She was my best friend.
During that tumultuous middle school time, when every year seemed like seven, Jeri Lynne and I were thick as thieves. Puberty wracked our brains and overwhelmed our bodies, so we stood side by side and attacked the absurdity of the world with our only weapon – laughter.
That’s how I remember her best – laughing. She had the deepest, straight-from-her-gut laugh of anyone I know. Your bones reverberated with it.
From fifth until eighth grade, we laughed and giggled and snickered at everything – and often late into the night, driving my parents crazy on weekend sleepovers.
Jeri was fun – so much more fun than I. And daring. I was twelve and crushed with worry about grades, boys, the desperate need to fill my bra. Jeri tossed her frustrations to the wind and dared them to dance on the breeze.
I envied her freedom. My parents were insular and strict, fearful of a fearsome world. Jeri’s family dynamic was, shall we say, relaxed. She was allowed to explore so much more than I. She befriended everyone she met, and she walked anywhere she wanted – on hot asphalt with bare feet. Her soles were so tough she could step on pop-tops without slicing her heels. A skill like that in the late 70’s made her a goddess among peasants.
I remember one summer sleepover, lying next to Jeri under a thin sheet in the stickiness of her un-air-conditioned house, staring through an open window into the sultry Southside night.
“I’ll be you wouldn’t sneak out with me right now,” she teased.
I gulped. Was she serious? I mean, I wanted to – except for the anxiety churning in the pit of my stomach. But I was willing to do anything to prove I was worthy of her friendship.
Warm air blew through the open window and Jeri sang, “Sweet Virginia breeze – do-do-do-n-doo-do – the sweet Virginia breeze.” She had moved on, God bless her. I was saved.
Jeri and I were as unlikely a pair of friends as Mutt and Jeff. She was half a foot taller than me with dark hair, hazel eyes, and olive skin. I was the shrimpy redhead kid with Irish eyes and a complexion the color of paste. Her hair had perfect wings. Mine looked like molted feathers. She had curves. I had an elastic waistband to keep my pants up.
Still, we were sisters. Once, in eighth grade, we were invited to a friend’s boy-girl birthday party, which was a big deal at thirteen. In preparation, Jeri and I bought matching white t-shirts from Thalhimer’s, with light blue and tan piping around the neckline. Only when you are thirteen do you anticipate the coolness factor of matching clothes.
She filled out that t-shirt like Cheryl Ladd. I tried, but the wrinkles in my padded bra gave me away.
Of course the party devolved into such sordid activities as spin the bottle and Pong, and I went along. But when the group circled up for a séance to raise the Son of Sam murder victims, I bowed out. I was worried, alarmed, border-line petrified. And Jeri stood by me.
Genuine courage is acting openly uncool in front of your middle-school friends and rivals, knowing you’ll see them again Monday morning. Yet, she stood in the breech with me, and come Monday we were no cooler than we’d ever been before, but we weren’t pariahs, either.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that during those wonder years, those years when life is hard and beautiful and new every single day – Jeri was everything to me. We saw movies together. We ate cheeseburgers together. We drank way too much Dr. Pepper together. We listened to Boston and Fleetwood Mac and Electric Light Orchestra. We earned badges in Girl Scouts together. We commiserated our parents’ cluelessness and our teachers’ ineptitude. We vacationed together, played pinball together. We even had the same unfortunate crush on Leif Garrett together. We shared our fears and our victories and our confusion together.
And now that I am old with more memories than I can sometimes bear, Jeri remains a bright and shining star, a reminder of what true friendship looks like.
She was my inspiration because she showed me how to grab life by the horns and to just let go.
Now that she’s gone, I have to let her go as well.
Jeri Lynne Connelly, you were my best friend. I am forever grateful.