No Friendship is an Accident” –O. Henry, Heart of the West
Many years have come and gone since I’ve thought of this friend of mine from long ago. I’m not sure what triggered this morning memory. Perhaps it was the damp, musty smell of the fallen leaves when I opened our french door this morning. A slight rain drizzled while the cool air brushed across my face, helping to wake me for the day.
My dog, “Doodles,” ran like a tiger out to the edge of our property, chasing a white-tail deer or two. Of course he marked his territory, something he always does in the hopes of keeping other animals at bay. He leaves his mark on my beloved, hydrangea bushes. Their candy pink and cornflower blue blooms are mostly dried and spent by this time of year, long nibbled and fallen to the mulch beneath them.
With “Doodles” back inside, I wiped wet paws with a towel tossed specifically for this purpose. I poured myself a steaming cup of brew. Taking a brief respite, I sat at our tiled counter before my day began, thoughts seeping into my mind of a friend from the tenth grade, over 40 years ago. Sipping my coffee. helped me to remember this long lost friend, and the brief time we spent together during the fall of 1971.
Her name was, Kim, the same as mine. She lived “kitty-corner” from me in a big, two-story house opposite from me on South Wenona and Indiana Streets, in Bay City, Michigan. In the fall of 1971, we were in a play together at T.L Handy High School.
The name of the play was, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon-Marigolds, by, Paul Zindel. The playwright won a Pulitzer’s Prize and the New York Critics Award for the Drama in 1971. Joanne Woodward played the lead in a movie directed by her husband, Paul Newman, where she won a ‘Best Actress’ award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973. My friend Kim was perfect for her part. She was quiet and studious. She played my withdrawn science obsessed sister, “Tillie,” while I played her extroverted sister, “Ruth.” “Tillie” cared for a live, white rabbit in a cage on stage during every rehearsal and every night of the play. Some would say, “He was the star of the show.”
My friend volunteered to take care of the rabbit. Once the stage lights had dimmed, she grasped hold of the handle at the top of the wire cage to carry the rabbit back and forth to her home every night. This went on for about two months. My father gave us rides to and from our high school theatre after each rehearsal. I sat in the front seat next to him, while she sat in the back, fluffy white rabbit in its cage upon her lap.
While going over to pick my friend up for rehearsal, sometimes she was still busy getting ready. She lived in one of those large Voctorian three story homes. I’d wait downstairs in their main “drawing room” to visit with her father, a gentle soul who I’d always find sitting at his desk shuffling papers.
My friend always seemed a bit nervous around her father, embarrassed even. My intuition told me it was because he lived with Multiple Sclerosis, a debilitating muscle condition for which there was and is no cure. Her father was the only “Dad” of our group of friends to live with a chronic condition. I never thought twice about it. Whenever time permitted, I used to pull up a ladder-backed chair in order to sit beside his desk to talk to him. I think he was surprised by this, even taken back at first. Like his daughter who came after him, he was introverted, but as the play went on, I began to spend more time with him. Her father grew more comfortable with my “intrusions.” Finally, he felt comfortable enough to allow me into his “space.” Eventually, I became a “welcome intruder.”
My friend’s father seemed short to me, perhaps because he was confined to a wheelchair. He was mostly bald and wore dark, horn-rimmed glasses. Extremely intelligent, I’m sure his IQ was “off the charts.” He himself, probably could have written our “science based” play!
Our play, was far out of my friend’s comfort zone. Perhaps it was an “escape” of sorts from her everyday life. Looking back, I’m surprised she developed the courage to try out, but thankfully she did. She was perfect for her part. I can’t imagine anyone else in our high school who could have played it so well. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors, but I’m sure she had many “roles” to play when not on the stage of T. L. Handy High School.
From my perspective, her father came into my life for a reason that I was not aware of at the time. I was enrolled in a class of his choosing and he was my tutor. I played “roles” with him, and he with me. Hopefully, I was a good student and passed the test.
The brief time I spent with my friend, Kim, together with her father were little gifts to me that she shall never know. I thank her for them.