Karen Hellier is a freelance writer and eBay entrepreneur. She lives happily in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and her dog.
I have been best friends with Christine since 1970. In this day and age, when everyone is so busy with their own lives, it is quite a feat to stay friends with the same person for a lifetime. I am fortunate to have a very wonderful person in my life, and she's been part of my life for 45 years. Her name is Christine (DiMaggio) Singer, and we have been friends since Mr. Maddalena's class in the fifth grade! Now we didn't start out as friends. In fact, one might say we felt like enemies. Well, I did anyway. When I was 3 and first moved to Connecticut, my best friend lived two houses up the road from me. Her name was Gretchen, and we were the same age. I loved Gretchen like a sister. I grew up with one brother, four years younger than me. But I never had a sister. When I was young, Gretchen filled that role. We stayed over at each other's houses; We played together every day in the Summer.
When Gretchen and I were both in the third grade at our neighborhood elementary school, we were in 2 different classes. One day she started talking about this new girl in her class, Christine, and it seemed like that's all she talked about every day. It was "Christine this and Christine that," and yes, I must admit it, I was jealous. From what Gretchen said, Christine was very smart and nice. She seemed like the perfect friend. I felt Gretchen pulling away from me, and was hurt. Things kept on in fourth grade as we were again in separate classes. Now Christine had started playing the violin, so I heard about that from Gretchen as well. When you are 8 or 9 and have only one close friend within walking distance of your house, you become very attached to that one friend. In the fifth grade, though, things began to change. We started to be split into different classes and different reading groups, and Christine and I were in the same Reading/English group. That made me feel a bit better because Gretchen said Christine was smart and since we were in the same class, I must be smart as well! During the second half of the year, we were assigned our first term paper...yes, this was a very competitive school, and they had us doing term papers in the fifth grade. But we were able to do it as a group.
I was dismayed to find out that Christine and I were paired in the same group, with two boys...yuck boys...who were not very good students. I will change their names for the sake of this article, but let's call them Henry and Donald. I actually don't remember if we were assigned our topic or if we chose it, but we ended up doing our paper on Abraham Lincoln. The result was so positive that Abraham Lincoln has been one of my heroes ever since. And so, we worked on our term paper together. Well, actually, mostly Christine and I worked on the paper together. Most times Henry and Donald didn't show up when we planned to do the work over the weekend, but just worked in class with us when we had assigned time to do it.
I do remember the boys being invited to my house one Saturday to do the work with us. Donald did not show up, but the result was Harry chasing Christine and I in and out of my parent's car and flirting with us. Yes, even at ten years old! The grades of our paper were grades we were all very happy with. Christine and I both got As, and Henry got a C and Donald got a D. The boys were happy that their grades were their best in that class...so sad when I think back on it. But after working so closely with Christine, I realized she wasn't so bad after all. In fact, I rather liked her. And she and Gretchen started growing apart, both having other interests as they got older. And Christine and I grew closer year by year.
Junior High and High School
As the years went by, Christine and I stayed close. We would sleep over each others house and talk long into the night. Our families were very different from each other. She came from a large Italian family with six children. Christine's house was always very loud and chaotic. And there was also a LOT of Italian food. It was scary to me because I only had one brother and my Dad worked long hours, so it was usually just me and my mom and my brother at our house till nighttime. A very quiet atmosphere. I think it was good for us both to be exposed to our different and unique families. She would come to my house, and we would put on plays for my parents. We would stay up all night playing Monopoly till we could no longer see straight. We would go shopping together. We each had other friends as well, hers in the music arena as she was in the school orchestra, playing the violin, and mine largely from a Christian singing group I was in that toured New England. We shared details of our high school boyfriends. We shared our hopes and dreams for the future. We knew that we were always there for each other...just a phone call away. And we usually used the phone every day to connect with each other after the school day.
We went to different colleges. Christine lived at a college close to home, but I wanted to move out and away and try my wings, so I went about 90 minutes from my hometown. She came to visit me one weekend. I would visit her at school when she was working her work-study job at her college. We would try to get together during college breaks. And keep in touch again by phone as there were no personal computers with email back then. I would say those were the hardest years for us to stay in touch. The funny thing was that I never felt far away from her. She was my best friend, and when we got a chance to get together and catch up or to just talk on the phone, it was as though we had never had any distance between us. We picked up right where we left off.
After college, we each got jobs and again lived a few hours apart. Christine left the Connecticut area and moved to the beautiful Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. It was my turn to stay in Connecticut. I moved home after college and ended up with a job in my hometown. Christine came home to visit her parents, and also to visit me when she was in town, so we were able to keep in touch physically as well as by phone.
Christine found a husband in the Berkshires. I was in her wedding party. Within their first year of marriage, they had a son. Then two years later another son. She stayed home for awhile and did daycare from home. I felt as though I was lagging behind her a bit. I didn't get married until the ripe old age of 27, and she was in my wedding party as well. By the time I got married, she and her first husband were going through a divorce. She shared her experiences with dating. I shared my experiences of marriage. I had a son, and also did home daycare for a while. My son and I went to visit her and her two sons in her apartment. When I had my twin girls a few years later, Christine came down for a night to take care of them for the night so I could get some much-needed rest. She came away from that experience exhausted, and it helped me to realize that I was doing a good job as a mom if I could keep up with the daily schedule of having a 3-year-old and infant twins, and she was tired after one night! Time went by, and we visited each other when we could, and spoke on the phone periodically. Fortunately, with the onset of computers in most homes, we added email to our repertoire of staying in touch. This really helped keep our communication updated. You can't talk on the phone with someone at 11 p.m. when all the household chores are done, the kids in bed sleeping, and you are still wide awake, but they may not be. But you can send an email any time of the day or night, and it will be waiting for them in the morning!
Christine found the love of her life and dated him for a long time before they got married. I was there to listen to the stories of their relationship, and give advice when asked, and be a listening ear when not asked for advice! I was so fortunate to be able to attend her beautiful wedding in the Berkshires. After 17 years of marriage, I went through a divorce, and Christine was there for me...answering the phone when I needed to talk. When I had a heart attack due to stress in the middle of the year of the divorce, she was there to visit me in the hospital. The following year, she had surgery, and I was able to visit her during her long recovery time.
Then when I met the love of MY life, she was there too...to listen to my relationship stories, and give advice or just a listening ear. In 2010, when I got married again, she organized my bridal shower with my mom, and she played the violin for background music before the wedding, and for the processional. Both of our husbands are older than we are, and we have that in common to share. We often talk about how we are both so fortunate to have met these amazing men, and to be loved so well by them...the second time around. And fortunately, because these wonderful men get along, we can get together with them and have a wonderful time.
In our early years of marriage and child-rearing, it was hard to find time to spend together in person, but we always had the phone. Now that our children are grown (hers) and almost grown (mine) we have more time to spend together in spite of the 2-hour distance between us. My teenaged girls can't figure out how I can call Christine my best friend if we don't see each other that often. They are used to having friends that they see daily, at school, or on the weekends when they go to movies, etc.
I try to explain that when you have been through so much with a person, and have known them for most of a lifetime, it doesn't matter that you don't see them every day. What matters is how well they know you, love you, and support you. Christine and I can still pick up the phone and talk to each other, and it's as though no time or distance separates us. We are still those two girls that slept over each other's houses and played Monopoly till all hours of the night. I love my friend Christine. She is warm and caring, funny, smart, and can always make me laugh, even when I am very sad. She has been there for me and knows who I truly am, deep down inside, as well as the person I hope to become in this ever-evolving experience of life.
I realize that sometimes we make friends who are going through the same types of life experiences that we are, and then the friendship sometimes dwindles down to nothing when people move on into another stage of their life. But she has been with me through it all...the developing years, through lifetime milestones, in happy times, and in sad times. As we celebrate 45 years of friendship this year, I know we will be friends "till death do us part." It's rather like a marriage when a friendship has lasted so long, and two people make an unspoken commitment to the ongoing relationship. As Gretchen led me to believe so many years ago, Christine is the perfect friend, and I am very blessed to call her mine.
© 2012 Karen Hellier