Even her name was an enigma. I always imagined her parents battling it out over a particularly long game of canasta. “I want to name her after my mother, god bless her soul, she died when I was 6 but there was no greater saint!” her mother had probably argued. Not to be outdone, her father contended with, “She has to be named after my sister who took the cloth and is serving as a missionary to Africa.” And because neither one wanted to back down they compromised as couples often do, saddling their lone child with the name of Heather-Marie.
Now don’t get me wrong. It is a lovely name, both parts of it. Heather reminds me of beautiful flowers blowing in the breeze on an autumn day, and Marie is the girl who everybody likes, the quiet, self-assured angel with the killer smile. Together the names should have been magic, but no one explained this to Heather-Marie.
I met her in the midst of my longest summer. My heart had just been crushed by the woman I thought would be my forever and I was in what I felt was eternal pain. Amazingly enough, Heather-Marie became my salvation, but not at all in the manner that I had intended. And it all began with a band. And the internet. And the fact that I couldn’t drive. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This post isn’t about me. It’s about Heather-Marie.
She was an aerobics instructor at a gym, and as a result she was one of the fittest people I had ever met. I was fresh out of adolescence and my metabolism was working overtime, so I thought I could do pretty much any exercise even though I wasn’t quite in shape. It’s what I told her during our first phone conversation, when I was bragging about still living with my mom and never getting my driver’s license. Oh, and it’s also when she told me she went to a nudist camp once.
I liked her at once because she was brutally honest, even from the start. She also had absolutely no problem with picking me up and taking me somewhere, or even that I still lived with my mother. The age difference, though, that gave her pause. You see, I was 20 and she was 28, and she worried that even though we seemed compatible over the phone that her advanced life experience would cause problems for us in the “real world.” Luckily for me that wouldn’t end up being a problem. Nor would our difference of skin color. Yeah, she seemed like a perfect match.
But then life went into fast-forward, we had about 10 more phone conversation, and our first date was finally staring us in the face. Go figure, Heather-Marie hit it off with my mother, who was entranced by her tales of teaching spinning class. I think she would have signed my mother up on the spot if I hadn’t hurried her out of there. We had an amazing time, too. The meal was great, the conversation sparkling, and I believe I even made her forget all about the age difference. We went on a long walk and the words kept flowing. I felt that spark that I hadn’t since my relationship had fizzled earlier that year. It went by way too quickly, though.
Then we were back in front of my house, sitting in her car, that time at the end of the date when you either go for it or you don’t, and despite the wonderful rapport we had going I got nervous. I thanked her for a lovely evening… at the curb, and then went up the stairs to go in. Then something amazing happened. I turned around and she was still standing there, like in a movie, or a fairy tale, looking up at me. So I went back down, without saying a word, swept her into my arms and kissed her. I still remember her lips tasted like mint leaves. Then it was over, we said goodnight again, and I went inside.
Now, I’m not sure what happened between that first date and the second, at least in her world, but in mine there was a lot of high-fiving myself and pats on the back because I had done something I thought impossible. I had forgotten, at least momentarily about my heartbreak, about the life I had planned with someone else that had dissolved like so much sugar into water. She made me feel alive, like I was still worthy. And I hoped I did something at least partially as good for her.
But you know how people have different opinions on the same moment? Well, Heather-Marie apparently saw the moment as defining too, but not in the same way. Because on our second date she told me she only saw me as a friend, that the kiss had sealed it for her, that fact, and that she wanted me to know before I began getting ideas in my head, because she hoped she could keep me as a friend. Then we went to the movies. I remember it with perfect clarity. We saw “There’s Something About Mary,” and we laughed our asses off, those two people you love to hate in the movie theater who keep talking throughout the entire movie.
And she made me realize that’s exactly what I needed. I didn’t need fairy tale romance, or the perfect kiss, or even someone my mother approved of. What I needed was someone who could help me forget, in bits and pieces, someone who could be as good a friend as I had ever had, someone I could laugh and cry with.
That’s just what we did that summer, too. We were joined at the hip. Sam and Heather-Marie. Heather-Marie and Sam. In fact, some people began calling us the Siamese twins, which was just fine by me, but when they asked if we were “together” I always surprised myself by smiling and saying, “not a chance. That would ruin what we have.” But it was as true as her two names, both of which fit so perfectly her personality.
We went to concerts, long car rides where we never lacked for things to say. We played insane car games that always ended up with us having to pull over we were laughing so hard. We ferried some girls to concerts with us when their parents wouldn’t take them. She introduced me to one of my favorite bands, Black Lab. If I had tallied up all the time we spent together that summer it would honestly surprise me, especially since we weren’t dating. At all. In fact, I think she was my first true female friend with whom I had no secrets or preconceptions.
It was an incredible summer, and for that, for helping me get through my pain with grace and excitement, I am still grateful to Heather-Marie, wherever she may be now, wherever her life has taken her. Because some people are only in your life for a season, and then they’re gone, but the impact they leave is indelible.