On October 14, 2011, I reconnected with Abigail Blue Jay Stone, my childhood friend. Well, to say that Abigail is my childhood friend is too generic, too neutral. When I was Kiki and she was Abby, she was the sister I never had. She was more than a sister. Three years older, she was the beloved big sister I looked up to, and who gave me courage to have a voice. Beginning when I was six, my family spent our summers in Vermont, twenty minutes away from Goshen, where Abigail lived with her two older sisters and her mother. All winter long in Indiana, I looked forward to returning home to Vermont, where I really lived, and where I’d be with Abby again.
When we had a sleepover, I’d have to spend the night in Goshen because her mom was afraid she’d lose her if she let her out of her sight—or least that’s the way it looked by my lights. If we invited Abby to come along with us to Lake Dunmore, she couldn’t come because she might drown or we might get into a car accident. I remember our picking out some Archie comics and Tiger Beat in Sid Rosen’s Ben Franklin Five and Dime, but that must have been when we’d gone to town for groceries in her mother’s station wagon. If we were lucky, we called out “Dibs on the way back!” quicker than anyone else, and we got to ride backwards, the broken yellow lines, pine trees, and mountains receding in the rear window as we sang “The Happy Wanderer” – “ValderEEE, Val-der-AH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA! “
Like so many girls, we were in love with the Beatles. In 1964, when CBS broadcast the summer reruns of the Ed Sullivan Show, we walked (probably barefoot) the two miles to Abigail’s aunt’s to watch. There were thousands upon thousands of tiny baby toads hopping all over the damp dirt road, and innumerable fireflies in the fields, and the dark was nearly pure and the millions of stars in the Milky Way shone brighter than anything, and I was with Abby (and some other girls, too)—and all of this added up to joy and to my joy to see the Beatles almost live on TV. We sat on the rug, a braided one my memory says, impatient for Ed to finish up his introduction, the jerky dance he did as he spoke. When Beatles sang, I felt love catch in my throat. During “Till There Was You,” their names floated beneath their faces in white caps: PAUL, RINGO, GEORGE, JOHN – SORRY GIRLS, HE’S MARRIED. We lived the Beatles’ songs and understood the world through their music and lyrics. We’d sprawl on Abby’s bed listen to all our Beatles albums over and over on her record player (yes, we had record players). If one of us jumped to the wide-plank floor and made the record skip, she’d have to apologize to the girl whose favorite Beatle was singing. Abby’s favorite was George. Mine was Paul because John—sorry girls—was married. As the Beatles’ imagination developed, so did ours, and my favorite became John—he still is.
As a teenager, Abby became Blue Jay, learned how to play guitar, and wrote songs. She still writes wonderful songs, still has an astonishing voice. Abigail, whether she was Abby or Blue Jay, didn’t leave behind her child self. Abigail and Phoebe, her older sister, still pulled out the cardboard boxes full of miniatures and we played “Tiny Furniture.” We made a whole village on the front porch floor. Abigail had a different voice for each of the figures, miniature Minnie and Mickey Mouse, the little people and bears and dogs. She acted out whole dramas impromptu. I was shy, afraid to try a voice, and Abigail drew me out: “Here you go, Kiki, you can have Minnie. She’s very nice and will tell you what she wants you to say.” I don’t know if those were the exact words, but something like that, something reassuring, something to give me faith that there’s “magic everywhere.”
The back of the Stone’s old farmhouse was an apple orchard, and deep in the orchard was a white playhouse, where we’d enter our fairy tale in the making. One day Abby and I were sisters—orphaned sisters, of course—and a witch cast a spell on her that made her forget who she was and who I was. I chased her through the orchard, past her mom tending the hollyhocks and foxgloves that leaned against peeling clapboard, out to the road, round the big maple. “Please remember you’re my sister! Come with me, come back home!”
“I don’t know who you are! Why are you bothering me? Go away!”
I kept pleading and she stayed in character so convincingly that I took it to heart. “Please stop, Abby.”
“My name’s not Abby, you fool, it’s Dianne.”
I turned away, bent over the car’s dark blue hood to hide my face, and cried. Abby stroked my hair. “What’s the matter, Kiki?”
“You were being mean. You weren’t you.”
“It wasn’t me, it was a pretend person.”
“You didn’t know who I was anymore.”
“It was just a game. I know who you are, Kiki. Let’s play something else, okay?”
When I spent the night, I didn’t know if I’d be in Goshen one night or several. I guess sometimes my parents weren’t up for making the drive the next day and they couldn’t call ahead. Communication wasn’t so easy in those days. For a while, Abigail’s family only had a pay phone on the front porch. We didn’t even have a phone in our Vermont home for the first three years, and after that we had a party line (like “Mayberry, R.F.D.,” minus the always happily resolved family drama). I was happy for as much time as I could get with Abby, so I felt a mixture of disappointment and gladness when we heard the rare vehicle on the dirt road and I recognized our family car arriving in a cloud of dust. My parents and my two younger brothers, radically wired and skinny, would make their way through the high grass to the farmhouse, with Poochie and Coalie barking crazily from the screened-in front porch. The much-mythologized get-together commenced. We cooked together (with the cats, George Harrison and Frank O’Hara, underfoot). Dinner was spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad. We ate sitting around the fireplace, roasted marshmallows for dessert. We played the poetry game. We made art and we were, each of us, “Marvelous!”
We both have parents who are larger-than-life literary figures, renowned for their work, generosity, and mentoring and nurturing aspiring writers. They do possess all the wonderful characteristics attributed to them. And they also wounded us, not on purpose. I think that for them their art is salvific, and that, like many children of people who produce and excel, somehow we got the message that they loved us for what we make, not for who we ARE. Abigail and I realized how much we miss each other, how much we long to be active friends again, because of a Facebook misunderstanding that was my fault, and about which I’m so sorry. I gushed one too many times about her mother being my poetry mother. Abigail protested, “YOU and I were friends when we were children. You were friends with ME, Kiki, not my mother. If all you can say to me is how much you adore my mother, then please tell her, don't tell me.” Maybe it’s taken me this long to get over being the adoring younger one. Maybe it takes over a half a century to heal, and to understand that I am loved in return. Maybe it takes all these years to find my voice and confess, “I look at your profile ALL the time, longing to reconnect with you. I'm crying as I write this. You can't even imagine how much I love you, have always loved you.”
“You see, we share not only history but such similar upbringings,” Abigail wrote. “We have writing and everything, absolutely everything, in common." And she’s right. We both have a Jewish father and a Christian mother and have changed Jewish names. We’re Ashkenazi from the same region. We both have suicides in our family. Since it’s everything, absolutely everything, the list goes on and on. When I constructed this blog a year ago, I thought I’d post some memories, some little vignettes that might help me give some shape for my research on family history, anti-Semitism and prejudice, mental illness and suicide. I want to write a counter-narrative to the denial narrative. Since then, I’ve been casting about for over a year, trying to find voice. I couldn’t even find a way to post something, not a sentence.
When we were children—and then two days ago—Abigail showed me that sometimes we make mistakes and hurt a loved one, but love—real love that sees and knows the other—heals and redeems. She reminded me of who I am and who she is. We together—playing pretend, writing, singing, drawing, dancing, telling secrets, listening to Beatles, walking barefoot on the dirt road in Goshen—were free in our imaginations. Abigail made me brave. She showed me I have a voice, and, like Walt Whitman, I can speak in as many voices as I want: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Abigail’s loving, corrective words opened the floodgates, as they say. That’s why I’m devoting my very first blog post to her. From the beginning, she’s been my friend, spiritual sister, and support. And now she’s given me a way to begin again.