In September 2010, I suffered a devastating loss. My best friend of 17 years informed me, via telephone, that we could not longer be best friends and then proceeded to bring up things from the past 17 years that I had done or said that upset or angered her. She spent the evening (a four hour phone call) calling out all my faults, telling me that her husband absolutely could not stand me, accusing me of being fake and wearing rank, of always needing to “show her off” and “present her” as my best friend when we were around others and on and on. The worst part was the fact that she brought up things I had said or done YEARS ago and proceeded to tell me how much those things had upset her or angered her. She had kept all this inside for 17 years. And never told me. Until that day. In my mind, she’d spent the last 17 years lying to me. Or at least not being truthful. That phone call effectively ended a 17-year friendship. It was crushing. Chris tried to be supportive, but I don’t think he understood what had happened. Dear friends Carrie, Lori and Jen immediately came to my rescue. I told only the three of them (and Chris) for months. I eventually told both my parents. My mother, whom I told by e-mail, was incredibly supportive. My dad thinks she just went nuts. I didn’t even tell my sister-in-law until five months later, and even then I couldn’t tell her without crying. I have never written about what happened that day until now. Lori, who was living in Chesapeake at the time, sent flowers. Carrie spent hours talking to me on the phone and via instant message. Jen just listened. It was a horrible loss, one that I still mourn. A fellow Army wife, Abigail, sent mini-cupcakes. Not even knowing what had occurred, they couldn’t have arrived at a better time. I thanked her profusely. It’s been 14 months since that phone call. I haven’t seen or spoken to her since. I’ve seen photos of her. I’ve kept tabs on her through my friend Danielle, who lives in the same neighborhood. The director of the AFP here has a daughter that rows crew with Stacy’s daughter, who informed me that Whitney was spending a semester abroad in Russia. I still think about her often, but not every day. This morning I came across some photos of the two of us, one from 2002 and one from another year. I want to throw them away, but the historian in me won’t let me do it. The Army is a very, very small place. I am certain that our paths will eventually cross again. In fact, next summer her husband will attend the same school my husband is attending now. I am not looking forward to the day we meet again.
Only two weeks after that phone call, Stacy called again and Chris answered the phone. She was calling to tell me that my dear friend Danielle had lost her husband in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. I refused to speak to Stacy during that phone call, but Chris quickly took the message and I raced to Facebook to see what had happened. I called our friend Lori and broke the news. I spent the next month doing everything I could to help Danielle, from setting up a videographer for the funeral service at Arlington, to finding professional photographers to shoot the service, to sending flowers, to personally requesting the soldier who would play taps at her husband’s funeral. She asked me, along with three other photographers (two professional and a friend of Eleanor’s) to photograph the funeral. It was an honor that I will never forget. I was, that day, more proud of my work than any other photos I had ever taken. In the following months, I continued to correspond with Danielle via Facebook, e-mail and regular mail, expressing my condolences over and over again. I sent cupcakes as often as a I could. I laid a wreath at her husband’s grave during “Wreaths Across America“. I set up a “Valentine Campaign” and asked friends to fill Danielle’s mailbox with Valentines and individual greetings for all four of her beautiful children. Each month I sent her a different $50 restaurant gift card and told her simply that “dinner was on me”. For Christmas I sent monogramed book bags and Toys R Us gift certificates for the kids and a Spa gift certificate for Danielle. I sent birthday gifts to all four kids. I honestly did not know what else to do, so I did what my heart told me to do. I felt so helpless and knew there was nothing I could do to make her feel better or ease her pain. But I just kept “doing” for her, because I so desperately wanted to do something. Anything.
Most importantly, I wanted Danielle to know that she would NOT be forgotten.
September 2010 was to be an unforgiving month. In a way, as tragic as it sounds, having Danielle to concentrate on in September 2010 and in the months since has saved me. It has given me a “mission” or a “purpose” or simply something to focus my energies on and keep me distracted from losing Stacy.
But in the end, it was Carrie who got me through the awful months that followed that phone call. She listened for hours and hours. She read endless amounts of Facebook messages. She let me be angry. She let me be sad. ALL this time, she was going through her very first year-long deployment as an Army wife, and being mom and dad to three children. She had never done this before and she needed my support. So we held each other up. I sent her monthly “Army Wife Deployment Care Packages”. She let me talk about Stacy. I talked her “down from the ledge” when a crisis would occur. She made me laugh. We helped each other get through that year.
And then in September 2011 a box appeared in my mailbox. It was a gift from Carrie. She absolutely didn’t have to send me anything at all. And her thanks were completely unnecessary. I was just doing what Army wives do. Supporting one another during deployment. But she wanted to show her gratitude. Inside the small box was a beautiful silver necklace with a pendant in the shape of a heart. Engraved on the heart are three simple words. The Heart Remembers.
Yes it does.
Today, I am thankful for Carrie. She listened. She held me up. She got me through. This December, Carrie and her family are moving to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I can’t wait to fly out in the Spring and visit her — so I can finally thank her in person for getting me through that awful year.