Lazy Days of Summer, Remembering Michelle Bell
Years ago, a dear friend of mine, Michelle Bell suddenly died at the tender age of 40. I did not hear about her passing until long after her funeral so never really got to say good bye or share some of my best memories with her family. With summer here and this representing some of our best times together, it seemed perfect to talk about those long ago lazy days of summer I spent with Michelle.
Michelle and I met in 1st grade at Saville Elementary. We had a connection right off the bat; we were the two tallest kids in the class. Some days it felt like in the entire school. She got the nickname Beanpole and because she was slightly taller than me, I was spared. But none the less on picture day, when kids line up by height, every year, Michelle and I would just head to the back of the class knowing full well our place, last in line.
We both lived in Saville Estates, a subdivision named after the elementary school that was at the opening of the neighborhood. She lived a few streets over. By today’s standards, the distance was a long walk, but in days gone by, it was not considered far at all. Our routine was the same, one of us would call the other and off we would trot in the direction of each other’s house. When we met, somewhere in the middle, we would decide what the day’s adventure was going to be.
I loved seeing what Michelle was wearing. She was much more fashion savvy than me. Her creativity was expressed in everything she wore, from her hair, to her jewelry and to what she came up to wear on her body! I remember her taking scraps of material and tying them around her midsection as a self created body top. She tied fabric all different ways and to the bystander, it looked like fashion right off the runway show. I tried to mimic this style, wanting to look cool like her. It was not easy, there was only one Michelle. What she could pull off, others just simply could not.
Those self made tops that involved not a stitch of sewing were commonplace for us in the summer. We were both so thin and flat, in those days, that it did not take much fabric to fit around our skinny midsections. We traded fabric with each other to make it look as if we were fashionable and rich with a wide selection of clothes. I sometimes wonder if our parents shuddered at the sight of us walking outdoors with those thinly clad tops on our bodies!
Long days were spent over summer at the most popular swimming pool in our area, Eastview Pool. The days there were mixed with splashing in the pool, ogling over cute life guards and also moments where we laid flat on our backs soaking in the sun. Those days were some of my favorites as we both bore our souls to one another, our shortcomings and our dreams for our future. We knew we had in each other a friend for life, a willing caring confidant while in the tough stage of trying to build our own identity and self worth.
Taking breaks from swimming and walking around the pool area, we would spread out brightly colored beach towels on the grass and plop down on our backs. Michelle and I would spend what seemed like hours looking up at the clouds rolling by. Those big billowy white clouds that seemed to just fill the summer sky were artwork, in our eyes, that God created just for us. We saw images in different cloud formations and would discuss what each one represented long before either of us had ever heard of the inkblot tests of psychology. I wonder if our visualizations we saw were windows to our souls. It is funny, looking back, how time stood still at times like this with Michelle and me.
Careful and no consideration of sunscreen were on our minds back then! I don’t even recall it being in an issue in those days. Our agenda was to simply enjoy the long lazy summer day. We didn’t care about getting a tan, but it happened inevitably from so much time spent outdoors. We would both get as dark as can be by midsummer. We would spend whole days there at the pool, eating lunch and dinner some days and not returning home to it was dark. Meals would consist of buying a grilled cheese at the snack bar and as a fill in, of course, ice cream and candy. Yet, we both remained skinny as rails no matter what we ate. Metabolism, back then, was a good friend to us both.
There were also the active days, when we would bike ride everywhere. We would head to a local shopping center, Airway Shopping Center, with not a penny to our name. We would go through the stores as if we had a huge allowance that was unspent, trying on things, going through departments pretending we mattered as, in those days; I think both of us felt like we didn’t matter much to anyone. Living vicariously through pretend shopping made us feel powerful and passed time. It also was a fun creative way to waste away an afternoon at a time when television was boring and video games were not created.
Michelle had a hammock for awhile and we thought we had died and gone to heaven laying in that! It did not matter how hot it was, we would both squeeze in there together, and just enjoy it. If the wind swayed it some, we would giggle with delight. We would sing songs together in that hammock as loud as if we were in the shower. Unfortunately, neither of us had the vocal chords to make music sound beautiful but we didn’t care. We were young, carefree and enjoying the moment.
Looking back, we were both poor losers when it came to board game playing. If we fought at all, it was usually over whoever lost. One of us would leave crying like a baby that had been badly bruised and going home upset over the loss. The one that won the game never really felt very victorious as each of us had our turns of watching the other’s backside walking away, heading home with the sounds of muffled crying. How willing we were to let our sensitivity show. The compromise was the winner would call the other and essentially apologize for winning. How funny we were back then!
At night time, we would often catch fireflies. I would provide the coffee cans with the holes punched in the lids so they could breathe. Michelle was so soft hearted she could not bear the thought of them staying in the jar. She always talked me into letting them loose. I think she found that, the unleashing of them into the night, just as exhilarating as catching them.
As the years went by, Michelle and I stay connected. Our relationship faded in and out as times changed, new friendships were formed and life just moved on. I moved away and started a family. The last time I heard from Michelle was a phone call, out of the blue. Somehow she had tracked me down to Northern Kentucky, where I lived at the time.
I picked up the phone and was met with a vaguely familiar voice telling me I was a hard person to reach. She identified herself quickly but by then I knew who it was. All these years had passed by and hearing her, the memories came rushing back. We laughed on the phone recounting all those days gone by, in particular the summer months spent together. I learned a few new things about Michelle’s life, but as always, she was somewhat reclusive and slow to confide in others. It was as if she was more interested in hearing about me and if I was happy with my life.
I wanted to arrange to meet her somewhere but she refused. Michelle still lived somewhere in the Dayton Ohio area, where we had grown up but she refused to give me her phone number or address. She assured me that her number was unlisted as she wanted to live as obscure as possible. She said that a lot had changed; she did not look the same at all and wanted to be remembered by everyone that knew her in the past as she was back then and not now. There was a heavy sadness in her voice as if a part of her had already given up on life. The sensitivity of Michelle and possibly all the years of feeling different made her choose to alienate somewhat from life. I tried, in vain, to change the course of the conversation. I told her that day that the change did not matter to me at all, what we had was the foundation of our relationship and that was constant, unchanging and unwavering. But she was adamant, if she wanted to reach out, it would be on her terms and she just wanted me to know she missed me. That call left a hole in my heart.
A few years passed and then the news. Finding out of her passing made me stop and reflect on that last call, but not for long. I am certain, all those long wonderful summer days of past we spent together is how she would want me to remember her and so it is in just that way I memorialize my dear friend Michelle. Human nature and emotion kicks in from time to time, making me want, no matter how rich my life has become, that I could spend one more day together with my dear friend and kindred soul mate Michelle.
Lazy crazy days of summer are some of the best times in our lives. Too often we run around and do not find time to just be still with others, dear friends and loved ones. I know in my heart that Michelle’s days are now filled with moments like these. She is probably in heave, in a hammock with a cute outfit on and a big smile enjoying a spiritual life where there is no pain or heartache. No more does my friend cry over losing a game, have her feelings hurt over being teased about being tall and skinny or want for more than she has. Yes, my dear friend Michelle Bell is eternally happy.
Until I see you again Michelle, please save a spot on the hammock for me.