In order to properly write this post, I have to go back to early August of 1975. Picture a somewhat shy and quiet 12 year-old girl, newly arrived at an Air Force base near Tokyo. That girl would be me. Having just moved with my family from Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio to Yokota AFB in Japan, I was in a strange new country without a single friend.
Soon after we arrived at Yokota, my father ran into an acquaintance from when we were stationed in England ten years previously. When he came home that afternoon, Dad told us that he had invited Sonny and his wife Eunice over to our temporary quarters for a visit. There was a daughter my age he added, and she was coming as well. Oh, yikes. How would this go? Would we have any similar interests or would she be aloof and snobby? Fears about this forced meeting swirled around in my mind. I was nervous but excited to meet this girl, who had only lived in Japan a year, but was clearly going to be an expert on what I needed to know in order to “survive.’”
Linda stepped into my life that night with smiling blue eyes and a warm, friendly manner that melted all my silly fears away like ice on a hot, summer day. She came prepared; under her arm she was toting a big book. “I brought my new yearbook so I can show you everyone. I want you to know who my friends are so you’ll have friends as soon as you get to school. Don’t worry, I’ll introduce you to everyone.” While my parents caught up with their old friends in the living room, Linda and I sat on my bed for hours poring over the faces and the places representing Yokota High School, which included grades 7-12 on one campus. The football team, the basketball team (her oldest brother, just graduated, had been a basketball star the year before and was movie-star handsome), the cheerleaders, the teachers, the band leader, the drama teacher. Blacks, whites, Japanese, mixed races. Seniors, freshmen, 7th grade, you name it. It was apparent from all the signatures plastered on the inside covers, over photos, and in the margins of her yearbook that she was well-liked. Linda knew everyone. Everyone knew Linda. And her new personal mission was going to be to help me fit in and make friends.
The rest of the summer, we were inseparable . Linda taught me the ropes of living on a military base, which included, among other things, how to read the bus schedule so I could get anywhere on base, but especially to her house, and back home without my mom having to drive me. Life in Japan in 1975 was completely safe, with essentially zero crime to threaten us. Since she knew enough Japanese to get around, sometimes we’d venture off-base to the little town of Fusa to buy the tastiest candy and snacks and cool little Japanese trinkets like notebooks, pencils, and erasers. We went to sock hops at the teen center, watched movies at the base theater, swam at the pool, and took picnics to grassy fields. We palled around all over Yokota and nearby Tachikawa Air Force bases, foot loose and carefree.
True to her word, when school started, she introduced me to everybody she knew. Our schedules revealed that we had two classes together--third period English and sixth period math--the highlights of my day. When school was out we’d take the bus to either her house or to my house. Living on separate ends of the base, we each knew when the last bus left the other’s house so we could be home before dinner. Although, frequently, one mother would invite the other daughter to just stay for dinner and spend the night.
So on life went for the rest of that school year. We were planning to try out for JV cheerleader together that spring, so we constantly practiced our yells, jumps, splits, and cartwheels in our front yards, attracting curious stares from neighborhood boys. Some days we just whiled away the afternoons lazily reading true-crime stories and Archie comic books, sprawled out on her bed with her huge, white cat parked between us. Saturdays would often find us listening to Casey Kasem count down the American Top-40 or Wolfman Jack howling on Armed Forces Radio. Since our daddies’ terms of service in Japan were for three years, we had a whole second year together before that fateful day when she would leave me and return to the States. It was a unpleasant thought so I pushed it to the farthest recesses of my mind while happily looking forward to another fun year with my best friend in the whole world.
Then in late spring of 1976, my happy world came crashing down. Linda called me with the most devastating news I could imagine. She explained that her daddy’s job had been transferred to the states and they were moving in just a few weeks. I could barely process the thought. This couldn’t be happening. It hurt as though someone had hit me in the chest with a mallet. God gave me Linda for nine months? Was that all we got? Nine short months? I was sad and terribly angry.
The night she left, we stood in the terminal and hugged each other through sobs. When her family was told to move to a loading area, we could only see each other through a glass wall. As we pressed our fingers together through the glass, I looked into my sweet friend’s eyes for the last time before she had to walk to the plane. Sitting in our car in the parking lot, I painfully watched while her plane became a tiny speck of light in the black velvet sky and disappeared. Then I cried the whole way home.
God was merciful and soon sent me two new friends who helped me through my grief and back to joy once again. One of those friends, Debra, has stayed close all these years. However, Linda and I lost contact completely in 1983.
God used my friendship with Linda in many ways. For one thing, she brought me out of my shell and helped build my confidence. My brother told me years ago that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it were not for Linda. That was the greatest compliment he could have given me. Over the years, when my children (especially Abby) had friend “issues” and I was in need of a real-life example, I would share with them about Linda. “Let me tell you about my friend Linda. She was kind to everyone. She didn’t have any prejudice. She treated everyone with respect. She didn’t talk about people behind their backs. She never held a grudge. She was a champion of the underdog. She sought out the friendless. Without even trying, she taught me to be a good friend. Treat people the way Linda treated everyone and you’ll always have friends.”
Over the years, I have prayed that I would find Linda again. Two years ago, on her birthday, I decided to search Facebook and try to locate her. Would I recognize her if I even saw a photo? Sure enough, after a few keystrokes, there she was! So much time had passed since we last communicated that I wasn’t even sure she’d remember me. Thankfully she did and we were able to catch up with our lives somewhat. But my dream was that I would see her again face-to-face one day. I prayed, “God, if there is any way this side of heaven, please, let me see her again.”
God is faithful and He answered my prayer this past Monday. As we passed through her hometown of Big Spring, TX, on our way to El Paso, we were able to arrange an hour-long meeting with Linda at a roadside truck stop just off the interstate. The same precious, sweet, shining eyes. The same bubbly personality. It was like we’d never been apart. We talked and reminisced and closed the thirty-six year gap the best we could in the short time we had.
Linda lost her sweet mother, with whom she was very close, just a few days before this past Mother’s Day. I feel sure God reunited us for such a time as this.