I remember the first friend I ever had. We crossed paths because we lived in the same apartment building together. I used to run up and down the hallways all the time making a big ruckus and tenants would complain about me to her grandmother who was the landlord of the building but we were never evicted and I like to think it’s because me and Barbara-Jean were best friends.
Barbara-Jean was named after her grandmother who raised her. They both carried an old classic name that most people shorten and as she got older she did drop the Jean in her name but I would never stop referring to her by her full name, it’s just one of those things that stuck.
Even though I was best friends with Barbara-Jean I was a bit jealous of her from time to time. First of all, she was allowed to order anything that she wanted out of the Sears catalogue which was my dream! I would go through that catalogue circling outfits and dog-earing the pages of the clothes I wanted but couldn’t afford and there was Barbara-Jean always wearing the latest fashions every other week, and since she was a lot smaller than I was we couldn’t trade clothes.
I don’t know much about who Barbara-Jean was in her adult life but I knew her when she was young and I think who you are when you are young never really leaves you. The very core of your personality traits as a child usually are what you carry through life. The foundation of character shines through when you are a child and because of this, I know that Barbara-Jean had a kind soul. When I couldn’t do something on my own, she always stood up and helped out. She was the kind of person that would be there for you no matter what. I don’t remember her ever being angry or mean-spirited. She was caring almost to a fault. I know for a fact that if I were to jump off a bridge she would hold my hand and close her eyes and jump with me, that’s the kind of person that she was.
Barbara-Jean and I had so much in common. We were both raised by our grandmothers because our mothers weren’t around very much and through that we found a common ground, we understood each other.
Barbara-Jean gave me the first tattoo I ever had. With a needle and a jar of dark black Indian ink she drew an uneven heart with angel wings and a halo on my arm that I’ve since had covered over.
We got drunk together for the first time up on the rocks behind the old folks home after I broke into my papa’s house and stole his liquor. After we polished off the bottles, we passed out in the summer sun for hours and stumbled home holding each other up sick from the drink and the sunshine beating down on us.
As we got older we went down different roads and drifted apart. We become mothers. We moved around, changed phone numbers and addresses. Left town, came back, and then left again.
Barbara-Jean lived here on Vancouver Island, in Nanaimo, for some time. And even though we lived near each other I never did make the effort to check in on her and now I will never have the chance. Barbara-Jean was hit by a car on a busy highway in the early morning on Sept. 28 and died on the scene. While I mourn the loss of my first best friend, I will try not to allow my heart to be filled with regrets. I will try not to beat myself up for not keeping in contact with her all these years.
I will try not to kick myself for not reaching out when I heard that she was going through difficult times in her life. I will try not to regret that I never made the effort to know the names of her children. I will try not to think of all the what if’s and maybe’s because there is nothing I can do for her now. What I can do is try to be there for her family. To tell her children stories of who her mother was when she was younger as they try to come to grips with their loss.
What Barbara-Jean’s sudden passing has taught me is that I must try to improve the relationships I have with the friends that I have now. I must make time to talk to them on the phone and find out how they are doing. I will stop sending them to voicemail just because I don’t feel like talking. I will extend invites even if I know they might be turned down. I will remember birthdays and special occasions. I won’t get upset over little things that we might disagree on because the little things don’t matter. I want my friends to know that I will always be there for them no matter what because I know that there were times that Barbara-Jean could have really needed a best friend. We all could.
The last time I saw Barbara-Jean was nearly a decade ago. We had stopped talking by then. She was pulled over in a clearing on the Ingraham Trail leaning on the hood of a fancy shiny car with her back against the windshield tanning. This is how I will remember Barbara-Jean. I will remember her basking in the sunlight that was shining down on her instead of thinking of the tragedy of her last moments on earth. I won’t question what our worlds would have been like if I would have stopped and pulled over and said hi to my childhood friend instead of driving on. I think as humans we always wonder if there was more we could have done, if there was one defining moment that could have changed the course of history for ourselves and others that we cross paths with along the way but part of the mystery of life is that we can never know. One thing I know for sure is that although Barbara-Jean’s life ended too soon, her heart now belongs to the heavens because on earth she was an angel.
Rest in peace Barbara-Jean.