My best friend, Lori, and I were sorority sisters – but more than that, as two precocious only children, we became the real sister the other had never had. And in our 17 years of friendship, I learned that I didn’t have to be impressive all the time to make an impression, that real friends can disagree deeply and in the open without fear of reprisal, that sometimes your girlfriends are the ONLY people you can call with those REALLY personal questions, and that being silent next to someone you love speaks more than a thousand Hallmark cards.
In short…I guess you could say, we grew up together.
A week before my senior year in college, I left a physically and psychologically abusive relationship. And, typically me, I tried to seem “together” even when my mind was crashing in…Lori wasn’t fooled. She, alone, drove hours to be by my side. There was no blame or expectation – only presence. And so, she taught me me that I was worthy of the love of a friend even if I wasn’t chipper and happy and bubbly. I could be human – I could even be a freaked-out emotional wreck – and she still saw me as “brilliant” “courageous” and “wonderful.” Words I never would’ve used to describe myself, if speaking honestly.
We had boyfriends and broken hearts. We earned diplomas. We moved out. We became women. We sat in judgement of “the one” before giving our seal of approval, each for the other…we became wives, and stood up for each other as vows were said. We became mothers. We talked about breast pumps and houses suddenly filled with trucks and trains. We juggled careers and kids and guilt. She sat next to me at my father’s wake. I held her firstborn son when he was less than two weeks old.
When I graduated from Brown, Lori gave me a mirror she had framed herself – a mosaic of pottery shards in pinks and golds and greens and white. The truly ironic thing was that I, too, had made her a “memory mirror”….except mine was REALLY ugly. Lori’s was gorgeous. And then she said, “For my friend, Jen, who has made something beautiful out of something broken.” I hung that mirror in my daughter’s bedroom before she was even born – and it’s now in my stairwell, so that we each look in it before we face the world each day. Because “Aunt Lori,” as she is known to my children, made it. “And Aunt Lori is really smart.”
Except she was wrong about one thing. It was Lori who made something beautiful out of the broken pieces. Her name is in the acknowledgement of every Asperkids book for a reason. She held up a mirror and let me see that I was beautiful – not in spite of my jagged edges or chips and cracks, but because of them.
For the last two years, she has battled a largely private war against aggressive breast cancer – and I consider it a privilege that I was allowed to be one of the very few people who knew what was really happening. Tonight, she left us. For many people, it’s news they never saw coming. For me, it’s news I’ve been expecting, but willing NOT to happen.
Aspies don’t need lots of friends. It’s a quality not quantity thing. Lori was – and is – the closest thing I will ever have to a sister. I will promise that her boys know of her college escapades. I will promise that her parents won’t. I will love her husband like a brother, because he beats every “dream man” she ever imagined. And I will look in that mirror every day for the rest of MY life. I will see the wrinkles come and be grateful for the time that brings them. With every new morning that passes, I will look into that reflection and say, “Today, I will make something beautiful out of something broken.” Because in a very chipped, cracked, mismatched and imperfect me, Lori already did.