>Promises to Keep

>Last night, my mom called to say that my good friend Cherie had finally escaped cancer. She passed away at noon yesterday.

Three Goofy Pals (1995)
L to R: Jayne, me, and Cherie in 1995, senior year

My emotions are kind of running a wild course at the moment, although I think I’ve cried harder for Cherie’s family than anything else. It’s particularly awful that Mother’s Day is this weekend–both for Cherie’s mom, and for the fact that she’s leaving her six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son behind. Please, keep her whole family in your prayers.

But when my mom related the news, I was driving home from work, and instead of continuing on, I made a detour. I wasn’t ready yet to face family–Alex wasn’t home yet, but we’re temporarily living with his parents, and loving sympathy wasn’t something I was strong enough to face at the moment. I’m one of those prickly private types, especially in emotional moments.

So I drove south to Old Navy. It wasn’t so much retail therapy, although it was partially a distraction–I went with a mission.

When Cherie and I were about fifteen or so, in high school, we made this pact. It was especially silly and dramatic, because that’s the kid of gals we were (even more so back then, yeah). I think our favorite article of clothing at that point were our black jeans. Yeah… that was a bit of an unfortunate mid-1990’s thing, and we bought it hard. I remember hanging around North Star Mall many, many weekends in those black jeans, feeling cool while probably looking like the biggest dork on the planet.

We had this theory, that if you paired a black turtleneck with black jeans, it would be the coolest outfit ever. However, in this completely irrational twist, we thought it breached some major kind of fashion faux pas, so we thought we could never actually wear this awesome outfit. (This flabbergasts me now–we prided ourselves of being non-conformists, and yet wouldn’t wear something we thought was awesome? Chalk it up to the insanity of being a teenager, I guess.)

Hence the pact: whichever of us died first, no matter how old, the other would wear that outfit–black turtleneck and black jeans–to their funeral.

I have no idea if Cherie still remembered this. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, off and on, for that past six years that she’s battled cancer. I’ve done a lot of praying that I’d be wearing that outfit–or she would–at the ripe of age of 103. I’ve thought a lot about buying the outfit, just in case, and thought that it was morbid, or superstitiously that it would bring about the end, or that it was a sensible move because it might be hard to find black jeans on short notice. In the end, I waited.

I got rid of my last black turtleneck a few years ago, and I don’t think I’ve owned black jeans since 1997. In fact, to be honest I’m such a fashion low-lier that I had no idea if that was even an item you could find anymore, or if it had gone the way of ripped stone-wash jeans… er, but since the 1980’s are back, maybe that’s a bad example.

I hunted through Old Navy desperately, to no avail. They indeed had black jeans, but these are apparently–to my amazed discovery–a “winter” item. The ones left were all on sale, and in sizes 12+. Not quite a perfect fit.

I figured I’d look elsewhere, but I didn’t see any other clothing stores nearby, and when I get upset like that I can’t think, so I couldn’t even remember where any other store was in McKinney at that point, to be honest. But I couldn’t go home yet, I just needed to be alone in a crowd. Luckily, I managed to remember that there was a Half-Price Books close by.

I just went as a distraction, but it was the best thing I could have done. Yes, I found some books–but what I didn’t count on was running into memories of Cherie at every turn. She was my reading and writing friend, my fellow fiction devotee, compelled not only to read it but to write crazy stories that ran away from us and turned into things we didn’t expect.

I went to fantasy–well, there you are. Robert Jordan, the reason that we used to guide each other down the hall, while one was reading and walking simultaneously. (RJ passed away last year before finishing the last book–so I guess now he can tell her how it ends.) L. E. Modesitt, Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip. Star Wars books, that’s a whole other story. Since my eyes started overflowing, I quickly went to check out the clearance aisle–Clive Cussler. That really did it–Sahara, the book she loaned to me that started my obsession with Dirk Pitt. I turned to the YA section… Madeleine L’Engle (who also died last year). The only place without memories in the whole store was the comics section.

It made me overwhelmingly sad, but also wonderfully happy, remembering. It was a fitting farewell, one that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. I’m glad I was there.

Then I –slightly– came to my senses and remembered that there was a Kohl’s nearby. Off again to hunt for the funeral outfit.

I was in luck: they were clearing out their winter stock. It took me two hours of hunting in every form of women’s department they had, but I finally located a pair of black jeans, a black turtleneck, and a black and white bracelet.

I was rushing past jewelry on my way to the absolute last area that might have black jeans, when I saw the bracelet out of the corner of my eye. It was chunky plastic black and white beads, and I had a sudden flash of the first time Cherie ever came over to my house, freshman year of high school, 1990. She was wearing black jeans (naturally!), a white shirt, black and white dangly dice earrings, and a plastic black-and-white bracelet. She was heavily in her “black and white phase” that year, as it’s now referred to. I thought that she was the Pinnacle of Cool, devoting herself to a limited palate for the sake of fashion. My mom thought it was amusing, my dad thought it was unbelieveably ridiculous. Anytime I brought up Cherie’s name, for years, he’d bring up the Black and White Phase with an amused expression, as I rolled my eyes.

So, yeah, naturally I got the bracelet. It will totally go with those rad black jeans and black turtleneck, I laugh to myself, and it will remind me of the girl I met eighteen years ago. As she was–vibrant, hilarious, frank, creative–and as she remained to the end, despite the cancer consuming her body.

So I’ll be keeping that promise, silly as it is. And hot as it’s destined to be, in Texas in May, in long sleeves and black. Because yes, it’s silly–but that’s the kid of gals we are. That’s how I loved her, and that’s how I’m seeing her off.

(And thanks for the line, Robert Frost.)

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