When I was in kindergarten my best friend's name was Melissa. I got on the bus at the first stop. Melissa got on at the last. More often than not, the driver would make me sit with a little dark haired girl that got on the bus somewhere in between. The two of us - forced to sit together - stared intently at our shoes the entire short, but seemingly long, ride.
I had black patent leather Mary Janes. She had navy blue laced-up shoes.
In first grade blue shoes and I were in the same class. We sat in alphabetical order. The letters in our name lined up. We both had the last desk in our respective rows. We decided to give up the shoe staring contest and started a friendship that continues to this day.
During our youth, it was easy to classify Stacy as "best friend." We did nearly everything together and even when our interest grew apart, we did not. We went to different colleges. We now live in different states. Yet all the distance has done is change the way we interact - not our basic relationship. She was the first non-family member to know I was pregnant both times. And I got the middle of the night phone call the night her mother passed away. We both know that no matter what, we're still those same little girls giggling under blankets as we pretended to sleep on the floor late at night. We were naive enough to think our parents had no idea we'd raided the M&M stash or failed to snooze by bed time when we had sleep-overs.
Today we email back and forth. It's one long continuous thread of emails that don't come quite as frequent as they used to. I'm juggling two kids and a job. She's juggling an Emergency Department, a toddler and a pregnancy. It's amazing we get any emails sent off. Occasionally we get to call. Yet even these brief encounters seem to be enough. No matter the lag between our correspondence we always pick up where we left off. We don't miss a beat. She's like the old worn in slipper for my tired feet.
Yet every year since life has moved us from close proximity I miss her around the holidays. We became woven into each other's family holiday traditions. When I go to church on Christmas Eve I feel an empty space next to me where Stacy should be sitting. It's a weird feeling and it is, admittedly, fleeting as I focus on the ones that are with me.
I played driedle for the first time when I was six. As we approached the holidays Stacy told me she didn't believe in Santa. She told me she didn't celebrate Christmas. I was flabbergasted. She invited me over to help her family light the menorah one night. So I went. I listened. I learned. I played driedle. That year Stacy went to Christmas Eve service with us.
As warmer weather crept in, I was invited to a Passover meal. Stacy's father showed me how to use the prayer books they had out at each plate. They taught me their traditions. I used to run to the door with Stacy and her sister to wait for Elijah. Stacy would come to my house for an Easter egg hunt some years.
This was something we did every year. As I grew older and began to usher with my parents on Christmas Eve, Stacy picked up a responsibility also. She, with her Star of David around her neck, would stand at the door and hand out the candles used for the candle light portion of the service. She'd happily and very off-key sing every single hymn from memory as the service progressed. And each year, I'd continue to join her family one night for Hanukkah and one night for Passover.
When we were 13, I went to her Bat Mitzvah. I remember feeling flustered by the service. Not sure what was happening as Stacy sang in Hebrew. Not sure when I was supposed to turn around and face the back of the Temple. Not sure of whether or not I was allowed to sip the wine at the reception. But, I also remember being so proud of her.
The year we started college, Stacy's parents moved several hours away. It was going to be my first Christmas Eve without my pal around, but she got permission from her parents to visit. That year was her first "Christmas morning." I have pictures of her opening the hand-made earrings I had bought from another student at my college.
A few nights ago, as we drove around looking at the houses decorated for Christmas, my son asked me about a menorah he saw in someone's window. I did my best to explain it to him in a way I thought his young brain could wrap itself around. I told him about the miracle - about oil enough for only one night lasting for eight. He asked me a few more questions and I answered as best I could.
And then I found myself remembering those nights I sat in Stacy's living room watching her father, sporting his yarmulke, lighting the candle. I missed her at that moment. I missed our traditions. I think I'm going to send her off a long over due email now and tell her this. Then I might tell her how much I wish we all lived closer so my children and hers could have the chance to learn from each other the way we did once.