Jillietta Macallicutta

On my twenty-first birthday I was not at a bar. Or a club. I wasn’t taking shots or dancing to a band. I was in my friend’s sunny house across the street from my childhood home. There was a pan of chicken and noodles cooking on the stove and a freshly iced German Chocolate Cake waiting on the counter. If you could go back in time and look through the front window of that house you would see us there. Me and Jill. Both young. Both blonde. Both probably discussing the shocking centerfold Burt Reynolds had just done for Cosmo magazine. In the middle of all those giggles and preparations you would also see a little blonde boy who darted in and out talking about model airplanes and when we could eat the cake calling to us from the kitchen cabinet. It was a perfect hot day at the end of summer with the promise of so many good times to come. That night and in the future. It was the kind of day you hope exists for people in this world and it did. It existed for me. Because of Jill.

I don’t remember how many people came that night, or the presents I got, or even if we got a twenty-first birthday measure of drunk, but I do remember how I felt. I’ve never forgotten that. I felt like I was worth using up an entire Saturday on. Like I was worth my friend spending some of what was a single mom’s tight budget on balloons and cake ingredients and that Cosmo magazine–just so she could shock me with it and then laugh when I kept going back to take another look. And, I’m telling y’all, we laughed. So, so much. That night and many times over the years to come. About so many different things. If I could, I would catalog them all right here so you could all laugh with us. Those two young girls with life stretching out in front of them.

You would love the story of how I showed up at Jill’s house late one night and asked her to help me play a prank on someone. And, of course, she said yes. It involved intrigue and heavy lifting and mud. And, of course, laughter. When we were done, we drove back through town with the windows down and icy air blowing through her car singing some Dolly Parton song at the top of our lungs. I remember that night. It gets taken out and turned over in my mind and treasured. I can close my eyes in this moment and see her laughing from the driver’s seat. She is forever caught in the light of that open car door laughing at me and telling me to hurry before we got caught–a mischievous glint in her eye waiting to pop the clutch and get us to safety. I can see our muddy footprints tracked across her kitchen floor and I can see the steaming cup of spiced tea she put in front of me while we analyzed the genius of our prank and the impact it would have. We were sure it was the best prank ever played. I wish you could peek through that window too. It would also make you glad that nights like that exist for people. That there are friends like Jill that will answer their door late at night to help you pull a prank and then serve you warmth after. I am so lucky to have had her.

When I got married and we moved far away from each other and got really, really busy being grownups and responsible and weighted down we still found a way to stay close. To matter to each other. Then, it was long phone calls and surprise packages in the mail. Travel brochures from places I mentioned I wanted to visit. They would arrive in brown envelopes with her familiar looped handwriting printed across the front. Always anonymous except for her super-cool spy name she invented. She invented one for me too. We were going to use them when we ran away to live on a beach and be served umbrella drinks all day every day. I would send back brochures from house builders and even more travel brochures from her places. It was our way of seeing each other. Of remembering who we were before our grown up lives absorbed us. Before life and bills and being serious about things became so important. If you would have asked me then if I could ever lose Jill I would have said no.

I was wrong. I did lose her. Twice.

Once, the first Sunday of the new year to this damn, interminable virus that I hate with every tiny part of myself. And once, before that, in a way that hurts me even more. I say that because when Jill died it had been five years since I had talked to her.

How do I justify that? How do I pretend I don’t know better?

If you’ve been following my blog for even a minute you know I know better.

How could I not? My life has unfurled in a way that has taught me the same lesson over and over. I know how hot a funeral church is when you’re wearing panty hose and snot is running off the end of your nose and you just want out of there. I know that random men with pens in their pockets will always look like my dad in a crowd. I know that going to a little kid’s funeral is every kind of awful you can imagine and ironing their jeans beforehand is worse. I know that when one of your friends dies, barely a year after her wedding, you will keep the furry crown she wore at her bachelorette shower because you can’t bear to get rid of it. It will stay in your hope chest for years shedding pink fluff like it’s molting your memories. I know all of this and I still forgot. I got lulled into complacency. Into believing the awful lie that tomorrow would be a good day to check in. It’s a really crappy thing how life ends suddenly. And, almost always, when you think you have more time.

Jill and I had one more visit after we were young. I went home for a high school reunion and, even though it had been a minute since we had actually seen each other, she opened up her house to me. To my little girl. To my brother and his wife. She folded out couches and fixed breakfast and made us all laugh the entire weekend. When we left that morning I gave her a big hug and we promised to do a better job of staying in touch. And, then we didn’t. I didn’t. In the end, I should have held on tighter and sent more brown envelopes. I should have remembered who she was in that sunny little house across the street from mine. That moment when she was young, with her son running in out of the room, when the future was unwritten. I shouldn’t have lost her before life took her.

So, I’m sorry Jillietta Macallicutta for losing you before I needed to. I’m also sorry for revealing your most excellent spy name in this blog for the whole world to see. Can you forgive me for both? I hope so. One of us needs to.

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