The tall blonde woman strides toward me, her smile as wide as a Montana sky. I search her face for something, anything, that might be familiar. I search myself for a stirring of recognition, and come away empty.
Marcia has already told me this woman is Maria. She spotted her in line ahead of us at the grocery store check-out. I know some other things about her, but only because Marcia told me earlier.
When we talked the week before my visit, Marcia said we'd be going to a memorial service on Saturday for Maria's mother. She said Maria was excited to know I was going to be in town and really glad I might be at the service. She said Maria went to school with us for the first part of our senior year, but went back to California to finish the year. She said Maria lives in Sandpoint now, is a successful artist, is happily married with three grown kids.
A thorough search of my late middle aged memory banks revealed nothing. In the absence of any concrete information, my brain formed a picture of a vaguely Hispanic woman. I hoped if I looked away, some real memory might eventually find its way to the surface.
This radiant force of energy wrapping me in a joy-filled hug is not at all what I expected. She's warm and beautiful and strong, and makes me think of women I met in Scotland last summer. I respond in kind, still not really knowing who she is or why she's so happy to see me. We beam at each other, some younger part of ourselves clearly connecting and so glad for the reunion. We chatter away, happy words with no real information, but with hope and promise and wonder. I still don't know her, but I can't believe my luck that she knows me. This is someone, even without a sort of common history, I want to be friends with.
It's a short visit. Maria finishes at the check-out and heads out to continue the preparations for her mother's memorial service. I ask Marcia questions all the way home from the store, trying to find the memory. It's inconceivable to me that I have no memory at all of someone who is that glad to see me. Someone who said she's thought of me often through the years. Someone who is happy to have me attend a family ceremony honoring a woman I never met.
By the time Marcia and I have driven across the long bridge over Lake Pend O'Reille toward her house, my brain has released a hint of memory. It's more deduction than picture. But it has the feeling of truth that I've come to trust.
Maria and I became friends during those months she attended Sandpoint Senior High. I was drawn to her newness and warm friendliness. She was drawn to some whole part of me that no one else seemed to know. I opened my heart to her. A connection formed. She moved back to California. Promises were made that we'd stay in touch. We'd be friends forever. We never heard from each other again.
Already an adept survivor by my senior year, I knew what to do with loss and disappointment. I buried it, unfelt, and covered it over with another layer of I-don't-care. No memory at all was far preferable to the pain.
Until this day in a small town grocery store forty years later.
I marvel that someone like Maria - healthy, creative, successful - loved my teenaged self enough to carry her in her heart all these years. Maria's knowing of the young woman who wall-papered a closet with the flair of an adventuress makes her somehow more real. I can feel my teenage self sigh with relief and settle herself into my soul. We both look forward to what the future might hold for Maria and Deb, the adults with the power to keep promises.
photo from Flickr