When I was four years old, Jill took me to school for show and tell. While all the other kids were content to share a favorite game or toy, she wanted to share me. So it was that I found myself being stared at by a bunch of five year olds in Mrs. Price's P.M. Kindergarten class as Jill extolled the many virtues that rendered me, a mere four year old, suitable material for the role of oldest and dearest friend to a sophisticated, school going Kindergartener.
Creative and unwaiveringly loyal even as a child, auburn haired Jill was my first best friend. A lot of our early years were spent together - sometimes playing, sometimes sitting in separate corners of the room reading. On rainy days we stayed inside, cutting out paper doll cities from construction paper. On sunny days, we made mud pies and soup of leaves, grass and orange colored berries from the tree in my back yard.
Jill was in many ways the slightly older, wiser sister I never had. When she was old enough to leave me behind during the day to go to school, she would come home in the afternoons to teach me what she had learned. When I was old enough to join her at school, we hung out together at recess, playing on the jungle gym and doing cherry drops from the bars. When she found Jesus at the tender age of eight, Jill taught me under the watchful eye of the Holly Hobby mural on her bedroom wall that I could pray to ask Him into my heart and thereby be forever saved.
While it would make a great kind of praise the Lord story to say that this endeavor set me on the path of righteousness, forever cementing my spiritual evolution as walk through Christianity, it wouldn't be true. Today my spritual views are eclectic at best. What is true, however, is that even 30 years after this vignette took place, I am touched at the thought of this little girl who was so concerned about the prospect of a heaven that didn't include me that she made it her mission to save my immortal soul.
But Jill wasn't only worried about my immortal soul. She worried about me in the here and now too. She was one of the first person to teach me that there are things more important than being right - like being kind. I remember once when we were outside chatting it up with a group of kids at recess, I made some outrageous claim that was clearly wrong, maybe even downright assinine. I didn't mean to impart bad information. Despite my eagerness to pass it on, I just wasn't very discriminating in what I believed. Some of the other kids called me on it. Jill knew I was wrong too, but instead of ganging up on me with them, she said "No, Tina's right. I heard about that too."
Once they saw someone else was on my side, the other kids eased up. Maybe, just maybe, if even an older kid agreed with me, it was they who were in the wrong. Later, when they were gone, Jill leaned over and whispered to me "You know, they were right." I remember asking her why, then, would she side with me. She just looked at me in that sweet, clear eyed way of hers and said, "Because you're my friend and I didn't want you to be alone."
That was just the kind of girl she was. Even after her family moved away to Gresham, we still got together often. As we grew older, we grew in separate ways, developed different interests. We didn't see each other as often any more, but one thing that could always be counted on was that she would eventually resurface. Sometimes it would be a call, sometimes a letter would come, sometimes I'd look up and there she'd be coming through the front garden gate, but she always returned.
Then early one evening as she was riding home from work on her bike, a driver didn't see her in the twilight and she stopped coming back. I was about twenty at the time and remember seeing the news in the paper one day as I was at PSU, waiting for my German class to start. Who would have ever thought when we first met, two little girls calling to each other from opposite sides of a street neither of us was allowed to cross that one of us would be gone by the time we reached our early twenties?
In these days following the Virginia Tech shootings and the waste of so many promising, young lives, I find myself thinking about her a lot. The circumstances were different, but the loss of the potential she and all of those other lovely, young people shared still leaves the same kind of gaping hole in the universe. The mind struggles to wrap itself around the whys are wherefores of such a reality. It all seems so wasteful, so senseless. Whatever it is that does happen after we die, it is somehow soothing to think of my sweet, smiling ivory and auburn Jill welcoming these young people to their next great adventure, letting them know that they are not alone.