Continuing on in my Month of Thanks, here is my letter for October 14th.
To Heidi Montgomery,
Your last name may have changed, but you will always be “Heidi Jo” to me.
You are someone I think of often, as you were such a huge part of my life for so many years.
The first day of middle school is mostly a blur of nerves and discomfort for me now, but there is one, singular moment I will never forget. That moment is when your homeroom and mine combined in my class. We were the same then: the outcasts, the ones no one else would sit with. The moment I slid to the side of my seat and offered you a place beside me is the moment I know my life changed forever.
Because that small act gave me you as a best friend.
True, at the time you already had a best friend, but that was okay. I was used to being second, third, or fourth string at that point, if I was strung at all. It never made me feel less important knowing there was another that knew you longer, had stronger ties to you; it didn’t matter. You were my friend. One tiny moment, one small sentence, and the connection was made.
It wasn’t always easy being your friend. It probably wasn’t always easy being mine. I remember a brief period of high school where you actually quite hated me, although I don’t know if I understood why then as the reason is lost to me now. That short span of time was terrifying for me, and not because I knew the danger of your anger, but because for the first time in years, you were not my constant. To have someone so fiercely loyal like you as a friend only to lose it, especially given my friends were few to start with, yes. Terrifying. The void you left in my life for that tiny time hurt my heart.
We were always very different people, you and I, but I loved you all the same. I hated the way you’d criticize your hair, or your inspired artwork, or your singing, or any of your perceived flaws. I hated that you couldn’t see how beautiful, intelligent, and talented you were. I hated that I couldn’t help you see it for yourself. I hated the boyfriends you’d end up with, the ones who never really cherished you the way you deserved. They were toxic, trying to leech away the wonderful, sensitive person inside you. I don’t know if I ever told you how scared I was to lose you to one of them or the horrible choices they offered you. But I tried not to criticize you. You got enough of that as it was. I tried to be the person who was there for you, even when you made decisions that made me scream silently in frustration. I tried to offer you advice when I could and tried to withhold judgments. We were not the judges, but the judged.
I think you saw the error in some of your choices, as you on more than one occasion shielded me from paths you’d worn well down. That prize of a guy in Omaha springs to mind mostly. I was on an adventure with you that night, with no intentions of letting him worm his way in that door with me (not after seeing how he nearly destroyed you), but you refused to let me fight that battle. While I faked sleep, I listened to you talk to him, threaten him very bluntly if he dared to lay a finger on me. His arguments were sound: “let her make her own decisions, girl.” But you were having none of that. Your unfaltering drive to protect me nearly made me give myself away that night, as I almost cried with how full my heart was for you. I wasn’t offended that you thought I was weak against his “powers”, I was elated by the sheer amount of care you showed for me.
We were sisters in so many ways, though not bound by blood.
One of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, was having to leave you behind.
I couldn’t stay in that town. It was poison to me. The wider world was waiting, all but guaranteeing me something better was out there. I tried to bring you with me. Multiple times I brought it up. But I understand why you stayed. You gave me one reason, but I think it was more than what you said. But that’s okay. Not knowing what’s out there is scary. I was scared, too, but I knew that the new things I found couldn’t possibly be worse than what I was escaping from. I didn’t want to die in that town. I would hate myself forever. I needed more to life than what Sioux City had to offer.
The only thing the rest of the world couldn’t give me, was you.
I tried hard to keep in touch for a while, but the lifestyles we led made that very difficult. The choices you made following my departure scared me more than some of the ones you made in high school, but what could I do? I was no longer there to help. I was becoming a foreigner in your life.
It’s been years since I’ve seen you last. I have you on Facebook now, but we don’t talk much there, if at all. But I see you… the same as I’ve always seen you. I see a beautiful, talented, intelligent woman, now stronger than ever and an amazing mother on top of it all. The way you’re raising your kids makes me so proud of you. Your efforts to combat bullying leave me in awe. And have I mentioned I still love seeing what you do with makeup, paint, or even a ballpoint pen? I still can’t think of you without picturing you drawing those roses you always doodled. Whenever I see anything related to The Last Unicorn, I smile, because that reminds me of you too. There are so many millions of tiny, inconsequential things will always carry your memory with it… and I love all of them.
And even if I never get the chance to give you another hug, please know that you will always be in my heart.
Your Friend Forever,