The moment I saw her, I knew we would be best friends. The feeling wasn't a hope or wish. It was intuition, perhaps the first true intuitive feeling I ever received.
On the first day of
seventh grade, a new girl entered the fishbowl society that was Our Lady
of Holy Souls school. Most of us had attended classes together since
beginning our grade school career in first grade under the watchful eye
of Sister Brenda. The transition into junior high was made easier by the
fact that the school's curriculum continued through eighth grade. Even
so, I experienced the stereotypical awkward bumbling into puberty and
needed all the help I could get. I was 13 years old, woefully flat-chested and still playing with my
Barbies—when given the opportunity. I wanted to be grown up and mature
but I had
no idea how to accomplish that feat. That's when Wendy Rooney entered my life.
was from the north—Canton, Ohio to be exact—about as far north as I
could imagine in those days. I grew up in Little Rock and had not
traveled further than Silver Dollar City, Missouri. At the time, Ohio
seemed worldly and exotic. Borrowing from an overwrought line from one of the
coming-of-age teen mystery books in which I consistently had my nose
buried (remember "Trixie Belden"?), when I first saw Wendy I "knew we
would become fast friends." And we did.
She was the New Girl
and I made an effort to introduce myself and sit next to her at lunch.
If she thought I was weird for carrying a Snoopy lunchbox (the yellow
metal one shaped like his doghouse), she never let on. Somehow,
inexplicably, she accepted me as her friend. Wendy with her real bra
(not a trainer) and her northern accent and her long, flowing blonde
hair befriended me back. Wendy was a seventh grade miracle.
became enamored of the entire Rooney household and their easy-going
ways. Her parents were always present, but didn't hover. Her mom left
goodies in the fridge for our snacking pleasure. Coca Colas. Chips.
Frozen pizzas. From Wendy I learned the joy of eating frozen Ding
Dongs. I became a fixture in the Rooney home on weekends, often spending
Wendy's room was the quintessential girls' domain with twin beds covered
in matching chenille bedspreads. We stayed up late listening to music
on her stereo and talking about the boys we thought were cute and the
girls we thought were mean. But we also discussed God and the Razorbacks
(one and the same to many Arkansas fans), and just about any topic that
popped into our teenage heads. Nothing was too silly, or too serious or
taboo. Since my mother wasn't
comfortable talking about menstruation and sex, finding a friend
like Wendy was essential.
Wendy inherited a big box of cosmetics from her older sisters Peggy and
Barb. For me it seemed a treasure chest that—if wielded
skillfully—could yield my transformation from little girl to woman.
Standing before her bathroom vanity, we'd dab our lids with generous amounts of
azure eye shadow and slather waxy white concealer beneath
our eyes. We painted our lips coral, pink and red to see which color we
liked best and topped it off with a generous layer of iridescent
Maybelline Kissing Potion lip gloss with its roll-on applicator. We
dusted powder and blush all over our young faces to hide non-existent
flaws, as if we could improve what was natural and nearly perfect. (Oh
to have that skin again!)
Most of all, we laughed so hard our
stomachs ached. Wendy was witty and always quick with a clever response.
For the life of me, I wish I could remember some of the things we found
so hysterical. I do recall one particularly magical summer after we
first earned our drivers' licenses (Wendy's birthday was just 20 days
before mine.) With little else to amuse us in Little Rock, we drove
around the local neighborhoods in her Dad's El Camino, singing top 40 hits
along with the radio, talking and laughing. Somewhere near Hall High
School (our high school's arch enemy), a cute boy in a convertible drove
past us. Wendy and I shared a looked and then she made a U-turn and
We didn't know his name, only that he probably
attended the rival school — and that he was a hunk. We didn't intend to
meet him, but we followed him through the winding streets of the
neighborhood, laughing our heads off at our boldness. We were laughing
so hard that we didn't notice when the Hunk came to a stop in front of
his house, got out and and waved at us. We were busted, which brought
another round of incoherent giddiness.
In the same way, I can't remember when Wendy and I stopped being best friends. I
don't recall a rift or slight. Sometime during high school we simply
drifted into separate interests and took on boyfriends. We attended
different colleges and I moved away from Little Rock.
Wendy only once or twice in all the years that followed. We talked
briefly at our 20th high school reunion and I told her I would call and
we would get together the next time I was in Little Rock. Years
passed. Life got in the way. Caring for growing children and declining
parents are among my excuses (the good ones, at least.) I didn't call. I
didn't know that she'd been diagnosed with cancer until I got a group
text announcing that Wendy was gravely ill. By that time, she was
hospitalized with little hope of recovery. Then, just a day later, word
came: She had passed away.
The fact that I could be out of
touch with Wendy for 30 years and still feel her loss deeply is a
testament to the effect she had on my life. True friendships are like
that. It doesn't matter if the relationship lasts two or twenty years.
Throughout my life I've been given wonderful friends to help me through
the most difficult times. Wendy was the Godsend who carried me through
puberty. She taught me it was okay to be silly, and okay to be serious.
She taught me it was okay to carry a Snoopy lunch box. Just by being my
friend during those oh-so-awkward days, she taught me it was okay to be
I regret that I did not take the time to call or see her
over the years, but Wendy had many, many
friends who loved her. I am grateful for the time we had and the
laughter we shared. Even in death, she leads me toward
maturity, for today I see that no one is really lost. We are the sum of
our experiences, an ever-changing collective. I would not be the person I am today if not for the
time I spent laughing with Wendy so many years ago.