We moved to Merced in December of 1988, when Jena was but 9 months old, John was just over six years old. The previous owner came by to make sure everything was in order, and warned me about the two little boys across the street. "Not the kind of children you want your son playing with, I am sure," she added.
Sometime at the beginning of the year, a very pregnant, very beautiful young woman came knocking at our door, looking for her two sons. This must be the monsters' mom from across the street, I thought. She was so nice and friendly, so I invited her in for coffee. That was sometime in the late morning. She left around four in the afternoon. Karen Mefford and I were instant friends. By the time she delivered her first daughter, Leslie, April 2, 1989, I had full access to her house where we had strung welcome banners and balloons for their homecoming. Jena and Leslie were also instant friends, growing up together across the street from each other. Me casa, su casa.
The boys and John were another matter. Bradley was a year older than John, Daniel was a year younger. The first time I saw them, they were leaving their house, Karen yelling at them from the door to return and they flipped their middle fingers at her. I was aghast, a state I would continue the entire time we lived next to each other. Bradley and Daniel were not allowed in my home unless they followed two simple rules: No swearing and no destruction. They usually lasted about five minutes before they were sent home, and John quickly found other friends at school. We shook our heads, saying Bradley would spend his life in jail, and Daniel would if he continued to follow his brother. One of the saddest things to learn recently is that Bradley is in prison, and not often spoken about within Karen's family. Daniel, however, on his own, is reported to be doing well.
Leslie joined my Girl Scout troop, Karen and I bustled in and out of each other's homes and lives on a daily basis. We went out drinking together about two times a year (the last time, we decided there wasn't a single soul in that bar older than twenty) we went shopping together, coffee at each other's house almost every morning, borrowed each other's clothes, knew every detail about the other one's life there was to know. Children flowed back and forth amongst their two homes and two mothers.
Browsing through the volumes of photographs brought back a flood of memories. We studied the Bible together, went to church together the Wednesday the US gave the ultimatum that started the Gulf Coast war.Our daughter's had their grand birthday tea parties, every Halloween became a large event. We bought each other groceries if one or the other was going to the store, it was like living across the street from a sister. It didn't matter what we were doing when the other came over, be it nude or cleaning, we were not guests in each other's homes.
I read her Tarot cards many times, but once she did not like the outcome. We re-shuffled (thoroughly, as usual), only to get the exact same cards, in the exact same place except two cards had been switched. I laughed and said, "What does this tell us?" She got the Ace of Cups in a position that could only mean a new birth. She swore that was NOT going to happen. We wrote down the results as we always did, and went on to other things. A week later, she discovered she was pregnant with Katie. This sort of thing was to become so typical in our intertwined lives.
Karen could be very, very blonde despite her gorgeous dark brown and gold hair. Her face was exquisite, her body a rounded and full perfect example of a sexy woman. Her gorgeous white teethed grin instantly brought out your own. She would be bustling around, scattered, dis-organized and frantic, but she had a heart of gold, rarely matched by anyone. She was loving, caring, and gentle. She was stronger than she ever suspected, able to withstand any disaster once she got her bearings. Her shoulders were wide enough for anyone's tears, her hugs could make your day much sunnier. My life was so much richer having what I term an "Underwear Friend."
Underwear girlfriends might sound weird, but it does make sense. These are rare people in your life, people who are so close to you, and vice versa that you have both seen each other in your underwear (or less.) You might move away and not have contact constantly, but they always return into your life, for your entire life. You know every single thing there is to know about this person, and you have not one secret held from her. They are 'safe places', people you can tell anything to without fear of repercussion or judgement. If you were able to pick out your own real sisters, they would be your underwear girlfriends. Other friends might be really close friends, but the underwear thing just isn't there. Underwear friends, they are just special.
Karen and her husband broke up, moving off the street before my own divorce caused the same move in 1998. We did not lose contact, although it was obviously much less frequent. She and her four children moved around a great deal after they moved from 23rd Street, and it was hard to keep track of her. Leslie and Katie lived with their Aunt Rene in Dos Palos, then to be moved back to their mother's home or their dad's home. I did have all her sister's and parent's phone numbers, so I knew I would always be able to find her again. The last time I saw her, she had recovered from Bell's Palsy, and looked extremely stressed. Before she moved to Montana, she stopped by the house, but I was not home to see her off.
My beloved daughter, now grown, married and living in Germany with her Army husband, came home for Christmas. As always, Karen and Leslie came up. Too many years have passed, so we decided to make a special effort to find Karen again. Jena found Leslie on myspace, and we were amazed. We saw Karen's face in Leslie's, beyond doubt. John obtained Leslie's phone number and we called. I asked "Who is this?" and she said "Leslie...who is this?" I laughed and said, "Leslie!" She knew immediately who she was talking to, hollering into the phone, sounding just great! I asked her if she was living with her mother and she dropped the bomb that would shake my world for days to come.
Karen had died of a rare blood disorder three years ago to the day, January 10, 2004.
Days later, I can almost write about one the closest friends I will have the honour of knowing without crying. My son and I both thought, immediately upon hearing the news, "I always thought we would see her again." When her sister, Katie, told me "We will!" I laughed a bit, as that was my second thought.
January 13, 2007
Karen at Halloween 1990
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