For a few years in the 1980s, Tangie and I were best friends. I can’t even remember how we met, now. The high school marching band, perhaps? She was in the rifle corps and encouraged me to try out, too, after which we practiced together every day. She slept over at my house, I slept over at hers. We celebrated our sweet sixteen birthdays together.
I remember a lot of things about staying over at Tangie’s house. I remember how loudly her mother snored–I woke up terrified that some animal had gotten into the house and when I woke Tangie to tell her, she laughed and laughed at my silliness. One of her chores was to drive trash down the road to the greenboxes–at the age of fifteen–she was secure in her driving abilities before I had even dreamed of getting behind the wheel. I was awed. Then she was the first person my age to get a job. She worked at a local fast food drive-in in our small home town, then took that knowledge home, making perfect hamburgers by pressing ground meat into a circular form in the frying pan. Her matter-of-fact, real-life abilities amazed me.
Her circumstances had forced her to grow up quickly and she took on the responsibilities of an adult life just as quickly. She was married a few days after our high school graduation, with her first child born after nine months and her second a few years later. She was always the friend who pushed ahead with life, doing things first, being the first to grow up. And yet she didn’t really grow up–not in the sense of being cynical and hardened. Something about Tangie always remained childlike, in the best sense of the word. She could summon such awe-filled wonder for the simplest pleasures in life. She could be so grateful for even the smallest kindness. She would do anything for a friend.
But there was a sadness to Tangie, a side she didn’t like to show, but that was always there, just below the surface. Talk about someone else’s suffering, or an animal that had been abused, or a child halfway around the world who didn’t have enough food, and it would well up and spill over, right before your eyes. She had one of the softest, kindest hearts I’d ever known. She was forgiving to a fault.
She also suffered. A lot. It isn’t always easy to see how we have made our own difficult circumstances, and for Tangie it was no different. The words I heard most during our marathon phone calls in high school and beyond were, “I just want to be happy.” A simple, plaintive wish.
I just wanted her to be happy, too. Most of us did. She deserved to be happy. She gave so much.
But maybe she gave too much. Maybe she opened the door to too many strangers, took in too many strays, believed too many hard-luck stories, because the burdens she accepted from others weighed heavy on her soul. I believe this. And I never knew how to tell her not to take on so much sadness, to reject the sorrow and embrace the good. I didn’t have the words to reach her, and for that I will always have my own tight burden of sorrow. I’m sorry, Tangie. I loved you, but I could not help you.
You are the friend who always dove in, headfirst, the one who paved the way…Even in this. Godspeed, my friend.