(*The title is an Iron Maiden reference, off the 1986 “Somewhere in Time” album.)
It was a friendship built out of a kindly act and a wave of gratitude.
I was the new kid at school. I was always the new kid; we moved around all the time, like a ragtag band of trailer park gypsies. It must have been 7th grade (?) at H.D. Hilley Elementary School.
It was before class (I don’t remember what class it was) and we had all trickled into the classroom and were waiting for the teacher to show up. A boy asked to copy my homework. Me, being the little prig I was back then, said, “No.”
He kept trying to intimidate me, hovering over my desk, reaching for my assignment, but I held my ground and just kept saying, “No. I’m not going to let you copy my work.” He started calling me names—“stuck up bitch,” “ugly white girl,” “you think you’re better than me,” “puta,” —that sort of thing—on and on.
I could feel the tears starting to build up in my eyes, and my nose running and my lip trembling. I clenched my fists. I could feel the blood rushing to my face. I tried to stay looking down, not looking at him. I tried to block out the embarrassment as he humiliated me in front of the whole class.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a voice from the back of the room said, “Dude, she said no. Leave her alone.” I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more surprise or relief than I did at that very moment. And with that, at the ripe old age of 13, Jacque Jean Parks of Socorro, Texas got herself a Stage 5 Clinger Best Friend For Life. Whether she wanted it or not.
She was my best friend through the rest of middle school and most of high school. I practically lived at her house. The Parks had a swimming pool, a fridge full of sodas, a microwave (we did not have a microwave in my trailer), a VCR (Beta at first, then VHS), and they were always ready to throw a frozen hamburger patty on the grill if us girls got hungry. Hamburgers! Already formed into patties! I thought they were rich.
I would go over there to spend the night and to get away from all the chaos of my own home. They would let me stay for days on end. Jacque and I would sit on the couches in our wet swimsuits, eating microwaved pizza rolls, and yelling out the lines from “Weird Science,” “Bachelor Party,” and “Labryinth,” which she insisted on watching in rotation, pretty much non-stop. I didn’t care. I was just so happy to be there, in a safe, normal house with normal parents. I never put up any opinions or questioned our entertainment options.
Jacque (and her older brother) both loved heavy metal. They lived for it. They’d both crank up Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Dokken, MegaDeath, Slayer. Which, of course, annoyed the hell out of her parents, who were already a bit older than other parents. They were also very Catholic and pretty straight-laced. I would try to play mediator, urging Jacque to just turn it down a tiny bit. I didn’t care much for metal either, but more importantly, I didn’t want the Parks to send me home as punishment for Jacque’s disobedience.
Jacque would spend hours on her hair and makeup, perfecting her rock chick look with lots of Aqua Net and black eyeliner. And she really was gorgeous. I would sit on the floor next to her while she did her makeup (Sidenote: She used to give me a heart attack using a safety pin to obsessively separate her individual lashes between coats of mascara. We’d both sit there with our mouths agape the whole time she worked on those damn lashes) and we’d make all these big plans for after high school. We were going to become photographers and writers and move to England. We were both obsessed with everything British, even going to El Paso’s only British food store to buy PG Tips and McVities Penguin Biscuits.
I wasn’t as into makeup and hair in middle or high school, but I did let Jacque talk me into bangs one time. I also let her talk me into allowing her to cut them. After all, she trimmed her own bangs all the time, almost obsessively. However, Jacque had straight hair. I had curly hair. I remember sitting in her kitchen, looking to her cousin for reassurance and watching her shake her head. Jacque kept saying, “Let me just even them out,” as more and more snipping occurred. I ended up going into 9th grade (high school!) with a half-inch fringe of tight curls sticking straight out from my forehead.
A couple of years into high school, our interests diverged. She liked boys and going out, I was still that little prig from 7th grade. We each made new friends and pursued new interests, but we always came back together. We worked on the yearbook together and started our high school’s Photography Club. She picked me up and drove me to school every morning. Sometimes we’d hang out after school or on weekends, but usually I had extracurricular activities I was pursuing and she had her new friends to hang out with.
After high school, I got married and she was my only attendant. A few years later, she got married and we fought about it. I didn’t like the guy and I didn’t think she should get married. I was going through my divorce and I was bitter. I felt that I had put my life on hold for five years, had finally gotten away, and was now ready to make good on our high school plans. I was totally selfish and childish, and I expected her to just go along with my plans now that I was ready to pursue them.
Once my divorce was final, I moved to Dallas and Jacque and I didn’t talk again for about 15 years. She got in touch with me about 5 years ago through my work email. We caught up on each other’s lives—work, relationships, travel. We talked about loss—of time, of friends, of family members. We promised we’d stay in touch.
Then I was let go from my job and all her contact information, including her phone number and email– was on my work computer. Occasionally, I would Google her, try to find her on Facebook, but I came up blank. She was using a shortened version of her name on social media. I figured she’d find me again, at some point, and just like the time before, we’d pick up right where we left off.
A mutual friend texted me this weekend to ask if I’d heard about Jacque. The same friend who had texted me about her brother. I reached out to former classmates on Facebook, made a few calls, and found out that she was gone. She had died on July 5 at just 46 years old.
Hearing that news—confirming that news—is like a punch in the gut. I feel like I did that day in 7th grade. I’m clenching my fists. I’m looking down, lip trembling, trying to keep the gathering tears from spilling out of my eyes. I’m trying to block out all the voices in my head chastising me for not doing more, for not being a better friend, for not sticking with her like the Stage 5 Clinger BF4Life I had been in the beginning. And I’m waiting for the sweet relief that came from that voice from the back of the room.