I submitted the following true story, Honey Friend, to Glamour Magazine’s Reel Moments contest in 2006. It’s about being separated from my best friend as a girl then reuniting with her 23 years later. They called me in 2010 to tell me that actress Jessica Biel picked my story as her directorial debut. It was made into the short online film, Sodales, which you can view at the end of this essay. My friend and I make a cameo appearance at the end of the film. I hope you like my fifteen minutes of fame. . .
Me and Shannon; Christmas 1978
Honey never spoils. Really good friendships are the same – sweet and eternally preserved. My honey friend is Shannon. I can’t remember how I met Shannon, but she became a part of me like a vital organ when her family moved in next door to mine in 1977. We were both five and living in a small suburb of Dallas, Texas.
Shannon and I were an incongruous pair: I’m African-American with cinnamon-hued skin. And Shannon had the complexion of a lily petal with an adorable spray of freckles across the bridge of her nose. I had two ebony pony tails that grazed my shoulders, and Shannon had nearly waist-length, brown hair. I was christened Baptist, and she was Mormon.
As different as Shannon and I were, we did what made sense to six-year-old girls: play. We spent many days, drunk with carefree bliss, dressing up in tube tops and shorts and trying to feather our hair. We used gel toothpaste for lip gloss; Aim worked best! Shannon and I played Charlie’s Angels, and we took turns being Farrah Fawcett. And she taught me how to ride the God-awful red and yellow banana-seat bike my parents gave me for my seventh birthday.
One of my fondest memories is exploring the field next to my house. As we held hands and ran, our sun dresses billowing behind us, we paid no mind to the sadistic Texas heat. We marveled at the maize-colored sunflowers in the field and pointed at the droning airplanes that flew in the endless blue above it.
Shannon loved spending time at my house because it was soulful and exotic with funky animal prints and feathers everywhere, R&B and disco music cranking out of a reel-to-reel. I, in turn, enjoyed the domesticity of her house. Shannon’s mother gave us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on her very own homemade bread. And I was tickled pink when we shucked corn out in her backyard.
I can truly say that even though I had only been on the planet seven years at that time, Shannon’s family moving away was one of the most traumatic things that had ever happened to me. Today, some 30 years later, I can say it still is. I remember the last time we walked to school together. I noticed that Shannon did not have her lunch box.
“I’m having lunch on the plane,” she said.
And that was the last time I saw my childhood friend.
Memory is strange: Sometimes you can’t remember the name of a person you met ten minutes beforehand, but you can remember something, with uncanny clarity, that happened years ago. I walked home from school by myself that day with my mind replaying our friendship:
Shannon was going to marry Sergeant Pepper.
She said “onety-one,” instead of eleven.
I comforted Shannon when her cat, Flowers, got run over by a car.
The outdoorsy smell we worked up after playing outside in the brutal Texas sun.
In the winter, we slid down my walkway in a little red sleigh over and over again, shrieking and loving it.
I made other friends, and Shannon and I wrote to each other for a while. It helped ease the pain of her absence, but after about two years, my letters to her bounced back.
Life went on; the years turned over and over. And even so, the most innocuous images reminded me of her: Freckle-faced girls, sunflowers, heck – even Tootie and Natalie’s friendship on the show The Facts of Life made me think of us. The real memories took the sting out of rainy days, bad Mondays and low test scores.
For years, I embarked on fruitless missions to find Shannon. One phone number I called, a woman informed me that Shannon was not there; he had not made it in from work yet. I considered contacting the show Unsolved Mysteries for help, but got sidetracked with working on my bachelor’s degree and other things.
I was on the edge of thirty, had been laid off from my job and had broken up with my fiancé. I was caught up in the whirlwind of finding a job and mending my broken heart when my mother called me one evening about a curious package that had been delivered to my parents’ house.
“Do you know who this package is from?” she said and called the name on the return address.
“No. Go ahead and open it, though.”
She did and called me back in twenty minutes, squealing.
“Sean, you are not going to believe this.”
“The package is from Shannon, your childhood friend.”
“Oh!” I screamed, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, she is married now. I guess you didn’t recognize her last name.”
My mother read the letter to me over the phone. Shannon wrote that she was a homemaker, a mother of three at the time, and a writer and had written a book dedicated to our friendship. She had included an autographed copy of the book. But in all the excitement, Shannon had forgotten to include her phone number! My mother gave me her address, and luckily, I was able to get her phone number from information. Pin balls of excitement ricocheted in me as I dialed Shannon’s number.
Shannon answered. My palms got moist but my mouth got dry. But the awkwardness was short-lived. Soon, it was like we were six or seven again. We talked for three hours that evening. I learned the reason her family left Texas was her father’s business partner had embezzled money and left him holding the bag. They moved around frequently and had money troubles. During those rough times, memories of our friendship and all those sun-filled days in Texas had stayed with her as well. Shannon told me she also vividly recalled the day we were separated. She said her family got her out of school and did not ask if we had said good-bye until they were at the airport.
“I couldn’t,” she had said, woefully, “You took me before I could.”
Shannon said that in an effort to stay tied to me, she often babysat for African-American families when she was a teenager. Her girls had some black dolls, and they display African-American angels at Christmas time. Shannon said when she got married and left her parents’ house, she took the Christmas present my family gave hers from the 70’s — a sketch my father did of a butterfly perched on a tree stump. She said it was the only tangible piece connecting her to me from 1978. It hangs in her youngest daughter’s room to this day.
Our similarities were eerie. Red is our favorite color, we are both writers, and health nuts; both of us have brothers but no sisters.
Shannon and I traded pictures and letters back and forth for about a month. The next thing we did was agree on a time for me to visit her in Utah. On Labor Day weekend in 2001, a week or so before 9/11, I jumped on a plane to see my best girlhood friend for the first time in twenty-three years. I bonded with her children, and we toured breath-taking mountains. She threw me a party and invited all her neighbors. During the visit, Shannon told me something that made me chuckle.
“You know, Sean, when we were little, I didn’t know you were black.”
“You didn’t?” I laughed, “Then why did you think I was darker than you?”
“I don’t know,” Shannon said easily, “I didn’t think about it.”
I returned home with great pictures of my trip and a tranquility that I had not known in years.
In the summer of 2002, Shannon’s fourth child was stillborn. To fill the hole in their lives, Shannon and her husband discussed adoption. They put their words into action a year later, and the angel who came into their lives was an African-American baby boy. Coincidentally, he has nearly the same birthday as their stillborn son. I was one of the references Shannon submitted to the adoption agency, along with pictures of us as little girls. She told me that was the main reason the birth mother selected her family: she was very impressed with Shannon’s exposure to African-American culture. My God son, Kaleb Ezekiel, is almost ten now and the beautiful African-American girl that Shannon and her husband adopted, Ruby Shay, is five. One of my greatest joys is being Aunt Sean to all six of her children.
I analyze our friendship from time to time. Sometimes it is complex: Minus the poison of ignorance and intolerance, two girls of different races and religions lived Martin Luther King’s dream, maybe foreshadowing that a black man would become president 30 years later. Sometimes it’s simple: The sheer beauty of two little girls having fun in a small, sunny town; friendship in its purest form. I like the latter analysis best.
Here is actress Jessica Biel’s directorial debut based on my story, Sodales (2010) Approximately 18 minutes: http://youtu.be/ThKx0IYb3gU
Here’s me with Jessica on the red carpet. I got to keep the dress and the shoes!
Sean C. Wright is the author of the short stories Hazel Hogan and Devil Does Dallas. She is also an editor. For more information about her writing skills and how she can assist you with yours–business or consumer–visit http://www.iwrightaway.com/.