We were best friends, Rachel and I. We shared our recess snacks together, and countless hours of laughing and playing. We were partners in arts and crafts, and in book buddies (when we got to read stories with the 'big kids' in Grade 5). We made friendship gifts for each other, wrote stories together, and talked on the phone on rainy afternoons. Often Rachel would come to watch me at the ballet studio where I danced (and still do) because her mom was our jazz teacher. Sometimes after school, Lou, the taxi driver who lived next door to Rachel, would drive Rachel and me over to her house to play.

We had so much fun together. We used to sit in front of the TV, watching The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, and drawing pictures while her baby-sitter made us an after school snack. Then we might have played dolls or My Little Ponies. Or maybe house. Rachel used to like to pretend she was a teacher or a doctor.

"I like to pretend I'm taking care of people," I remember her saying. "I'm just so sick of people always taking care of me! Let's pretend you're a little girl with a broken leg and I can mend it..."

Rachel had a disease called "brittle bones disease". I'd never even heard of it until I met her, when she moved to my school in Grade 2. On her first day no one knew what to do. We didn't know how to act around her. The teachers had told us that her bones could break just by squeezing them too hard! And if she were to fall on the floor... We didn't even want to imagine that. We tried not to stare at her. We'd never seen a person like her. She was just over two feet tall and sat in a car seat in the back of the room, with a tiny fan whisping her brown hair around her face, a tiny little keyboard, a tiny little desk...Yes, just about everything about her was tiny and delicate.

Except for her personality. Rachel was friendly and gifted with a great sense of humour. She was the kind of person who could light up a room with her smile. She was so open and out-going... And I was so shy... But somehow, some way, we started to talk... and to laugh... Yes, Rachel and I were best friends.

It's sad how things have to change.

Rachel and I didn't really stop being friends. There were no fights, no mean words...nothing like that. Just some changes that came with time. I guess I just grew up, and we grew apart.

"You and me can hang out all the time together in junior high, Maryn," Rachel said to me the summer before Grade 7. "We'll have to stick together."

"Yeah, I guess," I'd said with little enthusiasm. I'd kind of been set on making some new friends.

"Are you worried about it?" she asked.

"About going to junior high? Yeah, for sure!" I paused. "But I don't think it will be so bad. We can make some new friends, and there will be lots of guys."

"You're so silly!" Rachel smiled. "We're too young to have boyfriends anyway, Maryn."

I shrugged.

Yes, things had begun to change as I grew older, but Rachel didn't really seem change that much. Thinking back, I probably seemed like a completely different person to her. In junior high I hardly ever saw her, except when I happened to walk by her in the hall, or when I saw her in the library reading with her aide, Barb.

I made a dozen new friends. Rachel was in a different class. Once in a while she'd call me though, but she was always sad.

"The girls in my class just aren't like me," she sighed. "All they ever talk about are boys and clothes. I like to talk about drawing and horses and stuff, like you do."

"Yeah, but I talk about boys and clothes, too, Rachel," I said. I guess I was just trying to tell her that I'd grown up. I didn't know how to help her. I wished she could've made some new friends too. I felt like I was abandoning her, yet she didn't even seem to want to talk as much anymore. Slowly, slowly, she began to drift further out of my life.

I just wish things didn't have to change.

One sunny afternoon in June, I was sitting on the bench in front of my school with a few friends, eating ice cream. Barb walked past us on her way to the parking lot, and I realized that I hadn't seen Rachel at school all month.

"Barb!" I called to her. "Where's Rachel been these days?"

"Oh, she's been sick. You know, maybe you should give her a call."

"Okay, I will." I said. "She's okay, isn't she?"

"Oh yeah," Barb assured me, "she's just a bit down in the dumps."

That day after school I gave Rachel a call. I was surprised at the sound of her voice. It was very raspy and she gasped between each word. With difficulty, she explained to me that she was having breathing problems because her lungs were so small. She'd always had an oxygen tank to help her breathe, but her health was worse lately.

After some small talk, I told her I had to go, but felt guilty when I heard the disappointment in her voice.

"Oh, okay then," she said quietly.

"Well, I hope you get well soon... I'll call you back tomorrow, okay?" I promised, hoping it would make her feel better. "Bye..."

A few days later, I found out that Rachel was very, very sick and wouldn't make it through the day.

She left us on that day.

Rachel, my friend--my best friend--died on that day.

And I didn't even call her back.

I can't describe to you how I felt. I can't tell you how many hours I cried. I was so guilty, and in so much pain. How could it happen to me? Why was my best friend taken away? Did she know her how much I loved her? Or did she die with the thought that I didn't call her back, that she meant nothing to me?

I tried to let her memory live on, and show others how much I loved her.

I played "Beauty and the Beast" on the piano at her memorial service...even though I cried the whole way through it. Each year at our old elementary school I presented the "Rachel Durrett Memorial Creative Writing Award", and told stories about Rachel--and about how she was going to be a writer or a singer when she grew up. I hung a big picture of her on my bedroom wall; I thought of her each and every day.

But nothing could ease the pain and guilt I felt. I never talked about it with anyone, but I was suffering inside. I wish things didn't have to change, because I'd still have Rachel... and we'd still play My Little Ponies, and laugh, and sing...

Just the other night after jazz class, Rachel's mom handed me an envelope. "This is for you, Maryn," she said. "But you can't open it until later." Curious, I put it in my book bag and walked home, wondering what on earth she would want to give to me.

When I got home, I went up to my room, closed the door, and opened the envelope. It was a card with a beautiful red sun on the front. I opened it gently, and when I saw what was inside, tears began to roll down my cheeks.

It was a little cross-stitch I'd made and given to Rachel many years ago. I'd forgotten about it completely, but as soon as I saw it, I realized how special it was.

Rachel's mother had written these words to me:

         "Dear Maryn,                           April 6, 1998
             I have thought about you often since Rachel died.  
             I know you miss her too.
             Rachel was gifted with courage, strength, humor, 
             and compassion. I believe she saw these same qualities 
             in you.
             Sometimes it's hard to talk about her -- I think 
             people are afraid I'll get too upset, but you know, 
             it's really more comforting to remember her!
             If Rachel were here she'd tell us to stop being sad, 
             to care for each other and to laugh.
             I have kept this cross-stitch in the kitchen ever 
             since you gave it to Rachel. I always felt it was a 
             meaningful gift from such a young girl!
             I would like you to keep it now--remember Rachel with 
             joy and you know, the words you stitched are so true.
             Rachel loved you and she always knew that you loved 
             Thank you for being her friend...
               with love,

On the little square of cloth, so many years ago, I had delicately stitched the words, "If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies."

Dedicated with love to the memory of Rachel Marisa Durrett.

Author's note: This is a true story. I would be happy if only one person read this story--if it helped just one person deal with the changes in life. It has certainly helped me.

Copyright Maryn Stockman 1998.
Back to Main Page