Ode to an Old Friend

They say you’re not supposed to do this kind of thing on your writer’s blog. It’s part of your platform and should, therefore, be dedicated to promoting yourself and your writing. Speaking for myself, however, when I get really interested in an author’s personal life, this is just the kind of thing I like seeing: something personal.

Besides, it’s my blog—and my only blog—so I’ll do this on occasion if I want.

I first met Laurie Lea Keaton when I was around fifteen. (Despite the spelling, she pronounced it Lori Lee.) We were both part of a church youth group where my family and I attended services regularly. By now, I can’t really remember when I first actually noticed her, but I remember she had a boyfriend at the time.

The youth group meetings were held on Saturday nights. They consisted of different activities, I guess in an effort to keep us from going out and sinning on that worst of all sinning nights. I won’t complain, because I met Laurie there, and that was a good thing.

She became my first real love. Notice I didn’t say true love. Someone else holds that position in my life. But Laurie was the first woman—girl?—I ever really fell head over heels for.

She’d been born on February 11, 1967, if I haven’t gotten my dates mixed up. The date kinda sticks in my head after all these years because I had to get her birthday cards/gifts and, three days later, something for Valentine’s Day. My complaints about it were good natured, and of course she loved it. What woman wouldn’t?

At a guess, I’d say she stood five-six or –eight. She had a button nose, light freckles scattered across her face, blue-gray eyes, as best I remember, and soft, dishwater blond hair.

We definitely had our differences. I was from a small, rural school. When I graduated in 1983, I think there were around 120 people in my class. Laurie’s had something like 500.

We were together about three years or so, and it only started coming apart after I went into the Army. The first time I came home—between basic and AIT—I drove to the school to see her and she came running out of the building to hug me. It was like something out of a movie, and I remember being stunned that anyone could do that for me. It was a little different when I came home for Christmas. She was more distant, and ended up sending me a letter not long after saying she wanted to date other guys.

I can’t blame her. She was still a teenage girl, and I was far away. I doubt seriously our relationship would have lasted anyway, and when I met my soon-to-be wife, Laurie was happy for me. Besides, this isn’t about blame or any of that.

Our last real date was when I took her to her prom in the spring of 1985. I think I still have the picture around here somewhere, tucked away safely (i.e., where I can’t find it). I remember it well though. Me in a white tux, her in a matching off-the-shoulder dress with her corsage over her right breast. We’ve both got smiles on our faces. I remember I borrowed a friend’s black 1969 Dodge Charger to take her in.

After she graduated, she went into the Navy and we pretty much lost touch. I got to see her again sometime during the 90s. She’d had a motorcycle wreck and her jaw was wired shut, so she came home to her parents’ house for about a month and I went and visited her. I was divorced by then, and I admit that part of me thought it might be neat to try and rekindle our relationship, but I didn’t make a serious effort at it. Deep down, I knew that was over and should remain that way. I think, in a way, I was still reeling from the divorce more than anything.

Point being, because we weren’t physically close to one another during the deterioration of our relationship, we were able to preserve a friendship. Sure, for a while I resented her, but when she came home we were able to visit without any hard feelings, and that was great.

Laurie worked on ships for the Navy. She was a welder. When she got out, she stayed in Virginia for a long time, working in the shipyards. She was doing a kinda Flashdance type thing, minus the dancing in a club. At some point she quit that and moved to New York City, and, as I understand things, became pretty involved in drinking and drugs. In late 2002 or early 2003, she moved back to Arkansas. She’d had another accident of some sort and had a pretty sizable insurance settlement. She detoxed and was going to NWACC to be a drug counselor herself.

I don’t remember the exact date, but sometime in 2003, she crashed her motorcycle. I don’t think anyone knows exactly what happened except that she left the road and crashed into a bridge abutment, if I understood everything correctly.

Though we’d not seen each other in some time, it was quite a blow to me. Partly because she was two years younger than me, and partly because it’s always hard to see someone you were once close to and still considered a friend get taken away so suddenly and unexpectedly.

I’m no romantic. I know she wasn’t perfect. I can’t pretend to know what she went through during her years away from Arkansas, or what prompted her to seek help in getting off the alcohol and drugs. Whatever did that, she wanted to return the favor enough to spend insurance money and invest time in learning to become a counselor herself.

She’ll always occupy a special place in my heart. First loves always do. And while it had been a long, long time since I’d been in love with her, I still loved her nonetheless.

So I just wanted to take this opportunity, in the tenth year after he death, to say I was blessed to have her in my life.

You were a good friend, Laurie, and you were always important to me.

I miss you.

Later,
Gil

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6 thoughts on “Ode to an Old Friend

  1. Madison Woods

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing a story like this on your blog. It IS the sort of thing I like to read on any blog – not necessarily the sadness, but the glimpse into your life. Thanks for sharing, Gil.

    Reply
  2. Susan McVay

    I agree with Madison….after all… I would not have read your blog or even known who you were if you had not written about a teacher that you once had that read the Hobbit to you in Science class. That teacher was my brother and I had always known that he was Gandolf in disguise but it was really lovely to hear you describe your experience with him.( My sister in law, Sharron Croddy e-mailed me and provided the link.) I love that I can connect to someone miles away who I have never met and likely never will who was touched and inspired by something that larger than life brother of mine did. And you will touch and inspire others with your writing and in that way a little bit of him lives on forever. In writing about her a little bit of your Laurie lives on.
    So, I say, tell the blog police to sit down and shut up. It’s YOUR blog…do what YOU want with it. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Greg Camp

    I can’t see why you wouldn’t write about things like this. It’s part of who you are–we’re told that readers want to know those things. Besides, it was a fine tribute.

    Reply
  4. rgayer55

    I agree with the others who’ve left comments. In fact, most of the authors whose blogs I visit regularly do share glimpses into their personal lives, and I do occasionally as well. Kristen Lamb even recommends it on her blog. It’s easier for people to relate to you as a writer when they see your human side.

    Reply

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