Then, one day – I think I was in the 5th grade or maybe a little younger – Mary Christine stopped writing back. I grew churlish and kept writing her, insisting she write me back. What had happened? Didn’t she want to be part of the Unicorn Club my friend Danielle and I had just formed? Write me back! Write me back! I continued to write her with the single mindedness of a slighted 9 or 10-year old. Then, one day, I cam home from school and my mother was standing in the kitchen and, without preamble, she said, “Mary Christine is dead.”
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. I just burst into tears. My mother was shocked at my distress. She said, “I’m sorry! I didn’t think you’d be so upset! It’s just…it’s been so long. You haven’t seen her since you were four.” And all I could think was, “But she’s my friend!” It didn’t matter that we were four. Or eight. Or ten. We were friends and my friend was dead and I didn’t want her to be.
I later learned from my mother that Mary Christine was hit by a car and her mother had thought I would stop writing her but, when the letters just kept coming, she finally had to pick up the phone and call my mother to tell her to tell me. I never wrote again. Now, I wish I’d written her mother a letter – sent a sympathy card – something. I wish I could tell her I still think of her daughter, even now, as an adult woman. That the friendship of small children is quite real.
Sometimes, out of the blue – like now – I remember her and I wonder what she would have grown up to be like. What career she would have chosen. Where she would have lived. What she would have been like in high school. If she would have had her own children. But she is forever a little girl.
There is a saying I heard somewhere that we all die twice. The first time we die is when we stop breathing for the last time. The second time is when you are remembered for the last time. I’d like to tell Mary Christine’s mother not to worry; to be happy and to go about her life; that I’ll remember her daughter until I, too, take that final breath.