1989. It has always stuck out in my mind. I don't know if turning 10 years old, or going from third grade to fourth grade, is a developmental milestone for a kid, but I think it was for me. That summer a new neighbor moved in three doors down - a girl my age named Molly. She was from Tyler, Texas, was petite with brown hair and really cute red framed glasses, and she was so much fun. We were the best of friends.
The next two years we had a blast together as we grew out of being little kids into being pre-adolescents - tweens as they're called now. We were old enough to be very much aware that Nike Air Jordans, Girbaud jeans, and Espirit tops could get us places. (See? My denim obession began young. And by the way, I got some Seven capri pants on sale at Nordstrom yesterday for 33% off.) We were old enough to like boys and carve our initials next to theirs into the trunk of the oak tree in her front yard. We spent hours up in its branches looking through the American Girls catalog (she of course had Molly and I had Samantha). We had not yet grown out of playing mermaid in the pool and riding our bikes around the neighborhood, which in our imaginations was divided into East and West Germany. We memorized every song on 93Q and 104 KRBE and made routines to our favorite ones. We recorded tapes of ourselves as djs. And then there was that tape of us burping. We made ourselves sick doing that one. We had countless sleepovers, which I'm sure our parents dreaded because our of tradition of Ching Chong's. Throughout the night we would create menus and signs and transform the kitchen and dining room into a restaurant. We would wake our parents up early so that they could order breakfast and we could whip it up for them. So much fun for us...not that fun for them. I can't remember which one of us was Ching and which was Chong. We also had another set of nicknames which were Flo and Jo. I think we got those from a cartoon. Molly was there the day my sister and I hopped off the school bus and met Michael, who lived with us for seven years, for the first time.
Our life mission was to make ourselves laugh, to have all the coolest clothes and shoes, and to do or prepare ourselves to do everything Molly's big sister Julia did. Julia was two years older than us. She was gorgeous, blond, popular, and did everything from sing in the choir to play sports. So at age 11, we began training for future greatness on the volleyball and basketball teams at Truitt Junior High. Our neighbor Chris taught us everything he knew about basketball. He was all boy and played very aggressively, so I think we had an advantage over the other girls. We even chose the songs we would be singing together one day in the lip sync contest and in the pop concerts we would surely participate in during our junior high years. We were at that stage before you realize you're not necessarily going to excel at everything you want to do. It's a wonderful time.
Then junior high finally came. It is a wonder any girl makes it out of junior high with any ounce of self-esteem or joy. It's a horrible time. Actually, some of my best memories are from then. But so are some of my most painful memories. Both tomboys at heart, I think we struggled with the hormones that were putting us at odds with every other person alive and that were changing us in ways that boys noticed (and harassed us for) but we were not ready to embrace. We both made the sports teams we wanted and finally got to wear the cute blue uniform and carry the prestigious athletic bag that was the coolest accessory of our lives. We shared the same friends. We carefully decided together which trends were acceptable for us to take on and which weren't. I'll never forget our discussion on Birkenstocks. We threw our first co-ed party, where I pushed the boy I liked into the pool and then ran home as fast as I could.
Perhaps the only thing we deviated on was theater. Molly was hilarious and very extroverted. She was perfect for it. I had also been invited to join the theater class (Speech II) and had eagerly signed up for it. We were a great pair in improv, but it was not to be. Somehow "Speech II" was mistaken for Spanish I and there I sat on my first day of seventh grade in a nerdy foreign language classroom. I was mad as a hornet, but something clicked. I loved Spanish. In fact, I would keep taking it until my senior year and then I would minor in it in college. I've benefited from it on many mission trips and just in living where I do. It's funny because I had definitely planned on taking French instead. The Lord knew what I would need.
By high school Molly and I were starting to grow apart. It wasn't intentional, but we were involved in completely different things. Since we attended a very large high school, somehow we never attended a single class together again. We were embedded into separate groups of friends. When senior year finally came, we hung out a little here and there. We were nostalgic about our friendship and we laughed over pictures of ourselves as kids and the things we had done. We agreed that we needed to hang out more often and keep in touch after high school. On the night of graduation we we hung out at the same party and I remember being thankful that we got to spend that time together. We'd come full circle.
Molly was our school mascot and she was very well loved. She had been enlisted by a travel company to be one of two representatives to recruit kids from our class to go to Cancun together after graduation. I remember going to that first meeting at CiCi's pizza to see what it was all about. A girl in her twenties, probably several years younger than I am right now, was the leader. She explained that she would take care of us in Cancun if anything happened. Right. My family decided to go on a tour of Greece and Rome right after graduation, so I did not join my friends in Cancun.
One morning in Rome, right before I left my hotel room to get on the tour bus, I found out that my bff Jennifer was trying to get in touch with my mom. I thought that was really bizarre, so I called her immediately. I will never forget the tone of her voice as she told me that Molly had died on the senior trip. It was unthinkable. She had come down with meningitis and died in the hospital in Cancun. There had been no adults to take care of her, only her 18-year-old friends who, if I am scarred 9 years later and I wasn't even there, surely still carry deep wounds. To say that I and everyone in our community was devastated is a gross understatement.
Sadly, we could not make it back to Houston in time for the funeral. We pulled up to our house and walked three doors down to find a crowd of people at Molly's house. We had missed it by a couple of hours. I have said goodbye to her in many different ways - at her grave with flowers, in notes I've written over the years, in praying to God to tell her things for me. Missing that funeral was terrible for my heart. It has been very hard to get closure.
I woke up this morning wanting to cry about missing my friend. It's been 9 years and three days. And I am heading to the very place where she lost her life. Not that I'm scared in any way, but it's tender for me. This time of year, the loss is especially painful. We should have visited each other at our different colleges and been at each other's weddings. I should be emailing her pictures of Jackson. I should be getting pictures of her little one in return. I should call her and say, "Hey, I'll be in Houston next week! Wanna meet up?" I shouldn't feel pain in my heart when I'm at my mom's house and I drive by her house and that oak tree that we spent so much time in. More importantly, Julia's kids should have an Aunt Molly. Molly's mom should have moved her into a dorm, should have planned a wedding for her, should have rocked her grandbaby in that first week home from the hospital. It all ended too soon.
I do not have a clever ending for this story. I guess it's just all to say that I miss you, Molly. I wish you were still here and I still think of you all the time. You were a very big part of my life and you are a very big part of my memories.
I love you,