Tears and Laughter: Old friends, and McKenzie

The last time I remember seeing her we were shooting pool in my grandmother’s basement. We played with an unusual degree of seriousness, mirroring, I suppose, the serious tones our lives had suddenly taken.

The silence spoke more than we did. We did not need words, as we had become to one another, by presence alone, a comfort.

In three years we had become like sisters. Or at least I say that. I was the only one of us who didn’t have a sister, but certainly to me, they were as close to sisters as I had. It’s a little funny, considering I don’t even know for sure that we would have ever chosen one another initially.

The four of us met when our church areas merged. It was the year we all turned 13. We spent practically every weekend and most of our summers together.

Marsha and Melissa spent a lot of time just listening to Cynthia and I argue. We were the best of true friends, neither of us had a secret the other didn’t know, but we were both redheaded and enjoyed the sheer pleasure of a good argument. Marsha and Melissa were calmer and more level headed. They balanced our energy.

It wasn’t just us who became friends, our families became friends.  Even being from different towns, we held that in common…small town girls who attended public schools, borrowed prom dresses, and went to church. We were daughters of strong men who made a living working with their hands.

Most of our weekend sleepovers were at Marsha’s house in McKenzie – the rural backside of McKenzie, on a red dirt road. That is what girls used to do before we could text thoughts to each other. We went on long talks we called walks.

None of us were particularly athletic, but the four of us were on a volleyball team together, we joined a bowling league, and ran track, one season. We worked on fundraisers, memorized scriptures, went to the beach, and got ready for dances together. We knew one another’s favorite songs and biggest crushes. We knew one another by nature.

It was another time, the end of another time really. I don’t think that in today’s world that we would have ever lost contact. But it was 1988. The world was not yet an instant world. Microwaves and VCR’s had just become common. We still mailed letters and made only necessary long distance calls. It was just our lives that seemed to change in an instant.

I was leaving, moving to Chilton County, and a son was about to fall into her world like a miracle.

You could hear the pool balls fall inside the table, two hits, after each shot, and then they would roll, and drop again, and roll once more before hitting together with the others. The white concrete walls of the basement amplified both the sound and the silence.

I don’t remember saying good-bye. I just remember the void it left. She disappeared up the stairs when her dad arrived to pick her up, and time ticked forward.

It has been 27 years. We are grandmothers now. We have planned for ourselves a reunion. She doesn’t know yet my youngest daughter is named McKenzie. I won’t have to tell her why.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era. For more information, visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.