It's telling that my friend remembers our meeting differently. She remembers that we were making animals for a diorama out of clay and I squashed her alligator with my elbow.
Our childhoods were markedly different. Our mothers were both warm, strong, artistic and emotionally expressive women, and our fathers were both strong but emotionally absent men. The difference was that her father still lived with her and dominated her life with constant Biblical recriminations. Mine had just run off, leaving my mother to raise four children on her own.
She lorded her family over me, letting me know that I was to be pitied. I was a fixture in their house when we were little. Her parents liked me because, although to them I was little better than a heathen, I was quick and eager to please. I was a little girl with a head of blonde curls, green eyes and a charming smile who knew how to pander to adults, very different from my friend's Greek good looks and shyness.
As we got older, her condescension softened, but she never stopped feeling sorry for me, as though there were something I was missing and I was too stupid to see it. She was pretty and popular and I was smart and marginally popular (meaning that I was in thick with all the other smart kids) and we stayed close until after we got out of high school and I went to college in California and she in Arizona.
I came home for a visit and discovered that she was pregnant. She married the boy (they're still married now), and after finishing college (with enormous help and support from her mother) she settled down to her lifelong ambition: being a mother and homemaker.
And still, she feels sorry for me. The reason she feels sorry for me, apparently, is that I am ignorant of God. I am a heathen whose soul is damned and whose morals are misguided. I will never know the true happiness of heaven because I will not accept Jesus as my personal savior. We've had many talks about this, and while I hear the sincerity in her voice, I cannot respond to it.
The problem is this: hers is not the God of love. She is not the kind of person who says "Jesus told us to love each other, and I will do that always." She is not the sort of person who would allow her children to experience the world in all its variety and use it to teach her children right from wrong.
Hers is the God of Righteousness. Hers is the God of Dubya and Ashcroft. She believes that Evil (which seems to fluxuate constantly) should be wiped by force from the earth. Remember back in the 80's when a woman from Mesa, Arizona complained to the supermarket who sold her a copy of "The Little Mermaid" because of its obscene cover art. Yeah. That was my best friend. She still insists she was right.
When my marriage broke up and I moved back to Phoenix and called her up, she did not comfort me. Instead she told me that if I didn't go back to my husband, I would go to hell. She later told another friend of ours who, at the age of 33 finally moved in with her boyfriend, that she was going to hell for living in sin.
She's become a frightened, closed-off, bitter person over the years. She sees so much of the world that she can't control and she hides from it. When her own parents got a divorce fifteen years ago, she was devastated. She stopped talking to her mother because of it, believing that it was her mother's duty as a wife to put up with whatever emotional abuse her father chose to mete out.
It seems like our lives diverged so quickly. I went away to college and by the time I got back, she was a Stepford wife living the same kind of life her mother had lived. And yet, she says she's happy, that she has what she wants. I want that to be true. I truly want for her to be living a happy life. But I want just as much for her to allow others the same respect.
We were best friends for thirteen years, and we thought it would be forever. We never would have predicted this.