bigger challenges in our lives. I knew when we shared some of life's disappointments, and our worries for our husbands' health struggles that you knew my heart on so many levels. We felt each other's pain. And we encouraged one another. We also apologized to each other and forgave one another when there were hurts and misunderstandings. One of the most sincere and humble apologies anyone has ever offered to me in my entire life came from you. I doubt you ever fully realized how healing your words were and how much they meant to me, although I know I told you. It was one of your most precious gifts to me in this life.
I'll always treasure the memory of you, Judy and me recording ourselves singing Tiny Dancer at the Elton John concert. Feeling and acting like teenagers again with my childhood friends was as exhilarating as the concert. This would probably have to be one of my all time favorite FUN memories with you. We were still having so much fun together as we were embracing our "senior years." Maybe more fun than ever.
We didn't get to spend a lot of time together because miles separated us in recent years, but I'm thankful we had many heart to heart chats over texts and private Facebook messages. I'm especially thankful we were texting the three days prior to your hospitalization. As soon as I heard about your diagnosis, I texted to check on you. And although you acknowledged being very sick and weak, your total focus was Charles and his condition seeming to be worse than yours. So great was your concern for him that I didn't press you about getting medical attention. I asked if you were under a doctor’s care and you said you had been given prescriptions after a telemedicine visit. I never imagined that you wouldn't be here at the end of the pandemic. It certainly didn’t cross my mind that those would be our last texts or the last time we said "I love you."
I've reread those texts several times since you left us. And every time I do, it feels like you are still here. Even though you are in another realm, I know you will always be with me.
I'll always treasure the last time we were together in Nashville. I had been present to celebrate your 60th birthday with you in 2019. And you insisted on taking me to lunch to celebrate mine, even though we had to wait a few months to get our schedules coordinated. As always, our time together was filled with laughter. I'm sure I must have said, "Oh, Ann!" at least once or twice that afternoon. I now feel that exclamation in a different way than ever before. From the depths of my aching heart, I want to say “Oh, Ann...” as I hold onto our enduring connection tightly and cherish all the memories we made together.
Oh, Ann! I'm going to miss you so much and for the rest of my life on earth. There is no one like you. And there never will be. No one can ever take your place in my life or heart. And I look forward to the joyful reunion we will share when I reach out to hug you and say, “Oh, Ann! It’s so good to see you again!” in heaven.