that doesn't sound like much, i know, but "you be it" when said by my grandmother meant a whole lot. that was the order i was given that sunday morning when i arrived at church. as always, i went to greet my grandparents at church, giving hugs and kisses and catching up on any family news before the service started. i normally sat in a different section, and my parents were in another section as well.
there was a young woman seated over a ways from my grandmother, and i noticed her because she was a visitor. we went to a very small church, and i had known everyone there for forever. but this new person was someone i had never seen before. my grandmother leaned close to me and said, "you see that girl? her momma and i are friends and have been for years. she needs a friend in life right now. you be it."
that was the end of it. grandma decreed that it should be, and in her mind, it was a done deal. there were 4 ways to deal w/ grandma -- 1) just do it her way, 2) just ACT like you were going to do it her way and then hope she didn't notice that you didn't, 3) avoid her and hope she forgot in a year or so, or 4) defy her and prepare to get blasted for it. right now, none of these options were looking very appealing to me. even worse, my options were looking fairly pathetic.
after all, you can't just force someone to be your friend. grandma acted like this girl was just sitting there waiting on me to show up and be her friend. it didn't quite work that way in life. even though i didn't want to, i went and said hi to the new person. it was easier that having grandma on my butt indefinitely about it. i casually walked over and then said, "hi, i'm jill. would you like to come and sit w/ me and the youth group?"
she looked up, surprised, and shook her head as she said, "no. thanks." and put her head back down. her voice was emotionless and disinterested. she was plain looking, simply dressed (but clean), she wore no makeup and wore her hair long and straight. she seemed to have no personality and no desire to meet anyone. i walked away and thought, "cool. that was easy." and went on about my business.
grandma asked me about it later, and i told her what happened. she wasn't bothered by it, though. she just looked at me and said, "try again next week." no ifs, ands, or buts about it. no questions about whether i wanted or needed another friend. no concern that maybe i might be embarrassed to be forced to make friends. no thoughts that i might not like my grandma picking my friends for me. she had said it and it would be done. as long as things continued in this pattern, grandma would be happy.
the next sunday came and went much the same. i was "reminded" that the new girl needed a friend and told "you be it." again, i went and asked if she would like to come sit w/ me and my friends. again, she told me "no. thanks." so i continued on my way. grandma put me through the inquisition after church about it, just to make sure i was doing my part, i guess. after i answered all her questions, she said, "try again next week."
this went on for 3 more weeks, almost word for word the same conversations. grandma didn't think i was putting enough effort into this project, and i probably wasn't. after all -- it wasn't something that i wanted to do. it was something i was ordered to do. you can't just order people to be friends. problem was, no one told this to grandma. in fact, very rarely did anyone tell grandma that something was not going to go her way.
grandma leaned up real close to me and looked me in the eye and said, "i told you that she needs a friend. now, you be it. you do what it takes, but you be it." i could tell from her voice that she wasn't going to be taking any excuses on this, either. i wasn't sure why it was so important to her, but now i knew that i couldn't fail in this because it was so important to her. well, that and she would be on my butt something fierce if i did!
instead of giving "the new girl" the chance to turn away my offer of friendship this week, i walked up and said, "hi, i'm jill. since i always ask you to sit w/ me and you say 'no' and then sit here alone. i'm just going to sit w/ you." i said down in the chair by her and she just looked at me in shock, complete w/ her mouth hanging open. i turned around to make sure that my grandma was seeing this -- that i was sitting w/ the new girl and trying to make friends. i had the distinct feeling that she didn't want my company or my friendship. that was ok, though, because i really didn't want hers either.
i carried on both sides of the conversation, mostly, as all she did was mutter "yes" or "no" or "uhm" and then look down. that was ok w/ me, though, as i could chatter on about nothing when i needed to. i usually talked during church or wrote notes if i was close to getting in trouble. i knew when i started getting the looks from my parents when i was getting close to having made too much noise. so when my friends sat down next to me, i introduced them all to my new "friend," debbie.
she said hi and then ducked her head. she was terribly shy and quiet, and i could tell that she felt uncomfortable w/ people talking to her. so instead of addressing her, we just carried on our normal conversation and debbie was a listener. as we went on about our conversation, debbie started to pay a little more interest. when we left church, i told her "goodbye, see you next week." she smiled and waved when she answered "goodbye."
the next couple weeks went pretty much the same as this pattern. she was there and seated by herself when i arrived. after greeting my grandparents, i moved on over to "be it". i still wasn't happy w/ this assigned duty, but it was livable. i guess i could talk to a wall, if i had to, and this wasn't much different. fortunately, she started to get more personality and more interest in life.
she drove a hotrod, and that's what finally broke the wall down. it was s plymouth fury, maroon in color, and jacked up on wide tires. it was totally cool looking. not the normal hotrod or muscle car. maybe that was part of the appeal of it -- it wasn't the typical hotrod. it had loud pipes and really made an impression, even when she rolled slowly up to a parking spot at church and the blub-blub-blub-blub-blub filled the air.
the youth group was going to a concert at a local christian college one sunday afternoon. some new person, an up-and-coming star, named amy grant. i was going because i went to all the youth group stuff, but i wasn't really "in" to christian music. i asked debbie if she wanted to go, and she said she did. i said, "cool. i'm riding w/ you." it was a beautiful summer day, great for cruising w/ the windows down and the radio blaring. she didn't listen to anything but christian music, and i didn't listen to christian music -- that's how we ended up talking hotrods.
that was a topic that would keep her talking all day -- hotrods. this was the person that couldn't string a 3-word sentence together a month ago, but she could explain all about her car and tell me all that she had done to it and had planned to do to it. this was kind of tough for me, because i'm not mechanically inclined at all. i just followed the "smile and nod" method of communication here. she didn't notice, i guess, as she kept right on talking about her car. it was her passion and all that she had to show for her life at this point. her baby. her pride and joy. she was 24 and i was 14, so she didn't have much to show for herself at this point.
despite the age difference, we always got along just fine. i was always more comfortable w/ people older than me, and she was a little immature for her age. our friendship easily progressed from sunday friends through church friends through real friends to best friends. it wasn't too long before we went everywhere together. she began working for my parents as a farm hand, staying at my house many nights, and running around w/ me when she wasn't working. she loved my family dearly, as her own family was abusive and dysfunctional. she didn't know families like mine existed, but wasn't about to give it up now that she knew. i didn't know families like hers existed, and i avoided all of them but her mother every time i got the chance.
i was quick to point out to grandma that she could lay off now because debbie had a friend and i was "it". it didn't bother grandma any that i was annoyed w/ her for making me be friends w/ debbie. after all, she was sure that she was doing me a favor anyway. she always asked about debbie and how she was doing. grandma told me that debbie's mother was the sweetest person she ever knew and she always felt bad for her being married to debbie's dad. he was someone who needed taken out behind the shed for a "talkin' to" every now and then, but no one ever did it. so he was an abusive husband and father.
as my friendship w/ debbie grew, i learned some amazing things. about her, about me, about life, about what God can do. debbie came to church because she had just gotten out of rehab for the second time. she was a heavy drug user and had overdosed. she had been involved in drugs so long and so heavy that she was "stealin' and dealin'" to support her own habit. she smoked, she drank, she used -- she shot up, she dropped, she inhaled, anything and everything. life meant nothing to her, and death meant nothing worse. she felt she had no reason to live, so no reason to make changes. this whole lifestyle horrified me. i mean, i knew it existed "out there" but i didn't want to believe it was here near my world. she had lived experiences worse than most people's nightmares.
fortunately for her, mothers love deep and strong. her mother loved her just as much when she was a user as she had before, but she wanted so much for her to get away from it. after the second overdose, a new preacher came to visit their house and talked w/ debbie. he convinced her to try coming to church, to get rid of all connections to her previous life, to make effort to build a new life -- she agreed.
she came to church and she sat there. she didn't talk to anyone and she didn't interact. she didn't know how, really, as she hadn't been drug-free for 12 years. half of her life. she couldn't carry on a conversation and she didn't have any self-esteem. all of her bravado in life had come from drugs and alcohol. she didn't have the inner strength built yet to make up for that.
after a couple months of hanging out together, debbie told me that the day i sat down w/ her at church was going to be her last day there. she had already decided that she wasn't coming back. she wasn't making friends and this really just wasn't what she was looking for. she wanted friends, but didn't know how to go about interacting. if she hadn't stayed in church, she would've gone right back to her druggie friends and her old lifestyle.
the funny thing was that i really annoyed the heck out of her. i talked even though she wasn't talking to me. if she didn't answer, i went on as if she did. she couldn't understand how to deal w/ someone who was being nice to her for no reason and no obvious personal gain. well, she didn't know about my grandma and her plan for making me sorry later! when i told her about my struggle w/ grandma and the order for me to be debbie's friend, she was just amazed that someone other than her mother cared enough about her to make the effort. i'm sure she was talking about grandma, because i had done it for selfish reasons to begin with.
we were best friends for many, many years. we took a few years off from our friendship as we both married and moved on separate directions in life, but that didn't last. when i moved back home in 1992, i called her house and left a message that said, "hey, it's jill. i'm back in town if you want to meet up some time." it wasn't long before we were great friends again.
our personalities and our lives have changed greatly over the years, but we're still great friends. i always know that if i need a friend, she is there. in fact, if i were ever in a position to choose one friend to base my survival on, it would be her. for many reasons, really. she reads people really well, and she's been in some nasty, unimagineable places. but deep down, i know that she doesn't care whether she lives or dies and that she's not afraid of death.
this is not much different than she was when we met, but the reasons are different now. she knows where she will go when this life is over, so she has no reason to fear death. her ultimate goal would be to protect me from harm because she feels that i am the person who saved her from the life of a drug addict. my friendship, my determination to not use, my stubbornness on choosing friends, my choice to be "clean," my personal integrity. she was able to pull from me until she built up the confidence and strength to stand on her own and face the world. so, if i ever need anything, i know that i can look at her and say "you be it".