Donna Times Two

Submitted into Contest #202 in response to: Write a story about lifelong best friends.... view prompt

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Friendship Happy

For some reason I can’t explain, I don’t like to call anyone my best friend.  I have no idea why not, but my lifelong friend and I met in 1977 and became close in the summer between our junior and senior years of high school.  We were 17.  I was the new girl, shy, and obsessively self-conscious.  She was home-grown.  I don’t know that she was one of the popular kids in the popular sense, but she was very involved in extracurricular activities so everyone knew her – and liked her.  And she was National Honor Society (NHS) smart!

My name is Donna and my friend’s name is…Donna.  At different times in our lives, we’ve both said that we didn’t know anyone else with our same name, but we once had someone ask if we were twins.  We look alike in that we’re neither tall nor thin, we both have short hair, and we both wear glasses.  But twins?  Not even close. 

She’s one of the kindest people I know.  She even shared her parents with me when mine moved across the country after we graduated.  She went to college, then moved to Seattle about the same time, so her parents and I became each other’s surrogate family.  When “Dad” passed away a week before I moved away, I sat in the family row during the church service and her siblings never questioned it.  (I even went on a date with her older brother, but we both knew that wasn’t going anywhere.)  I missed “Mom’s” funeral a few years ago while recuperating from surgery and there’s a hole in my heart because I wasn’t there for Donna. 

I always felt awkward in high school and was afraid to do too much to call attention to myself.  I was also smart enough for NHS so we shared that, and our wonderful journalism class.  Mrs. Mikkleson was our teacher and newspaper advisor.  Her first name?  Yep, Donna.  I guess we were meant to be!  We put in long hours when it was time to publish, but it didn’t feel like work.  It was the most fun I had in high school.

Donna and I spent hours on Friday or Saturday nights at a dive café in our town, the Desert Inn, devouring the best French fries and drinking gallons of Dr. Pepper.  I know we solved all the world’s problems during those marathon conversations and convinced each other we were the coolest girls around.  Boys were a big topic of conversation, of course, but neither of us dated much.  Not because we didn’t want to, but somehow the teenage boys in our class were oblivious to our many charms.  A couple years after high school, I remember Donna smacking a boy in the back of his head because he wasn’t treating me very nicely.  I think he apologized, but he wasn’t someone I should’ve been spending time with anyway.

We were tight for several years, but another boy came between us, for a while at least.  Donna met someone who eventually became her husband.  Men see me more as a buddy than a romance, so I was still trying to find someone.  That meant going to happy hours and bars on the weekends.  Donna came with me sometimes, but she was caught in the middle between her boyfriend and me and it was easier for her to just be with him.  And honestly, it was probably her preference too.  We all know the intoxication of new love.

I knew things were bad between us when I was in the hospital for a week after knee surgery.  I asked her to bring me some dry shampoo and she sent him instead of coming herself.  I cried and cried after he left, to the point my (male) nurse gave me a pep talk and made me wheel myself down the hall for a change of scenery.  Many years later we talked about it.  I told her how hurt I was, and she apologized.  She said she didn’t know that asking for shampoo meant I needed to see her.  I didn’t know it either until she didn’t come. 

I was Maid of Honor at their wedding.  We had plans for Donna to spent the night with me to hang out one “last time,” but he didn’t want her to, so she didn’t.  I confess that’s still a bit of a sore spot with me, but they’re still married and still happy, so I guess it’s something I just need to put to rest in my mind.  I’m proud of them for making it work.

I didn’t get invited to a party they had sometime after they got married, and I was never allowed to babysit their daughter.  Two other things that hurt me terribly at the time.  I can understand about the party to an extent.  I was single so I told myself it was for their couple friends.  I don’t understand why her husband never wanted me to babysit, but that baby is over 30 years old now so that’s one of those questions that will never be answered.  I haven’t talked about this with Donna because there’s no point after all these years, and I made peace with it.

To his credit, when we were estranged, her husband encouraged her to call me even though he wasn’t my biggest fan.  She told me later that the more time that passed without talking, the harder it became, until it was easier not to call.  It was still a few years before we got back to us.

We finally made our way back to each other when I had a baby.  I was a single mom and raised my son by myself, with a little help from my friends.  My son is between Donna’s two kids.  She was pregnant when she came to see us in the hospital, but she didn’t tell me until later because she didn’t want to take any attention away from me.  That’s her heart.  Like I said, one of the kindest people I know. 

My son and I moved across the country to be with our family when he was four years old.  I’ve been back to visit a few times, but it’s been a long time since the last visit.  My son got married four years ago and Donna came to the wedding.  She got a surprise bonus at work and spent it to come celebrate with us.  No matter how I say it, or how many times I say it, she will never know what that gesture meant to me.

Donna went to college to become a teacher, then decided not to pursue it as a career.  I’ve always felt the kids who never got to learn from her got cheated, even though they had no idea.  She’s smart and creative and goofy and silly and all the things an elementary teacher should be, and she would have made a lifetime impact on her students.  She taught her kids well though, they’re both smart and creative and the best of both of their parents. 

Donna is a peacekeeper and doesn’t like conflict, pretty much the opposite of me.  I don’t look for conflict and I don’t like it, but I rarely run from it either.  I’m sure there have been times in the years we’ve been friends that I’ve hurt her, but she’s never said anything or given any indication that I was a jerk.  I know myself well, and I don’t ever hurt people on purpose, but being the kind of person I am, I can’t imagine that I haven’t hurt her.

I just recently found out something about Donna that I should’ve known before now.  I don’t know if I didn’t know because she’s good at hiding, or if I wasn’t paying close enough attention.  We live across the country from each other, but we text frequently and talk once a month or so.  It’s easy to hide in texts, but I still feel like a bad friend for not putting the pieces together sooner, though I know she will never hold me responsible for not knowing.

I don’t have any “heart friends” where I live now.  I had a circle of other parents when my son was young and played sports, but once the kids graduated from high school, we all went our separate ways.  And I still believe it’s hard to be single in a couples’ world, especially as a woman “of a certain age.”  Time and again I’ve tried to be friends with women whose husbands didn’t want them to do things separately.  I have to believe it’s not me, but I don’t know that for sure. 

I miss my friend.  We always had fun together, singing and laughing, or even doing nothing.  We like the same books and movies and (mostly) music.  I miss our profound French fry conversations and our nonsense.  I rarely laugh as much now as I did with her.  Donna looks for and finds the best in everyone and every situation, and my life has been enriched by her innate goodness.  I should probably tell her. 

June 17, 2023 01:45

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