A Promise Is A Promise

A Promise Is A Promise

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A Promise Is A Promise


The room was ridiculously cold and my skin was damp against the sheets. No matter how extreme the temperature, I am addicted to the calming lull of the air conditioner as I sleep. It’s what they call my “white noise.” The afternoon sun was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds as its rays snuck in through the blinds. The muscles in my neck and shoulders were throbbing. I was still trying to get used to my awkward dorm room bed. A muffled voice traveled through the paper-thin brick wall and the sound of familiar music took center stage in my dreams. At first, I was pissed off because my new neighbor was interrupting my precious nap, but I soon realized that I had a special attachment to the song she was singing. It instantly reminded me of an old friend. As I drifted back to sleep, I began to dream about a childhood memory.

I remember feeling as if the day was never going to end. Even now as an adult, my concentration still seems to plummet as the weekend approaches. At that time in my life, the degree of patience I could sustain had only been maturing for ten short years. I made that particular school day even more unnecessarily dramatic than usual since I knew it wasn’t just an average Friday. Instead of going to my house after school as usual, I was going home with my best friend. After hours of literally twiddling my thumbs (like I said, I was a dramatic child), we were finally standing outside at the parent pick-up location with the other eager elementary students. My book bag was light on my back, which meant there was no homework in store for me tonight. All I had to look forward to was a sleepover filled with PG-13 movies, a nauseating amount of Reese’s Pieces and Mountain Dew, and prank phone calls to random boys who were also in Mrs. Webb’s fifth grade class. I loved prank phone calls.

As I bent down to tie my shoelace, a slippery raindrop slithered down my lightly freckled cheek. Before I had the chance to look up at the silver sky, the clouds exploded like champagne flowing over the edge of a bottle. Renee grabbed my hand, and we darted off as fast as our little legs could run. As I hopped into the middle of the backseat, the scent of the brand new car continued to saturate my already moist pores.

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I felt safe and content. Jay Dee was a single mom and Renee an only child, and they seemed to be more like giggly girlfriends rather than mother and daughter. As a duo, they had an electric energy unlike anyone else I knew. And when I was around, they welcomed me into their own little world.

After some small talk about our day at school, Jay Dee turned up the volume on the radio. She and Renee started singing along to a song that I had never heard before. So, I just sat back and listened. They belted out the words as if they were the ones who wrote the lyrics. After she noticed I wasn’t joining in on the fun, Jay Dee apologized for repeating the same song. I didn’t mind though. The melody was upbeat and soothing. She explained that they listened to the same song over and over again until they got tired of it. It mesmerized me how a mother and daughter could be so unique. By the end of the car ride, I knew the words well enough to sing at the top of my lungs with my best friend and her mom. I awoke from my afternoon nap just as the sunset was accenting the bashful stars that were hiding behind the broad, arched palm trees. That dream refreshed my memory on what it was like to be part of a friendship that was always optimistic and carefree.

September 6, 2004
A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

After returning to reality, I slowly put together the impatient pieces of my homework. The pulsating ring of my cell phone easily broke my weak concentration. I was pleased to find Renee on the other end. It’s hard to believe that we managed to stay in touch after all these years. She proceeded to update me on her life back in little old Crown Point, Indiana. I got a mental image of the petite girl I used to know with short blond hair and round glasses. Her eyes were chocolate covered like mine. She had been through some tough times this past summer, so I was very pleased to hear she was working a steady job and had plans to further her education. Renee didn’t go to college, so I filled her in on all of my experiences at Florida State University. It hit me with full force that we were all grown up now. That realization depressed me. I gave her details about the freedom of communal living, the cute boys at the fraternity parties, and the optional classes that were few and far between. She was so interested in my life that we began to make plans for her to come visit me in Tallahassee. It reminded me of when we used to plan our sleepovers. I was going to be visiting my family in Indiana sometime in November, so we decided to finalize her trip to Florida when we could sort out the details in person. I missed her more than ever. We promised each other that nothing would stand in the way of our plans.

After we said our goodbyes, my thoughts were like an old freight train traveling backwards in time. As I evaluated our history, I became astounded at the affect Renee had over me. She was all the way across the country, and yet she still had the power to make me feel totally energized, as if my inner spirit had been awakened and fully restored. I loved that about her. In return, I was her long distance friend who was only a phone call away if she needed me. Renee always seemed to take me up on that offer which made me feel just as vital to our friendship as she was.

I wanted her to be a part of my everyday life as much as possible, so I immediately gathered up two recent photos of myself, one from when I went skydiving and the other of my mom and me from my senior homecoming dance. I put them in a simple card and mailed them to Renee. One week had passed when my mother told me she received a message on the family answering machine from Jay Dee responding to my letter. I did not have the chance to return her call before I went out of town to visit my family. I will always regret this.

September 24, 2004
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

I knew it was going to be an amazing weekend. My dad, grandpa, and four uncles from Chicago were participating in a golf retreat in Tampa, and I was going to drive the 280 miles to join them. I would have driven on a highway of stars to Pluto if need be. On my way down south, I took a detour to my humble hometown of Clermont to pick up my big sister Amy and little brother C.J. After a total of six hours on the road, we made it to the hotel late that Friday night. I exhaled a sigh of relief when I saw my family waiting outside to welcome us. My dad was the first to kiss me hello. His breath reeked of red wine. Alcohol transformed him into an unemployed, amateur comedian on open mic night. Sober or not, his stale jokes always managed to make me laugh. As I began to settle into our apartment like hotel room, I realized just how stressed I was from the long drive. My knotted nerves were put at ease by being in the presence of my family. A calming and somewhat eerie peace came over me. I fell right asleep.

September 25, 2004
HURRICANE JEANNE

I awoke to Amy violently yanking the warm white comforter off my still body. It felt like I had been sleeping in a bed that was hand crafted by Martha Stewart herself in comparison to my slab of plywood back at school. I smashed my face in the pillow, groaned to voice my opinion, and carried on with my sleep. I felt like a ten-year-old girl again when my dad had to take matters into his own hands. He pulled me out of bed and damn near threw me into the bathroom. I put together an outfit, slapped on some strawberry lip-gloss, and was first in line at the door. My personal record was broken that morning.

All of a sudden, a vibration traveled from my hand, up through my arm, and into my sluggish brain. I reached into my purse violently digging for my cell phone. It was my mom calling to see how the weekend was unfolding. By the tone of her voice, I knew that something was definitely wrong. She had been crying. She said that Jay Dee called again. My mom kept asking me questions like, “When was the last time you talked to Renee?” and “When did you send her a card with pictures?” My curiosity heightened as I quickly spouted off answers to her. She was dancing around the real reason why she called which caused me to become panicked. My pulse started to race and my lungs tightened. I knew my mom was going to say something horrible. My chest was about to collapse from lack of oxygen. My patience disappeared, and I insisted that she immediately tell me the problem. After a few seconds of agonizing silence, she softly said, “It was too late, Brittany. She didn’t get your letter.”

I dropped down to my knees. All the air in my lungs was now gone. My whole body began to tremble. All I could say was, “What are you talking about? What do you mean she didn’t get it?” I tried to comprehend what my mom was telling me, but the thoughts in my head were uncontrollably bouncing back and forth. Flashbacks of my childhood appeared with every blink of my brown, salty eyes. I recalled the vivid details of my recent dream. I thought of our last phone conversation. I was heartbroken that she didn’t even get my letter.

My hands were shaking so bad that I couldn’t hold onto the phone anymore. My sister picked it up and listened closely as my mom began to explain the whole story. A river of tears flooded down my face. I had so many questions, but the words were jumbled in the back of my throat. When did she die? How did it happen? Why didn’t someone call me sooner? Then I realized that Jay Dee did call me. A tidal wave of guilt was laid upon my heart. Why didn’t I call her back? I was supposed to be Renee’s friend, and yet I had no instinct that something was terribly wrong. I could hear my mom’s voice echoing in the background. Suddenly, I had an impulse to shoot the messenger. I snatched the phone from Amy and began to interrogate my mom. I wanted answers, but all she could do was weep with me.

That Saturday afternoon was swarming with thunderstorms and hurricane force winds. The weather and my mood were a match made in hell, gloomy and angry. I spent the remainder of the day reviewing the details in my head. Renee passed away in her sleep of a brain aneurysm on September 11, 2004. Jay Dee received my card and pictures addressed to her daughter that very same day which made me feel like a complete asshole. Of course, I had no way of knowing about my bad timing but the guilt settled in just the same. Not being able to find my cell phone number, she called my home phone one week later to deliver the news. I didn’t call her back. As a result, I was unaware of Renee’s death for two weeks. I missed her funeral and memorial services.

My body was tense and my head felt like a wild lightening bolt from the storm had struck it. To ease my pain, I slipped out of my clothes and into a steamy bath. I couldn’t seem to get the room dark enough or the water hot enough. I stayed very still in the coffin shaped tub as tears melted into my skin. My body became numb from the scalding water. I imagined elaborate pictures of the scene. I saw Renee’s cold, blue body lying motionless as her mom screamed and cried at her bedside. That image scared the hell out of me. I began to pray out loud to Renee. I apologized for not being there for her when she needed me, and I repeatedly said how sorry I was and how much I missed her. God was I sorry. I had never prayed so hard in my entire life.

October 3, 2004
MY WORD IS MY BOND

Time has gradually vanished, taking some of my pain along with it. Jay Dee has had a crucial part in my grieving process. My family, especially my dad with his dry sense of humor, did what they could to console me, but no one was able to comfort me like she did. Together we cried about our loss and laughed about old memories. She helped to relieve me of any guilt I had lingering in the back of my mind. Her kind words stitched up my wounds, and I will always be thankful to her. All she asked of me was to honor her daughter in any way possible. Of course, I agreed. Jay Dee reminded me to never take anything for granted. She wanted me to achieve my goals and dreams no matter what obstacles stood in my way. This was common advice, but now I had a reason to live by it.

It’s still hard for me to believe that Renee is actually gone. I find myself reaching for the phone to call her and looking in the mailbox for her reply to my letter. I have thought about her everyday since we became friends, and I will continue to take her memory with me. She was clever, brave, and extremely loyal. I will always be grateful for the significant role she had in shaping my perspective on life and even death. In return for our everlasting friendship, I will still visit her in November just like we promised each other.
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