For a while, possibly the better part of a decade, I was a human crayon. Matching sweatpants and sweatshirts. Jil was just. so. cool. She wore jean overalls and those shirts with nifty stick drawings and sayings on them. Her hair, a cute light brown with bangs. Mine a dishwater blonde bob with bangs and Farrah feathers. At this point, we were close to the same height, but in time, I would appear to shrink, while she got as tall as a model. She sat behind me in Mr. Irish’s class. Grade five, where all district elementary schools converged. Our school was the latest social experiment from the district. Prior to the 1995-1996 school year, kindergarten through grade six was housed in each respective elementary school. However, Oxford Intermediate School opened, bringing all of the kids from Leonard (me), Clear Lake (Jil), and Daniel Axford together. I don’t like to think that under any other circumstances, I wouldn’t have met Jil until grade seven, or not at all.
This was pre 9/11, so schools were open and kids and parents could wander in easily to find classrooms. My mom and dad took me to find my new fifth grade classroom about a month before school started. I saw her name taped to the desk behind mine. It was alphabetical fate that Scott would proceed Szewski in line. While the three of us were alone in the room, I remember telling my parents that she, this Jillian, and I would be friends. I was eager to be friends with this girl I didn’t know. Jordan Schaenzle sat in front of me, and he was the kid that signed my yearbook “the first one to sign your crack”. Ugh. I was not talking to him all year, so I went as far to begin practicing the way I thought Jil’s last name was pronounced. She was my only hope. On the first day, I remember telling her I could say her name. Pretty close she said.
We became friends over a mutual love of The Rolling Stones, Alicia Silverstone movies, campaigns to save the world, and reading. Soon I was just Mel. She was Bean. This carried on throughout middle school and the freak show carnival of high school. We screwed up marching band formations, ran the writers club, planned our futures, and shared our secrets. She read my stories, and I listened to film plots.
When I graduated from high school, I was eager to begin my new life. My college existence. Through my new and golden, there was Bean. She was at GVSU becoming the film student she’d always wanted to be. I was at OU, figuring out the moderns and post-moderns. Through it all, remaining friends was easy. From semi-random texts of “who’d play you in a movie about you” to “UGH! This class!” Skittering e-mails and our plans to meet up at home.
She was one of the first friends I informed of my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis. She’s also one of the only friends that celebrates the remission. Jil was one of the first relieved calls I made after confirming an MS misdiagnosis. When I need it, she’s always there to give me the tagline I so freely loan: “you got this.
We call each other mama, although, only I have (human) children. Jil with one “l”, Jillegal, Jilebean, Pretty Lady, Moe, Mel…
I got to see my best friend get married. Josh is perfect for her. Yin to her Yang. Graceland was the perfect setting for their two parts classic Hollywood and existential.
I had never been to Memphis. On our first day, I went to the hotel’s fitness room to get an energy boost before hitting the bricks. Sure enough, just as I had boarded Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner”, Jil came in to do the same. Like always, we fell into our easy rhythm. The pattern of two women who have been friends for over twenty years. We caught up, laughed, rejoiced, and tossed around ideas for her vows. She made one of the most beautiful brides I’ve ever seen. With her stellar blue eyes, Pricilla Presley hair, lace gown, and dazzling smile, she was perfect. I wanted to run up after her and just hug my single lady, one last time. I had to glue myself to the chapel pew. Good thing my shoes were uncomfortable. It made running up to her hard.
I love this woman. I love her with an intensity that I cannot explain and words… well, words are my life. I not only look up to her because she’s taller than me, but I also look up to her because she’s a damn fine human being.
When she walked down the aisle, I felt my eyes well. Instead of watching my best friend exchange wedding vows, I saw a ten-year-old with a Piston’s sweatshirt and blunt cut bangs. I saw a sixteen-year-old with her brand-new white car. Her white pony next to my green bean made us Spartans. I saw us at sixty, laughing at our youthful stories, and applauding each other for saving the planet. But more than anything, I saw my then future daughter yelling “Auntie Jil” and running into the arms of my sister.
You can read ‘A Tale of Two Dresses’ by Melissa St Pierre here