The photo above captures Sommer exactly as I always picture her, and you get a pretty good idea from it of what opposites we were too. There I sit shying away from the camera somewhat, knees together, hands clasped, and there's my girl beside me. . ."being Sommer." Our teachers and students who didn't know us well were always shocked to learn that Sommer and I were best friends. She would come to class late, if it wasn't a day she'd decided to let herself have off in the first place. She could change her own tires before most of us her age even knew how to drive. When she felt a teacher was being unfair to her or others, she practically growled and would defend herself and anyone else who needed it. She got kicked off the bus her junior year of high school because she had told off the driver who was letting, day after day, a young boy on the bus be bullied. After days of intervening on the kid's behalf, fighting with the bully harassing him, and trying to get the driver to deal with it, it was Sommer, not the bully, who was told not to ride the bus anymore. She was positively sputtering by the time she was recounting the story to me on the phone that night, and when I told her I was sorry and that yes, it was unfair and wrong, she replied that she didn't care about having to drive, she was just worried for the poor boy. (I don't remember how that ended, but I know she raised more hell about it, as was her way, and I'm thinking parents and/or others must have talked with the driver or school personnel.) Her heart, I always said, was as big as her mouth. She applied for a much-wanted job in a car repair shop when she was sixteen, and when the owner made it clear that he'd feel better with a man working there instead, she argued with him about the injustice of that. She had a wall calendar in her bedroom featuring the hunky model Fabio; Mine at the same time was probably Quotes of Comfort or Mary Engelbreit. She remains the only person I've ever known who could walk into a room and instantly have everyone's attention. I had always thought that idea was just a kind of writerly way of describing an outgoing person, but then Som and I became friends and I got used to seeing it happen: She had an energy about her that made people look up, watch, and wait for her words and actions. She had burgundy-dyed hair when we met. She was aching to get a tattoo, but her deal with her mom was that she had to wait until she was older if she really wanted one. "Well!" cried out our senior English teacher when she ran into us in the local mall's Hallmark store one afternoon. "There's a dangerous duo!" That still delights me, although now it's more because I was half of this sweet duo and not because someone teasingly deemed me edgy. She was born just four months before me, and we were close enough in shape and weight to share clothes, but I always thought of her as being the older one and as one of the protective forces in my life. It was easier making my way through high school as a studious introvert when I had this purple-haired ball of fire beside me, if only because she paved the way a bit. I was strong and capable in my own ways, of course, and helped her along, as well, although exactly how we quieter ones do that is never as obvious. In most of our pictures together, I am positioned off to her side and a bit behind her or am otherwise unconsciously trying to hide myself a bit. Never Sommer. She faced the world head-on, she stood up, she stepped forward, she burst out, she led the way.
A month or so after Som died, I was talking about this attraction of opposites friendship with another girl in our senior class, and she said that she too had always thought it was strange that we were friends. "But," she concluded, "You could always make each other laugh. You guys got each other hysterical." Yes. It breaks my heart to have to say that while I remember her speaking voice, nineteen years since I last heard it, I no longer remember the sound of her laughter. I pause as I type that because it hurts so much. If you woke my mom in the middle of the night and asked her what she remembered about our friendship or the time we all shared with Sommer, she'd likely instantly respond, "They were always laughing together." One day after school, Som and I stopped at Wal-Mart and were looking at hats--I lived in hats and baseball caps in high school, so funny the phases we go through--and my mom, who had stopped there on her way home from work, heard us laughing long before she saw us. She just followed the sound of our laughter until she found us in the store. In one of the sweestest dreams Mom had soon after Som died, Sommer came over to the house and ran upstairs to my room and shut the door and Mom stood at the bottom of the stairs in shock saying to my dad "How can she be here, Gene? She died!" and listening to us as we laughed together again. " I couldn't make out anything you were saying," she told me later, "I just heard you both laughing." The few precious dreams I've had since she died in which we're laughing at something together are amongst my own favorites. In one, she and I were back in our junior year American history class and our teacher's lesson for the day was depressing in that it seemed to be a recitation of sad and sobering things that had occurred in the nation over the years. After he had mentioned the umpeenth war or famine or other historical crisis, a classmate muttered, "Didn't anything good ever happen in history?!" And Sommer, ever the smart alec, replied, "Yeah! I was born!" As we all giggled, I teased back, "What about me?!" and Som quickly said, "Yeah! Val was born too!" Nightmares and sad dreams of her death plagued me for years, but that silly dream made up for more than a few of the rough nights. "I was born!" Indeed, she was, my sweet girl, and oh my goodness, am I the better for it. I would have preferred a lifetime of sharing that laughter and not just the couple years we were blessed with, but I'm old enough now to know that not everyone gets a Sommer in their life at all. That she had to go on ahead of me, almost seems now like it should have been expected. I have to follow her, it has been decided by something bigger than us, as I always did, combining the best of her with the best of myself as I make my way through the world that she's already finished with, and I look forward to our hug and laughter-filled reunion. As ever, she makes it easier for me by having bounded ahead and paved the way.
I'll catch up to her someday. In the meantime, life goes on, and I continue to try to live mine with as much kindness and enthusiasm as I can. It is milk with Chocolate Sommers for dessert tonight here, in honor of my mischievous and colorful friend. She would be touched by this but would laugh, as Mike and I did this morning, over these cookies that look like they were frosted by someone who'd never decorated a cookie before. :) Turquoise and peach were her favorite colors--she was not a pink gingham, patchwork, and roses kind of girl, of course not, no--so that partially explains the odd frosting. Being in too much of a hurry to let them cool before frosting them is the rest of my excuse. Ah, well! A heart-shaped cookie and glass-of-milk toast now for my friend. She would be thrilled to know that Chocolate Sommers are still being baked and that she continues, in this way and others, to make life sweeter.