When I was young—and I mean pre-teen—my friends and I worshipped Simon & Garfunkel. We called their songbook our “bible,” and listened to them all the time. Why we were such moody children I’ve no idea, but I still love S&G like nothing else, and I miss the straightforward friendships of childhood.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” isn’t my favorite S&G song—it would have to compete with “The Boxer” and “Homeward Bound,” both of which I really love more. But “Bridge Over Troubled Water” reminds me of that particular set of friends that I met in 5th grade and who I thought would always be my closest friends. I couldn’t imagine life without them. They and their horses and dogs and cats and the many, many allegorical stories we wrote together certainly contributed to the person I am today.
I first made friends with Mouse and Barndoor, who are sisters. We were also friends with a girl named Bee, and after I moved across the state another girl named Maggot joined the crew. My nickname was Sa, but my little icon was a drawing of a smiling saw. We each had a cutesy icon that always accompanied our signatures in our many letters. Today I suppose we would have avatars. But back then, we sent letters with wax seals and elaborate news. We all saw each other for weeks in the summer, and our parents trundled us back and forth across the state of Tennessee for these visits. I rode the Greyhound bus by myself.
I haven’t seen any of these women in years. I heard a rumor once that Bee is dead, and I haven’t been able to find her anywhere on the internet. I might be able to get in touch with her brother, now a Hollywood producer, and ask him: Death or marriage? How did she disappear so completely? But I don’t want to ask him painful questions, and he might not even remember me.
Maggot has become a physician like her father and lives near my mother in a completely different state than where we grew up. Maybe some time when I’m visiting, I will look her up.
It’s Mouse and Barndoor who haunt me, though. I loved them so much. From what I understand Barndoor has fared the better of the two, though her older sister dominated their childhood and was always more popular. Barndoor and I had in common that younger-sibling thing. I tried to stay in touch, but Barndoor was standoffish. I think she couldn’t wait to get away from her childhood. The facts I know are that Barndoor went through a short phase of evangelical Christianity, married and divorced very young, became a nurse, and at latest news was married to a “little person.”
Mouse, on the other hand, took all her potential and moved to New York City where she was a paralegal and then married a wealthy heir and became addicted to drugs. For years, I had no clue what was going on. She entered a master’s program in anthropology but didn’t finish it. She quit working. She volunteered at a senior center but then didn’t any more. I would plan to be in New York and see her and her husband, but she would call and cancel at the last minute. Sometimes this would be dramatic: they’d be in a cab on the way to meet me, and she would call and say she was terribly ill and had to go home. It was always her stomach, and her mother had died of a sudden stomach illness when we were teenagers, so I thought she just associated me with that painful memory.
When I was back home in Knoxville, I’d go to see their dad. Max (I had given up his nickname—Muck—as I got older) lived eccentrically—for a while on a houseboat, always with numerous cats and dogs and their barely contained (or not contained) mess. I would perch on the cleanest corner of a kitchen chair, and we would talk over the latest photos of Mouse and Barndoor on his refrigerator. After he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, we talked about blood sugars, and I tried to encourage him to get better medical care, as his clearly wasn’t good. Finally, he told me that Mouse had been in rehab after rehab, but that her wealthy husband had given up on her and moved out. I saw him one last time in a nursing home, after his leg had been amputated.
With Mouse, I followed with calls and cards, with brochures about programs to help women re-enter the work force, with one or two visits that actually happened. We talked about her dog and my cats. We talked about my work and her dreams. I thought I might be able to be her bridge over troubled water. But eventually, Max died and Mouse became unreachable. Nothing ever got better for long, and I got tired. I gave up, though I still mail an occasional birthday card and hope against hope that she has found her way.
I also still have a tiny cross-stitch pillow that hangs on a doorknob, which she sent me after one of my flurries of support. It says, “Old friends are the best friends.”
Your narratives about your childhood are always, instantaneously, compelling!