Do you know anyone this could apply to? Someone so quirky and unique that you can't help but remember her... someone who explodes into your life and nothing is ever the same again? I do, and when I saw this sign, I thought of her.
She came into my life when I was ten years old. I found her sitting on a new brown suitcase, the ones made of a kind of brown cardboard, just inside the primary school gates - two pigtails askew, big blue eyes spilling tears down her new uniform, and a curious crowd of onlookers gathering to look at the "new girl".
"What's your name?" I asked. "D..D...Debbie," she sobbed, looking for all the world like her monkey had just died. "Well, my name's Patsy and I can speak Afrikaans," I babbled - trying, as only kids can, to impress this little girl. Had I had the vision to see forward into Life, had I had the foresight to see what would lie ahead for us both, had I the ability to see the silver cord that would forever bind us from that day forth, I would have raised my eyes to the heavens and thank whatever god is up there for the gift that is her.
We have been friends, solid friends, no, sisters.. no, not even that... soul mates, spanning 38 years, and counting. It has never wavered, never changed, strengthened, yes, into something that is indefinable, but it has above all else remained constant. She is my best friend, my fellow earth angel, who has supported me, loved me, and stood by me in good times and bad... and there were a lot of both, for both of us. She is the second set of footprints in the sand when Life becomes too heavy for one, and I have given her light when she has lost her way in the dark. Whatever is lacking in one, the other provides.
When there was Trouble, you could rest assured Debbie and I would be lurking in the shadows, giggling like irrepressible and mischievous imps who no doubt had a firm hand in said Trouble. We were formidable, impenetrable. The teachers tried their best, bless them, and separated us in class in the hope that some work would get done. It never was. Instead, we giggled our way through Junior School and left chaos in our wake.
I think we were the first girls in the history of all time to be expelled from Girl Guides. Yes, expelled. Decapped. Debadged. They sent us both out the hall, and locked the door behind us as they banished us forever. So we chewed our bubblegum until it was sticky and soft, and pressed it into the lock with sand, sticks, whatever we could find - leaving the goody Girl Guides knitting - and went home. It took them three hours to clear the lock. They were all late getting home that night. When learning survival skills, we rolled up newspaper and smoked it. When saluting the flag, Debbie would feign shooting herself and falling over, leaving me powerless to remain upright. Mrs Thomas, the Captain's right-hand woman, once had the stupid idea of squeezing Debbie's cheeks to get her to spit out whatever she was holding in her mouth. It was water, and it was not a good idea. Mrs T had an unsuspected shower, and we got the boot. Again.
Debbie had one advantage - long hair - which she would hide behind when a fit of the giggles attacked. Misfortunate that I was, curly short hair did not offer me the same protection, and inevitably it was me that was sent from the class to stand in the hallway at school whilst I "thought about what I had done." We had inkholes in our desks, and she would draw funny faces on the tips of her fingers, slip them under the desk and up through the holes, and then nudge me, wiggling them about. Me, the studious one, trying to concentrate on the lesson, would be the one sent out for giggling. Again.
We stole cigarettes from her father's stash. We climbed onto roofs, and when her formidable father arrived home early and caught us, she made me go down the trellis first. Arse first. Our punishment from him was always maths; fractions. And he treated us both the same. Luckily I was good at maths. We found money once and bought 400 bubblegums and spent the afternoon seeing how many we could stick in our mouths at once. I fell asleep with mine in my mouth. I never imagined how much damage it could do. That beanbag was never the same again.
Dinner at hers was quite formal, yet she would flick her peas at me under the table - and it was me that got sent to her room for laughing. We rang up hundreds of rands on the housephone, ringing China and taking the micky. We somersaulted on her mother's newly made bed. Her brother collected little lead soldiers, which he painstakingly painted and set out in correct historical battle scenes. We would sneak in and shuffle them all up, putting the enemies in compromising positions with each other. We learnt to run fast, because Stephen is a redhead with the temper to match. He once tried to drown her in a basin of water, and I was on his back whacking his head with a silver hairbrush. He still talks about it today. This past Christmas, on a recent visit, she picked up one of his precious soldiers - which he still has - and he roared at us to get away and leave them alone. In the presence of her, we are children again.
I may have slept at my own house, but her house was my home.
I may have slept at my own house, but her house was my home.
We swam every day in her pool, hours of fun I cannot begin to explain. It had an external filter pump, and we played Marco Polo. She stood in front of the pump and just before I pounced on her, she swam off, like quicksilver. The only thing I caught was the pump which I ripped off its casing. We shoved it back into place and said nothing. I think the pool went green overnight. Oh God, we were so naughty, but not bad. Just very mischievous, and joined at the hip in the process.
She never hesitated to laugh at my misfortune - the time I did a back-flip over a kitchen stool, missed it, and ended up with a black eye. The time I did a handstand at the end of the bed, aiming for the wall but missing it and sliding my nose down the plaster. Was my best friend at my side, concerned, helping me up? Oh she was, yeah. Right. She was bursting her hole laughing. Hurting yourself around her did not guarantee tea and biscuits. Maybe after. Na, probably not. You'd just hear "OMG, Patsy..." followed by a doubled-over, wheezing laughter. And poor Suzie the dog - Debbie had a knitted Mickey Mouse which she used to tease her with, and then we'd roll on the floor laughing as Suzie humped the stuffing out of poor Mickey.
Then came the teenage years, and Debbie was moved to another school, another suburb, and I lost my arm for a while. I had to find some other way of belonging, but I never really did and I became a loner in school. Half of me was gone. So we drifted apart a little while, me with my first boyfriend, she with hers (that she's still married to today), but the phone was never far away from either of us. Her telephone number is imbedded in my brain - 532828, and mine was 537021. Those numbers were privy to our darkest secrets, our biggest fears, our wildest dreams... My mother locked the phone eventually to stop me using it, but I learnt how to tap-tap the numbers out without having to open the phone, so that didn't keep us apart either.
See, if any of you out there remember us at all, it will be about the giggling. We would set each other off with a look, nothing more, and then collapse helplessly at absolutely nothing at all, and ensuring another afternoon in the Principal's office. I suppose the lesson in this is that nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed in 38 years. We can't help it. It's as though we are two halves of one whole, to the exclusion of everyone else. It's palpable. People close to us have given up trying to understand us. We can hardly understand ourselves.
A word of advice - never, and I mean NEVER, invite the two of us to a function that requires us to be serious. The results will be catastrophic.
Then came marriage for her, and children, and I lost her for a little while, but it was never over. And then she moved to the UK, and I came home to Ireland, both adults now, both with our histories and our lives, our heartaches, our failures, our successes; but still stuck in juvenile minds. We are a little rounder, a little more jaded, and quite a bit more unbalanced, but we're still a duo to be reckoned with.
She made a joke once that frightened the life out of me - she said if we were ever to find ourselves on our own again, we could move in together. Now you might find that a conundrum, seeing as I'm professing this wonderful friendship. But, you see, you don't know her. She is quirky, and funny, and kind, and lovely, but she also has an irrepressible madness; she is not quite of this world. She is ditsy and a little la-la. Worryingly so at times. An interest in the afterlife, the spirits.... yet when they come to visit she does chanting, and banishes them with sage, moon-dancing her way round the house. She won't go downstairs in the dark. In her own house. Ever. So she'll wake you in the middle of the night to join her. Or hide behind you if she hears a noise. Worse still, push you in front of her whilst she makes a run for it.
But if I fall over, she picks me up. When I was in my darkest hours, she rang me every single day, refusing to get off the answering machine until I picked up and let her know I was ok. When she fell over, the first person she rang was me. Often we'll ring each randomly, just after something catastrophic has happened to the other, without knowing why. It's like there's a psychic connection - we just know each other. One look from me and she knows what's in my head, and vice versa. That's powerful stuff. And intrusive. There's nowhere to hide with a friend like that.
She is the Sun to all those that know her - everyone orbits around her. Mind you, she does want to tell them all to feck off most of the time, patience is not her virtue. Holding her tongue is not an art she has mastered, and you'd better leather up that skin of yours if you are to survive her. She is artistic, creative, a thinker. She's the one you'd want in your corner to discuss options, ideas, plans. And if there was a battle to be won, or even just survive, there's no one else I'd rather have beside me than her. And that can't be said for many.
She is my friend, yes. My sister, yes. And my fellow earth-angel, yes. But she is the other half of me. Together we are Yin and Yang, in perfect harmony and balance. Separately we are both strong women. Together, we are powerful. It's a gift that grows more precious with the passing of time.
As I look back over my life, all the many trials and tribulations, the many hurts, triumphs, obstacles, dramas... the one thing that has remained constant is my irreplaceable, unbelievable, incredible friendship with her.
Sometimes in Life we never get to say what we always meant to - she and I have become conscious of what we have, and we give thanks to each other, and love, each time we speak.
I have no fear of dying, but I have a fear of staying in this world without her in it.