One of my earliest memories is being five years old and walking around the block to the candy store with the other kids from my street. It stands out for two reasons. One, I believe it was the first I time I left the street without an adult. Two, it’s the only time I have ever shoplifted.
It’s quite possible that since I was only five I wasn’t clear on the concept of actually having to pay for something. Back then I thought money grew on trees. Sometimes, I still do. It’s just that now the tree is a credit card. The more plausible scenario is that I was in a sugar daze and like one of the bad kids at Willy Wonka’s, I wanted my candy and I wanted it now. I walked out that front door and got down to business with that lollipop.
The store clerk came after me, naturally. I was terrified and I broke down in tears. Boys by nature are dumb and unhelpful, so it fell to the one girl in our group Cheryl, to take care of the situation. Realizing the honest mistake, and that all I wanted was my candy, she took my money and paid the guy. What she did not do is apologize for my behavior.
We went on to become best friends. Obviously.
We spent hours perfecting our dance moves on her front porch. We painstakingly recreated the “Open Your Heart” video with Cheryl playing Madonna (playing the stripper) and me playing the little boy with the top hat who just wanted to dance (with the stripper.) She taught me everything I know about dancing, so if you’ve ever been a witness to my sick moves on the floor, open your lips right now and mouth the words “thank you Cheryl.”
Our friendship had highs (ruling the Philly dance floors Sundays at Shampoo and Wednesdays at Egypt), and our friendship had lows (when I was 7 years old we had creative differences about staging a Paula Abdul number on her backyard picnic table which caused her to throw my Debbie Gibson “Out of the Blue” cassete tape against her wood fence which in turn made it chip and put our friendship on the fritz for a good six months.)
A lot happened in the next fifteen years, enough to fill a book. It’s hard to believe but it will have been twelve years this month since Cheryl passed away. Cancer. Is there anything eloquent to be said about a girl who started her fight at age fourteen, who ultimately lost that battle at twenty two? Perhaps. I don’t know. I certainly don’t have the words.
Aside from my parents, I don’t think another individual has ever made such a strong impression in helping to mold my personality, tastes, humor, and awesome dance moves. The stories we had and the memories we made are legion. They used to occupy a very large space in my mind. As time moves on they start to fade.
The last time I saw her was in a hospital. We couldn’t dance, but I knew enough then to know that we could still be “us.” A new Madonna song had just come out, “Music.” She hadn’t heard it yet, so I sang her a couple of bars and it made her smile as she fell asleep. It seemed to be a very peaceful moment for her. It was a bittersweet moment for me. It was unfortunately, our last moment together.
Enough time has passed that I’ve learned to think of the good times. The times that make me smile.
I think about that trip to the candy store.
As much of an influence as Cheryl had on my life, who would have guessed that the trip to the candy store would have been the memory that influenced so much of the rest of my life? All of these years later and I’m still choosing friends who defend my right to get my candy/dessert/snack on. And guess what? They never apologize for me either.
A couple of them can even dance.
Wherever you are girl, thank you for teaching to me always choose the best friends a fat kid could have.