Do not save your loving speeches
For your friends till they are dead;
Do not write them on their tombstones,
Speak them rather now instead.
Our parents worked at the same company and we lived in the same neighborhood. I was a skinny 9-year-old whose passion was to hate food and whose mother ran out of tricks that would make her eat her meals. I know, how ironic?
One cold rainy autumn day Lilly’s mom came to visit with Lilly and Nina in tow. The sisters didn’t have much in common. Nina, two years older than Lilly and one year my senior, with her dark blond hair and outgoing personality, resembled her mother. One look into Lilly’s big Bambi eyes and one could see this little brown-haired girl was timid and fragile.
As dinner time soon approached, my placed smoked pork ribs and potato salad on the table. I always separated the food on my plate into two piles bestowing my standards: the edible one and the disgusting one. Of course, the edible pile was much, much smaller. (My poor mother!)
I remember how astonished I was watching Nina eat everything off of her plate. I mean EVERYTHING but the bones. The girl consumed all those, to me, disgusting parts: onions, parsley and fat from the ribs as if they were most delicious part of the meal. I wished I was like her, but the idea of eating all that made me gag.
I don’t remember exactly how I transitioned to hanging out with Lilly. It probably happened when Nina’s relationship with her boyfriend became serious. Lilly and I spent almost every day together. After a night out with friends, we would devote hours on the phone analyzing every minute of the night.
We used to aimlessly walk up and down the Gospodska Street, our downtown promenade. That was the thing to do back then and it still is. You sit in the little park or go window shopping or you move from one little café bar to another with their tables conveniently placed at which you may linger over a cold drink or an ice cream and observe the crowd. Every time we would note how we haven’t seen so-and-so in a while, so-and-so would walk by. Weirdest thing!
If we weren’t hanging out with our clique, Lilly and I divided our time between all the coolest spots in the city. You can’t just spend the night at one place; you might miss out on something. Sipping on our favorite drinks (BAMBUS – red wine with Coke and MIMOZA – orange juice with sparkling wine) would inspire us to invent stories. Lilly and I didn’t just have fun together – we had a blast! But don’t be fooled, we too experienced several dramatic events and helped each other through the emotional roller coaster.
But, in 37 years we never EVER had a fight. Only one time there was a tiny disagreement that lasted oh… a whole three minutes. We arrived at the café bar and we chose different tables. Neither would compromise. There was a huge open window that you could sit at on either side. I wanted to sit on the outside of the window and Lilly remained inside the bar. Soon we realized how silly it was to stay stubborn and we reconnected.The strong bond we have helped us reconnect once more in life. This time it wasn’t our choice to sit at the opposite side of the window.
After the birth of my daughter, my world has changed. Lilly visited often and shared the adventures she had without me. The civil war was lingering in the surrounding states, and despite the general belief that it could never break out in our state, it soon did. Our hometown was no longer safe. My family attempted numerous times to escape the country. That November day I was sitting in the Caritas bus waiting to take us to freedom. Holding in my arms my 6-year-old, oblivious to all surrounding, I was looking at Lilly on the other side of the window. Tears were rolling down my face. I was leaving everything I know for an unidentified yet promising new life. Lilly stayed behind and we lost every contact.
The war-related nightmares interrupted my sleep for years. I often had a dream of reuniting with Lilly and these dreams were like a dream chain. In every new dream, I would tell her how many times I dreamed about it just to wake up and realize it’s another dream … and so for ten long years.
We left Germany after six years, for God had a different plan for us: another new language to learn, another cultural shock to endure and another life to start. We were fortunate to reconnect with the family we hadn’t seen in years. I soon made a load of new friends, but our history didn’t go back very far. I missed having someone who knew me so well and with whom I could reminisce. It takes a long time to grow an old friend, you know.
I thought of Lilly almost daily. I wondered how she survived and if she survived. She didn’t have family in foreign countries to send her visa and help her escape. I started a search through the Red Cross who generally only assists in finding family members. I know that now because I work at the local chapter. Funny how life works out, right? I urged my mom to contact relatives and acquaintances back home and ask them to help with any information.
One night, the dream about Lilly was different. She appeared in a white silk dress, like an angel, the aura of light shining around her head and her big Bambi eyes smiling at me. I didn’t tell her this time how often I dreamed of her. I woke up with an uneasy feeling. I’ve never had a dream about Lilly again.
My mom finally succeeded in getting some info about Lilly’s family. She obtained an address from a lady that was occasionally writing letters to Lilly’s mom. I was holding this Wyoming address with shaky hands. Lilly lives in the States? I wrote her a long letter and waited for her answer. The letter was marked as undeliverable and returned. I tried the phone directory and got nowhere. No such name in Wyoming listed. There was no other trace for me to hang on to and I was deeply disappointed. I left my friend behind ten years ago and the odds are I will never see her again.
Though we drifted apart in distance I still think of you as being right here, and although I have many new friends, it is our friendship that means the most to me.
One sunny Saturday I made the two hour trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan just to check out Bosnian restaurants and shops I heard about. I was convinced they were not better than the ones in Chicago, but I was up for the challenge. I stocked up on groceries and admitted that the ride here was easier compared to Chicago’s. Getting back on the unfamiliar road I concentrated on traffic signs. And there it was, the most lovely sign of them all: WYOMING CITY LIMIT! Could it be?!
That was the longest and yet most exciting two hours on the road I’ve ever had in my life! Once home, I called the phone directory for Grand Rapids area and got Lilly’s phone number!!! Can you believe it?
My best friend who could’ve been anywhere in the world lives only two hours away!
How rare and wonderful is that flash of a moment when we realize we have discovered a friend.
It’s been ten great years having my best friend near once more. We reminisce while listening to Eric Clapton’s “Pretty Girl”, we share the good, the bad and the ugly. Nina visits every year from Sweden and we go back in time, where I magically forget how old I am.
No lapse of time or distance of place can lessen the friendship of those who are truly persuaded of each other’s worth.
Treasure every second with your dearest friends for you never know when you’ll be drifted apart.
I’d like to be the sort of friend that you have been to me,
I’d like to be the help that you’ve been always glad to be;
I’d like to mean as much to you each minute of the day,
as you have meant old friend of mine, to me along the way.
Looking forward to connecting with you soon.
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