A short allegory of how my best friend saved my life. Even though she was the one in the car accident.
I knew why I was getting on a yellow school bus instead of walking with the other teenager’s to the high school just a few blocks away. But, they didn’t, and as long as I could hide my growing stomach, maybe they’d never have to know. My father and I had just built our new house in Westminster, but instead of enrolling at Stanley Lake, my father had enrolled me in JCAPPP, Jefferson County Adolescent Parenting and Pregnancy Program, in Arvada. I was at the tail end of my first trimester, and just starting my Sophomore year.
From the middle of the bus I watched the other girls as they slowly climbed aboard, the six stops we made brought a new sad face. The only sounds any of us heard was the door swooshing shut, and the winces coming from the dark haired girl at the front, every time we hit a bump. She was really pregnant. This time, this new school wasn’t going to lend me another chance to make new friends or to finally fit in. This school was about passing the tenth grade, and having a baby. Our silence on those early morning bus rides spoke clearly our mutual fear, there were no words because there didn’t need to be – we all felt the same way and knew it.
Climbing down off the bus steps on my first day of school, out of the heavy ride of silence, I began to make my way to the front door of the middle building when laughter caught my attention. A mustang had pulled up to the front of the building and a really cute guy and two girls were getting out, it was like they were going to a movie – not to a pregnant school for girls. I was jealous. Their laughter made me even more aware of how totally alone I was.
Halfway through our first class, the teacher had each of us introduce ourselves and that was when I found out the two happy girls were good friends, and that both of them were involved with their baby’s father, and that they were going to get to keep their babies. It was at lunch, when they both pulled out awesome lunches, and sat and giggled together, that I wanted more than anything to pretend I was just like them.
Most of girls, aside from the few of us that had to ride the bus, had their own cars, boyfriends, and some of them even had jobs. They came in and went out as if this place were just a tiny door to their awaiting future’s, and they needn’t ever stay for very long. I watched them often, and pretended to daydream about what kind of boy would want me, or how I would decorate my baby’s nursery if I had any money, or a way to even get a job.
We were in third period, which was English, all scattered around a large metal table in the basement of building one – listening to Vicki, our skinny, hippy teacher who was far to thin and way to bubbly to be teaching grammar in a dark basement to pregnant girls. That’s when it happened.
Amy leaned over to me quietly, “Hey, how do I write this?” We were going over sentence structure’s. I moved my paper slightly so she could see what I had written. She smiled, “Wow, you’re really good.” I smiled for the entire rest of the day, into fifth period Math which was in the next building’s basement, but this basement had windows so it was a little brighter.
She watched me struggle, but I didn’t know she had noticed until leaning over again to me, “Do you need some help?” I nod my head. She slips her paper over so that I can see her work. She points to the formula she’s used to figure it out.
While I’m waiting for the yellow bus to take me home, she calls out to me as she’s almost running to the Mustang with her cute boyfriend, “Hey, Courtney! Maybe you can do my English and I can do your math!” She laughs, and then waves goodbye at me. I tried not to let the other girls on the bus see that I was crying. I had a friend. The one girl I envied most of all, had reached out to me, and I believed that maybe I wouldn’t be so alone after all.
I didn’t have to look for her the next morning. Getting off the bus, she pulled on my arm and brought me to her and her group of friends, “Come with us! We’ve got a few minutes before class, we’re going to the gas station to get some real food!” And without being able to say anything about it, I was taken up by them and whisked, nearly running, across 64th and Ralston Road to the gas station where they all bought huge bags of chips to hide in their over-sized Esprit bags, I was shocked! Amy laughs while she pays for her snacks, “I could just DIE for Cheddar rippled chips!” We weren’t allowed to have any junk food at all during school, it was forbidden to have anything except our packed lunches. I liked her even more now, and made a mental note to ask my dad for some money so that I could buy Funyon’s and get in on the chip rebellion with them.
Then, it just slowly sort of happened without any real effort at all. Our morning dash to the gas station, my doing Amy’s English and her doing my math, and our daily ritual of lunch time where we all counted the calories on our yogurt bottles, and then counted our stretch marks, and then watched Amy Cross-stitch while we made up fabulous visions of us as mommy’s getting together with our babies in strollers in the park. It was a dream, and inside of those tiny, old buildings where the rest of the world couldn’t get to us, we were happy. I was happy.
We grew bigger, and as they all made plans for their babies and talked excitedly about their boyfriends, I didn’t even care that I wasn’t adding to the conversations, or that I was so desperate to have what they did that I pretended, sometimes, that I did. I lived through Amy – and for me, that was good enough. She shared her lunch with me when I didn’t have that much, not because my dad didn’t have enough money, but because he did the grocery shopping and didn’t really understand what a sack lunch was. She let me go with her to her house, where her mom always had something warm cooking on the stove, and she would share. I even got to hang out with her and her boyfriend, Chad, and her other friends – and when we went cruising around town I could forget for a little while that we were even pregnant. Amy laughed a lot, and she was always getting involved in one thing or another, and when she was there would always be a group of people around her. She was contagious in her joy for life and the way she made other’s feel, well, it was like you just knew everything was going to be okay.
Amy gave birth to Joey a few weeks before I had Jonothan, and as I walked into her hospital room I beheld her beaming pride with new son in arms, as the television gave play by play’s on that, the first day of Dessert Storm. The war Joey’s Dad had left to fight. And I wondered, as she laid there, how it was she could smile the way she did. She lights up, motions me to her, and moving the soft blue blanket from his face says, “Isn’t he perfect?” He truly is.
“Are you okay Amy?” I ask, motioning towards the television mounted on the wall.
Kissing her sleeping son, she acknowledges what’s on display by looking at it, then looks right into me, “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” In those moments, I saw that I wasn’t the only one who hurt for things that we couldn’t change – and Amy taught me, without really knowing it, that we can change what we do about it. Even if that was just to smile. I’d known, in the past six months of her friendship that she was confident, and strong, and full of joy – I’d envied for being the way she was. But, the day she gave birth to her son while watching the war his father was in on television – that was the day I saw the real Amy. She was tough, in her smiling.
That was the day I knew, Amy really was my best friend. The kind of friend I wanted to have forever, no matter what. Not just because I didn’t want to be the outcast at the lunch table, and not even just so that I would fit in with the cool girls – no, Amy was the friend I wanted to have because I loved her.
Then, before I can stop it, weeks have passed and Amy waits outside the court room doors for me, while I relinquish my rights to my child. I ran, blowing out the doors, past Amy and straight into the bathroom, into the stall and after locking the door puked up everything I had, and all that I now didn’t. She stood on the other side of the door for a long while, “Courtney, I’m here. As long as it takes, I’m here.” Then, she crawls underneath the door, to sit beside me and to hold my hair as dry heaves take hold. I cry with her for what seems like hours.
Amy stands beside me, as I walk away from my son. She is brave, with me, as I hand him over into the arms of his new mother and kiss him one last time. I need her arm to steady myself to the parking lot. She stays with me through the night. Just keeps saying, “I’m here, Court, I’m here.”
Her strength had been what I’d needed to finally, weeks before, admit to her that I was thinking about giving my baby up for adoption. None of the other girls at school were going to do that, and I would be the only one. I had told Amy, because I just couldn’t pretend anymore. She just reached over and pulled me into her arms, and she cried with me. No judgment, no hard questions – no shame. She went with me to the hell that was my confusion and just sat a while, holding me, so I wouldn’t be there alone.
Although she was a mom, and I was not – Amy stayed close to me. I tried pulling away, isolating into the agony of my loss, but she would never let me be gone for too long before coming over to pick me up, or calling me to tell me how much she cared. My parents didn’t see a need to put me into counseling after giving Jonothan up, and as the days turned to weeks, I wouldn’t have survived if it hadn’t been for Amy. Even though neither of us actually said it, we both knew she was saving my life. Her friendship, that first year after the adoption, bonded us together in ways we will never be able to explain. The many nights she watched me cry until I got sick, and the weekends she would force me out of my bedroom – those moments when she would just look right into my eyes and demand we not speak of anything because nothing needed said. She was there, always. And that was more than enough.
Walking in, on that first day I was allowed to visit, I ran into her arms as she lay on the hospital bed. Even as I held her, I knew she was hugging me – in my own helplessness to understand why this has happened. “I won’t walk again,” She whispers, and we both trace the lines under the blankets where her legs are.
I only tell her, “I’m here, Amy. I’m here.” In the weeks and months of recovery, I visit her once more when she is moved to the rehabilitation apartments. Inside, there is laughter and teasing and if it weren’t for the wheelchair, I wouldn’t have thought anything had changed. And as far as Amy would tell me in the years to come; she decided, somehow, to believe nothing had.
The accident changed Amy’s life forever, but it became clear from the beginning that it wouldn’t change Amy. She taught me how to take the wheels of her chair to get it into the trunk, and put it back together again – aside from a few mistakes, I got it down so well I could do it with my eyes closed. Amy didn’t ask for help she didn’t need, and it was only if I had to get her up or down steps or if we just wanted to catch up to something, that she’d let me push or pull her chair. No matter what we were doing or where we went, or who we were with, Amy was still as she always had been – at the center of the crowd, or the first one to go – always the girl whose smile kept the party going. She was a beautiful, amazing mommy – and to watch her with Joey was like getting to see what God intended for a mother’s love. In those first two years I stopped being envious of my best friend, and began learning from her.
Now, we are in the hospital again, and out in the hall on the floor I bear down and need to push, “Oh no you don’t!” She hollers at me, and takes off down the hall in her chair to scout out an empty room for me. The nurses tell me I’m not far along in labor, but I’ve done this before, and the baby is coming. Amy says she doesn’t care what the nurses say, and from down the hall, “Courtney … in here!”
I climb up onto the bed, in the dark, and Amy helps me undress. She tries to get the attention of a nurse, but no one pays any attention to two teenagers, not one on welfare anyway. She is calm, my Amy. “Slide down, don’t worry, someone will come in soon.”
The height of her wheelchair at the end of my bed is perfect measure, when my daughter is born. Amy holds her, still attached to me, and a stillness settles down into the space around us.
“Can you hear that?” Amy whispers.
I think I can, “Yes …”
Amy’s eyes water up, and I look down to her, she smiles and says, “It’s Angels. I hear them.” She had held my hand the day I relinquished my first born child in 1991 at the age of 16, and she proved to me just two years later when her car accident left her paralyzed from the waist down, that life does go on. In 1994, when my daughter Amanda was born, it was Amy that delivered her when no one else believed I was in labor. Amy has saved me.
Every February 3rd, Amy remembers Jonothan and calls me. She is the only one. We go on, moving out into our lives, become married and have another set of children born several weeks apart. Miles from one another, but connected in our hearts, our friendship over the span of twenty three years holds us. Those moments that might have defined us together, my relinquishing Jonothan and her car accident – don’t. We are tied by our heart strings, the evidence of our faith, and we share secrets of strength that are ours, just our own to know.
I begin to write about her, and wonder, what is it she might finally say – about her paralysis, the accident that cost her walking. In all our years tied to one another, she never spoke of it. I wondered if she might now.
She responds, “Angels are messengers. I wonder, have we listened?”
Yes, I cry out to my soul sister, Amy, I have heard you. For this treasure of her immortal grace and sympathetic heart, and all the years she held me from the lap of her soul, this woman – my dearest friend, will never truly know how she carried me all these years.
Driving home, barely able to see through the tears, I call her. In my desperation after being laid off from work she laughs at me, through the speaker, and says, “Well, now you can finally write that book.”
After all the years of her never giving me any advice, only filling the emptiness of what was me with her own strong presence, I take this one piece to heart. After promising her I will try she says, before hanging up, “Good. And, Court?”
“I’m here. I’m always here.”
Twenty-three years later and I still find myself leaning over to steal her answers, and but for the time that has passed Amy is still looking at what I write, telling me, “Wow … you’re really good.” And I get to remember what it was like, year after year, on that first day I met my best friend. She continues to soar, teaching me that it’s our responsibility to change, no matter what wings are beneath us.