Sunday, September 9, 2018

My Best Friend

NOTE AFTER WRITING THIS POST: This is going to be a long one. If you’re sensitive or if you’re one of Mandy’s friends or family, you may not want to read this. If you do, have tissues. I wanted to write this to share with everyone who she was, what she meant to me, how she changed me, and how much her home-going affected me and still does nearly 5 years later. Today would have been her birthday, and I miss her more than words could ever describe.


Today’s post is going to be a difficult one to write, and I’m sure there will be tears as I’m writing this. I’ve been trying to do this for nearly 5 years now but just couldn’t get it out. Now maybe I can.

You see, it’s about this girl I met about 22 years ago on the first day of my Senior year of high school. Her name was Amanda, and she was a quiet, shy little thing, totally opposite of me (I’m only quiet until I get to know you, then, well, I’m not to put it mildly). My friend from church knew her and introduced us, as well all three had lunch together. They were freshman that year. When I met her, she just smiled a little, said hi, and immediately clammed up.

Ok, I can relate. Like I said, I’m the same way until I get to know you. Turns out she was too.

Two weeks of lunches later, she finally starts talking some instead of Sarah and I carrying the conversation. The longer we having lunch together, the more talkative she gets. By Christmas break, we’ve become good friends. Good enough that other kids started calling us the three musketeers because we were always together.

Sometime after Christmas break, and I don’t really know what started it, Mandy, as I called her, invited me to church with her and her parents and brother. At the time I didn’t have a car, and my parents and sister went to church but I wasn’t that happy at mine. It was too big and the youth group full of loud, popular kids (of which I was far from being). Her mom agreed to pick me up and take me home after evening service, and I could just spend the day with them. I should probably mention at this point both their church and my parents were Baptist churches, just in different towns about 30 miles apart, and I lived about 15 minutes out of town, in the opposite direction of Mandy’s church, so her mom really went out of her way so I could go to church with them.

During the next 9 or 10 months, I spent every single Sunday with them, and Mandy and I grew very close. We became best friends, and our moms were like second mother’s to each of the other of us. When we went places together, people mistook us for sisters, not just best friends. I even had an annoying little brother in Mandy’s brother, Paul (who went by Allen at the time)! My sister even hung out with us sometimes, and we all got along pretty good.

I went off to Dallas to art school in October, she started her Sophomore year. We stayed in touch, seeing each other on weekends at church whenever I was home, and when I came back home I still went to church and hung out all day with them. We saw each other through our first boyfriends, breakups, and even family deaths. We truly were best friends.

When Mandy graduated, I went to her graduation, thenshe went off to college in Florida for her first year and I only got to see her for Christmas break. Imagine my surprise when she walked into the restaurant I was working at at the time! She had just got home from the airport and had her parents bring her by before she even went home so we could see each other.

 She changed her mind and finished school at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas. When she graduated I was supposed to go but was unable to get off of work. We had somehow grown apart during that time. I don’t even really know how that happened. I think life just got in the way as it often does. She was away at college, making new friends, and I had gotten married (she and my sister were co-maids of honor of course!) and moved an hour from where we grew up, and we just kind of lost touch.

Then one day out of the blue I get an invitation to her wedding! Imagine my surprise! She had moved back home and started dating a cowboy she met at the local coffee shop she helped a family friend out with. I’m still not sure how she found my address, but I am eternally thankful she did! My sister and I went to her wedding that May 1st, but we arrived an hour early so Mandy and I could catch up a bit. I took a ton of photos that day, helped serve punch, and came close to tears several times from the joy of both getting back in touch with her and seeing how happy she was with Andrew.

Over the next 4 years or so, we stayed in touch, mainly through facebook and texts and calls, as we were both crazy busy and we lived 6 hours or so apart. She and my family were there for me through my divorce and when I met my now husband in 2009. He hadn’t met her but she still friended him on facebook then proceeded to threaten him within an inch of his life if he so much as thought of hurting me.

 I was one of the first few people she told when she first found out she was pregnant with Claire. She knew I was at my work’s Christmas party with friends that night, and when I heard my phone got off with a text I didn’t think much about it and checked it. I hollered loud enough to surprise several people at the party when I realized the picture she sent me was of a pregnancy test that clearly read ‘pregnant’ on it!

But as usual I didn’t get to go to her baby shower, or much of anything. Again, life got in the way, along with my job, and I didn’t get to go, but I saw lots of photos. She also invited me each year to the local quilt show, but I never ‘found the time’ to go. I have so many regrets of things I missed with her. So many things I can’t go back and re-do, or I totally would. You see, her wedding day was the very last time I got to see her.

February2014, I believe the 26th, she and I had been texting back and forth between her taking care of Claire and me on breaks and lunch at work about my upcoming wedding. She was to be one of my now matrons of honor (again, along with my sister) and Claire my flower girl. We were discussing the dress patterns and fabric I had sent her that had arrived that morning (she was making their dresses) and their shoes and the plans for the wedding weekend. I signed off shortly after I got home that night with a ‘night, talk to you tomorrow.’ That was the last time I talked to her.

The next evening I hadn’t heard from her and I had had court that day plus late notices and calls, so I hadn’t really had a break or much of a lunch past a hurried bite at my desk. I got home, exhausted, changed out of my work clothes, and got dinner in the oven, then went back to the bedroom to talk to my husband while he was changing after getting home from his work.

I was scrolling through facebook and saw a post from a mutual friend of ours (Mandy’s and mine) from the church were our friendship grew so strong. Her post simply said ‘You never know what will happen each day. One minute you’re on your way to meet your husband with your little girl and the next you’re walking through the gates of Heaven, leaving them behind. Tell your family you love them every second you get, because tomorrow isn’t promised.’ I immediately got this cold dread feeling inside. At the time my head had no clue who or what she was referring to, but my heart did. I immediately commented on the post, ‘Lark, what happened? Who are you talking about?’

I guess Paul saw my comment (the annoying little brother who I never got along with). The next minute I had a private message from him with his phone number to call him. That’s the second my brain caught up with my heart. I just knew, without having heard from anyone, that it was Mandy. I called him and heard the worst news I’ve ever heard in my life, even to this day.

Mandy and Claire had been going to a stock show to meet Andrew. They were sitting at an intersection and Andrew happened to be at the same intersection at the other side. Then everything changed. A guy going about 70 miles an hour (per police) rear-ended Mandy’s car. There were no skid marks, he never even attempted to stop. (The speed limit in this area was 35mph). It was never proven, but completely suspected that he was either texting or about to make a call (never sent either so no record) as he was running late to work in the company truck when he hit them.

I’m not sure of all the details, and some things I have only recently learned, but I know Mandy was basically killed instantly with a broken neck and several arteries being severed. Paramedics kept working on her and got a heartbeat back, but she was without a heartbeat and oxygen for about 20 minutes. When I called Paul, she was in the hospital on a ventilator but the doctors did not expect her to survive and suspected she was brain dead.

To my understanding, because honestly those next few days were a blur, they did two brain activity tests and both came back no activity. Her mom and husband made the decision to let her go home to Heaven I think 6 days later. Again, I was unable to go to see her one last time.

Thankfully Claire survived. I believe her car seat ended up in the front seat. She had a broken leg that wasn’t found for a couple of days after the crash, but thankfully that was all that was physically wrong. To this day though, she doesn’t like to lose sight of people she loves, and Mandy’s mom, step-dad, and I (and probably others) think it’s because she lost her Mom at just 3 years old.

 When I called Paul and he told me that, all I could do was scream ‘no!’ and cry hysterically. I don’t really even remember much about that day or the next few, except for Rob, my husband, being there for me and keeping me from falling down right there in the bedroom floor. I couldn’t eat (bad for a diabetic), couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop crying. I just held my phone because that’s the last thing I had talked to her on I guess. I don’t even know what honestly. I just remember thinking (and probably saying often) how this couldn’t be real. I know Andrew called me at least once during those next few days, and he was the one that told me when she went home.

Now I know what I’m about to say, that I was crazy for thinking it, but at the time, all I felt was wrong and guilty and anger. Guilty that here I was with no kids and perfectly fine, but Claire had to grow up without a Mom. Anger at the guy that took her from us. And wrong for hurting so bad and being so sad when I hadn’t actually seen her in nearly 4 years, that I had no right to hurt that bad, that only her family had that right. But it didn’t stop the hurt.

Now, I’ve lost family before. Very close family, my grandfather and grandmother who I grew up living next door too for some time, and my cousin who was barely and adult at age 21. But somehow this was different, this seemed to hurt worse. Maybe it was because the pain from those losses had lessened over time and this was fresh, so it wasn’t really more. Or maybe it’s because, for those family I had lost, though I was very close to them, they had all been sick with cancer or parkinsons for some time and wasn’t completely unexpected or such a sudden shock. I have no idea.

I went to her memorial service. My parents, sister and her then husband, and my then fiancé went as well. I held it together on the hour long trip to the town we grew up in, but I lost it as soon as we got to the church and I saw her photo.  I cried the whole service and most of the way home. To this day I still can’t listen to George Strait’s ‘I Cross My Heart’, Willie Nelson’s ‘Seven Spanish Angels’, or Alan Jackson’s ‘Sissy’s Song.’ I still felt guilty and wrong for hurting so much, for missing her so much.

But life goes on, no matter our heartbreak.

Our wedding was approaching. I wasn’t even going to have a flower girl, because that was Claire’s spot and I wasn’t giving it up to anyone else. Then Andrew called me and told me if I still wanted Claire at our wedding, he’d make sure she was there. And he did. He even walked her down the aisle with Mandy’s bouquet. We set up a short pedestal with her photo, a vase for her bouquet, and a candle on it where she would have been standing to honor her. I’m not one that usually cries, Mandy was. (Apparently she left that emotional state to me when she left us, because now I can cry at the weirdest things and easiest reasons!) I almost lost it during my own wedding because I glanced at her place on the way up the aisle. That was May 31, 2014. Not even 3 months after we lost her. At our rehearsal dinner, I gave Claire a quilt made of star blocks that my online friends whom I haven’t even met in real life, made for her as a special gift. I also had some photos printed and framed for her mom and husband, along with letters. There were a few tears that night as well.

But still, life goes on.

So here we are, on her birthday. She would have been I think 35. I’m honestly bad with ages, even my own sometimes! She was this amazing, Godly woman who really came into her personality even more as she got older. She was the first to tell others about Jesus, the first to comfort those who were hurting, the first to pray for others, and the first to defend her family if needed. There will never be another woman like Mandy, just not possible.

 I still miss her every single day. I still remember her phone number. I still go on her facebook to look at photos she’d posted. I still even post a message to her page occasionally. I know she’ll never see them, but it helps sometimes when I’m really overwhelmed. I still see articles online that I know she would have liked that I would have shared with her, or ones she would have shared with me. I also still get a shock sometimes when I randomly decide to scroll through the day’s memories on facebook and see a post or comment from her. And whenever I look for a card for someone at Walmart, I can still easily find those black and white ones with a little pop of color of two little old ladies who are best friends, and sometimes I buy one, because that was what Mandy and I did. Every card we sent to each other was one of those kinds.

I now have Mandy’s first quilt. It’s what started me on my quilting journey, started this passion I have for quilting. She and her mom took a class, she showed it to me, and I was hooked. I made my first quilt in the same pattern as she did, teaching myself how to quilt (I had learned how to sew at age 12), all because she showed this one set of blocks to me, and showed me how they went together. She never finished that quilt top. Sheila said probably because the instructor was discouraging to her.

So Sheila has entrusted me to finish piecing it for her and to quilt it. Then it will be put up for Claire’s wedding day, so she’ll have a part of Mandy there.  I haven’t started on it yet. There will surely be many tears while I’m finishing it.

 I still miss her. I always will. And I no longer feel wrong or guilty for missing her. I’m even able to talk about her with Sheila now, without crying, though barely. Mandy was a big part of my life, at a time when I had very few to no other friends. Now I just hope I can be a good ‘Aunt Michelle’ to her little girl.
I miss her.

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