The clouds parted in the sky as if the heavens were opening up. An angel on earth was getting ready to leave. When someone young dies people proclaim that it was too soon. I am one of those people. I wanted her to be with me for many years. Our intention was to stay friends forever. We didn’t know that forever would come 13 years after we met. Her job was done here on earth, at least that is the thought that got me through countless tears and endless memories. I imagined her climbing a big ladder into the clouds and into heaven. I knew that she would be okay but I am selfish and wanted her here with me on earth. I wanted our forever to be longer.
Nora and I met in the first grade. She was not shy. I was. She came over to me one day on our second day of school all dressed in the pleated green and white plaid school uniform skirt and the knee high white socks and white round collared blouse carefully tucked into the skirt. I was also wearing the same uniform and a matching light green sweater. Nora had on a white sweater. She walked boldly over me. I was sitting on the faded red benches all alone. My mom told me that I would make lots of friends like I did in kindergarten. The problem was that I was not in kindergarten anymore and neither were any of my friends. They definitely were not at this new school. I felt like crying and then going home.
“Hi, my name is Nora. What’s yours?” Nora asked.
I looked up at this brown face like mine with two ponytails dangling to her shoulders, like mine with ribbons on the end of them, like mine. I smiled exposing my missing front tooth which had fallen out only a couple days before school started. I squinted and responded in a tiny voice.
“My name is Ellie.”
“Ellie, can I sit with you? Is that okay?” Nora asked.
I scooted over and made room for her to sit with me on the bench and she opened up a small brown bag that she was carrying. I hadn’t noticed the bag at first when she was standing near the bench. She opened it and took out two halves of a sandwich. She offered me one of the halves. I took it. I didn’t even know what kind of sandwich it was or even if I would like it. All I knew was this girl, Nora, showed me kindness and I was thankful for that. I had made a friend.
Nora and I spent every day after that at recess and lunch together. We shared sandwiches, chips and on hot dog day we even got the same order, two hot dogs plain. We would bring our own drinks and chips because our moms said that paying twenty five cents for the hot dogs was enough. We even discovered that we had the same birthday. Our classmates would ask who was the oldest. We never cared to find out but we always told them she was. Nora would laugh at the little white lie but we were both fine with her being an hour older.
The day my family moved to Franklin street was a happy day for both Nora and I. Nora was so happy that we now lived on the same street. Franklin street was a long street. I lived at one end and she lived at the other end but nevertheless she was thrilled that two best friends lived on the same street. We would now walk to school everyday. Her big sister would walk sort of with us. She would walk somewhat ahead of us because she would say that she could not let her friends see her walking with children. We would laugh because she was only 3 years older than us. But, she stayed a few feet ahead of us and turned around occasionally to make sure the “children” were still there. For the next four years we would walk to school together and walk home together and I would go back to her house to play two days per week.
Nora was an artist. She loved to draw and paint every day. She convinced me that I was one too. She always saw the best in people and encouraged them. Even though she tried to convince me that my scribbles and scrabbles on paper were some kind of art, I knew who the real artist was and that was not me. My sidewalk art looked plain compared to her beautiful drawings of trees, birds, and any other thing that we could imagine. She was convinced that we would both be discovered as artists and become famous. We both would live in a place where local artists lived and draw and paint and have our artwork hanging on the walls of the rich and famous. She was such a dreamer.
When we entered high school I asked Nora why she had such big dreams. She said that without dreams we would have nothing. She was right. We had different classes in high school. Not only was Nora an artist she was smart. She never made me feel like I was not as smart as she was. If any of the smart kids said something to me about not being in their league Nora who was all of five feet two inches tall would stand up and pull her hair tight into a bun and look them straight in the eye and tell them where to go and how to get there. Then she would look at me and take her hair out of the bun and let it flow free again and wink. I always thought that one day she would land in the principal's office after one of her “talks” with those kids. But, that never happened. The only time she was in the principal's office was to get some kind of award for excellence for her school work. She would tell me that the awards were meaningless to her. They met more to her parents than to her. What meant something to her was our friendship and people she loved. Although, Nora had enough certificates, trophies and gold star papers to fill an entire room and sometimes I was envious of that. I would wonder why such a smart person is hanging out with me. I was the opposite of her brilliance. I was an average student who got average grades. If I got an A in anything on my report card it was time for a party in my mind since that was so rare. Nora sometimes read my mind and she would not talk about her awards instead she would order pizza and we would gossip about boys.
High school was over in what seemed like a blink of both eyes. I didn’t have any of those tassels that whom I called the “smart girls” got to wear on their robes. I was lucky to have a graduation robe. Nora would laugh when I would tease her about all the tassels she had hanging down the front of her graduation robe. She offered to give me one and I told her I would take one. The horror on the face of Sister Stephanie when she saw me walking down the aisle with a gold tassel rope around my robe was what I would call a kodak moment. She could not do anything though. Like Nora said, what was she going to do? She certainly was not going to stop the whole graduation procession and rip it off of my robe. She was right and after the graduation I returned it to its rightful owner and collected my diploma at the designated classroom we went to after the ceremony. Sister Stephanie looked over her glasses on her nose and frowned when she saw us and handed us our diplomas. We tried to refrain from laughing while we were there but the moment we got outside Nora was the first to laugh. She had a belly laugh which was loud and infectious. You could not contain your laughter when you heard it. I would tell her how could such a big laugh come from a small person?
Different colleges took us away from each other and though we vowed that we would stay close and write and call each other all the time it didn’t happen. She was at a four year college and I was too. I don’t know how I managed to get into a university but fate was on my side in my senior year when I had a 4.0 GPA and in my junior year also. Nora had rubbed off on me and I studied more and reached my goal.
The dark clouds opened up on this day in December. It was Winter’s break. Rain came pouring for hours non stop. Nora and I sat in that coffee shop near our old neighborhood for hours. The waitress with the purple hair was getting annoyed filling up our coffee mugs for what seemed like every few minutes. She would come to the table, fill up our mugs and roll her blue eyes before she would ask if there was anything else we wanted. We both scarfed down sandwiches and fries before we left. Nora left the waitress a big tip and we walked out into the rain together. Nora held the umbrella over both of our heads.
“Of course I would have a bigger umbrella.” Nora laughed.
“Well, yeah you would since you make more money than me.” I laughed.
“Oh that doesn’t matter. Even when we were kids I still had the bigger umbrella.” Nora said.
“That is true.” I replied.
“Did you ever think that we would still be friends this long?” Nora asked as we both splashed in the puddles walking towards the parking lot.
“Yes, remember we said that we would be friends forever.” I reminded her.
“That’s right. I do remember. Let’s get together on the day after Christmas. We can hit all the sales.” Nora said, smiling.
I held her car door open for her and she got in and turned on the engine, waved and drove away. I stood there for a minute and just looked as she exited the driveway of the parking lot. Suddenly the warm rain stopped and I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the collar of my winter’s coat tight around my neck and walked to my car a few feet away with the image of Nora’s smiling face still on my mind.
“She’s dead!” The voice of my sister screamed as I answered the phone.
“What are you talking about? Who is dead?” I asked my sister whom I could barely understand through her crying.
I immediately thought that it was our mother or father. It had to be someone close to us like that with her in hysterics. I took a deep breath. My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. My stomach felt like a million butterflies were having a party inside of it.
“Nora, she is dead.” My sister said still crying. “She had a brain tumor and passed away last night.” My sister continued.
The phone was on the floor now. I didn’t even feel it leave my hands. I was on the floor too. I don’t know when I fell to the floor but the words kept echoing in my head, “Nora’s dead.” I knew that could not be true. I must have heard my sister, Opal, wrong. My hands were shaking as I dialed Opal’s number back. She was still crying. That told me all I needed to know. This was not a dream. I was wide awake and Opal just told me that my best friend was dead. I hung the phone up and yelled from a primal place within my soul. A place I had not known existed until that very moment.
Two months later there was a knock at the door. I was not expecting anything so I walked cautiously over to the door with my dog, Henry, following closely behind me. There was a man standing on my front porch with a package. He had on a delivery uniform and a name tag. I opened the door and the man smiled and handed me the package, a small brown box. There was no return address on it and as I opened it up I felt that same chill I felt months ago when I was in the parking lot with Nora and saw her leave.
The package had a note inside. The note said: “To my forever best friend, Although we weren’t together at Christmas I know that you didn’t think I was not going to give you a gift this year. I am sorry it is a little late but I had to have it engraved and the engraver took a long time. I am sending it to your apartment. I hope that you love it half as much as I love you. Take care my dear friend and I will see you soon. Love, Nora, your forever friend.”
Inside the box was another smaller box. I opened the smaller box and inside was a locket. The locket contained one picture of me and one of Nora when we were in the 8th grade. Engraved on the back was “Forever Friends.”
I looked to the heavens and smiled. “I love you. My forever friend, Nora.”