When I first met Kerry she was 17 and married. Her voice had a high-end timbre that bounced off the walls with the power of a stage presence. Her wit was vicious with current events, and spun so fast I was left in the colors of our laughter. We were there, in Alaska, two young military wives.
I was in Alaska because I had dreamt of being there. I was a northern girl, a lover of trees and wild places. She was there because she was stretching out of the boundaries of her too-small New Hampshire lifestyle, ready to be done with high school, ready to start living. So she followed a boy.
She was the first person to get me drunk. It was 1983. I was 21. It was Boone’s Farm Tickled Pink. I will never forget the sound of her uproarious giggling, her eyes twinkling at everything I said that night.
She was so far ahead of me, even at her tender age.
Those years in Alaska were our first introduction into how cold life can be with the wrong man. But we also learned of the solace, the toasty comfort of a female friend; a real friend who becomes family when you are so far from home.
We were so different. She was quick witted, smart, loud, outspoken. I was quiet, and slow to respond, preferring to stir my thoughts instead. She loved cats. I ran a dog rescue. She loved shopping and theatre. I loved walking in the woods and seeing the moose.
She left before I did. She couldn’t wait to get out of there. I wanted out of the marriage, but oh, how I hated leaving the Great Land. I mourned for Alaska.
She told me later that she had described her life in Fairbanks, and in order to recreate herself, she’d had to melt herself down. She said, “Nancy and I melted together. And if it’s like a few of the parts got mixed up somehow.”
We lived together in Arizona, drove each other crazy, both too poor to support ourselves let alone each other. We dated guys that were roommates, and no better choices than the haphazard husbands we’d left in the north.
The desert was not for me. I last saw Kerry in 1987. As people do, we fell out of touch.
And then came the internet.
In 2009, or around then, I received an email with the subject line, “Are you the Nancy Bailey from DeTour Village?”
She had met a man who was backpacking in Arizona, and she married him and moved to Australia! What a life this woman has led, from one side of the planet to the other. We stayed in touch through Facebook. I could still hear that clear, bell-like voice, with the slight New England accent through every message. She seemed very happy with Paul. Her photos were rife with pretty friends, big smiles, delicious food and exotic places.
She was aghast at the terrible things that happened to me. My book deal gone bad. My home foreclosed. My parents dying, first one and then the other, while I struggled to care for them. The vicious way my siblings treated my sister with Down syndrome, Amanda.
Then, her husband was stricken with cancer, and she barely had time to recover from the news, before he was gone.
On the night of Jon’s memorial service, I lay in bed chatting with her on Facebook about the way my siblings had abused Amanda that day. Suddenly, she typed, “What’s your phone number?”
She called me. It was 3 am my time. Her voice, that beautiful clear alto chime came through shouting, “What the fuck? What the fuck? What the FUCK is WRONG with Ted!? I thought he was a nice guy!”
She launched into a tirade that was characteristically irreverent and hilarious. I laughed so hard my sides hurt.
A few days later I had a message from her. “What are you doing October third?”
She was coming home to America and had a four hour layover in Detroit.
When I finally found her terminal, she came running out to the van, throwing her carry-on in the back seat and grabbing me in a hug that was as big and genuine as her smile. When you haven’t seen someone in thirty years, you expect them to look different. But she is the same, exactly as I know her.
We drove to a Denny’s and ordered up a couple of sandwiches.
She grabbed my hand. “You have done the right thing. For your dad. For Amanda.”
I nodded. “It’s just grief. I’m very depressed.”
“Shit! Hell, yes! After what you’ve been through?! Your parents! Amanda! Now you’re grieving Jon! And you have to grieve Ted! Oh my God, Nancy!”
I nodded. She was looking right into me, with the eyes of someone who had known me so long ago. And she had come all this way to tell me things that no one else, who has known me that long, will say. She had made this trip happen. For me. And her eyes were saying it all.
That is love.
“Do you think you will move to America?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know where I belong anymore.”
I nodded. “I understand how that feels.”
There was so much to say. But it took very few words to cover it. And while we could have kept talking forever, we didn’t have to. We knew this place, this warmth.
This melting pot.