Denise is one of my oldest friends.
Her great-aunt was my next door neighbor. Some of my earliest memories of playing with other kids involve her. We would play in her aunt’s yard, making mud pies where the tractor had wallowed out a hole.
In the fifth grade, I would change schools from the small Christian academy I had attended to the public school in the next county. She and I were now in the same grade, and we would be schoolmates until high school graduation when she chose a college and I chose the Marines.
Her mother was a constant presence in my life. First, it was when she would come to visit her aunt, and she and her aunt would chat while Denise and I would play in the yard. When I went to Junior High, she was the manager of the school cafeteria, and I would see her every day at lunch. More than once I would forget my lunch money and she would slip me in.
Denise and her mother are two of the few people in my life who still call me by my first and middle name together. Basically, the only people who do that are people who knew me before the age of 10 or so.
A few months ago, Denise’s mom took a turn for the worse, and this past Friday night she passed away, surrounded by her family.
So tomorrow I will get in the car and drive the three hours to go home, to walk into a funeral home I have been in dozens of times because that is where my people go, and see my old friend and say goodbye to her mother.
And this is why I moved back to Mississippi. Because I suck at being a friend, but even I know that friends show up. And it is much easier to show up when you live three hours away than when you live 12.
I spent most of my life running away – from my childhood, my upbringing, my class, my people, and from Mississippi itself. I always thought of all of that as a weakness I had to compensate for. It has only been in recent years that I realized that all of that was actually not only a strength but a superpower.