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  • From Gallup, I head east along Route 66. I think of my recently passed boyfriend, Jon’s, heart drawings. I think of how they burst with life and love.

    Next stop? Santa Fe to see my best friend, Laura. Like Jon, he is a fine artist, so she flourishes in Santa Fe. Jon and I always planned to visit her together; I wanted to have them paint together, but every time the plan was made, he ended up in the hospital. Jon and Laura never met. I drive into Santa Fe with Jon’s ashes by my side.

    Laura and I didn’t meet in Santa Fe; we met in Spearfish SD in 1990.

    I was sitting on the green of Black Hills State University. I was eighteen and assessing my surroundings. I had chosen to attend school, because I had gotten fired from my job as a bindery operator for a Rapid City SD print shop. I kept messing up the orders, because they involved exact measurements. Numbers and me have never added up, so they gave me the shaft. I was left with two choices: get another job or go to school. I flipped a coin. It was tails; school won. So, there I was sitting on the campus green, looking around.

    “Good, “ I thought, “I won’t be making any friends at this place. That means I’m going to actually study.”

    I had been a relative screw up in high school bringing home grades high enough to keep my dad off my back, but I didn’t excel. In fact, I had messed up so many times as a teen that my dad sent me a note right before I signed up for my college classes.

    He wrote, “You will get all A’s the first semester or we won’t talk about the second one.”

    This was my last chance. I knew it. I thought this as I looked at the cookie cutter South Dakota girls and I knew I would never belong. I had done far too many drugs by the time I was eighteen; thus, I knew my hair would never conform into the uniformed she-mullets these cutesies were sporting. My hair was wild and my jeans were ripped. These girls looked at me with a tinge of fear. They’d never smoked a cigarette and they could smell the smoke off of me. I wasn’t that upset. I didn’t need friends; I needed to get serious.

    And then it happened. She burst forth from the doors of the student union. Purple skirt, black shirt, Red lipstick lips and black, black hair that was wild like mine and loose. However, it wasn’t so much the way she looked; it was more the way she moved. Her smiling head seem to lead her and she followed by walking on her tip, tip toes. She literally bounced across campus like Tigger the Tiger.

    “I like her!” I thought and then, she disappeared.

    She reappeared in the basement of the library later that week. I realized that we were waiting for the same class. Spanish. I was happy to see her. She smiled and held her big, big bag. Then, she walked right up to me and said,

    “I’m Laura.”

    “I’m Renee. Where are you from?” It was obvious she was not from around here.

    “Chicago. You?”

    “Colorado.”

    She said, “I love Colorado!! But I can’t go into the rivers there, because if I do…I get a rash all over.”

    She, then, threw down her big, big bag and pantomimed what the rash did, which was made her itch in the bikini area. She stood in the middle of the hallway acting like she had a very nasty, vigorous itch.

    “I love her!” I thought and then, class started.

    For a few months, we remained acquaintances, saying hi and hello. I have always been a shy one, so I wasn’t sure how to become her friend.

    And then it happened. She ran up to me as I entered the student union.

    Rushed, she said, “Hey, do ever get crushes so bad that you can’t think?”

    My reply, “I can’t remember the last time I thought. That is how bad I always have crushes.”

    She smiled and we had some coffee together. She told me about this crush. A man in a band, of course.

    Then, it was time for class. I stood up and she wrote down her number.

    “You should come hang out with my brother and me in Sturgis. That’s where we live.”
    I actually did call her, which was not my MO. Laura, her brother and I went to a Sturgis truck stop called Molly B’s, ordered coffee and sour cream and onion French fries and we talked all night long. We talked about their family, the Tarnoffs; we talked about where we had grown up; we talked about art. It was like a meeting of old friends, but it was new.

    The next day, I sat in my dorm room and actually cried. I knew that Laura would be my friend; perhaps, my best friend. This was a great relief to me as my ‘best’ friend growing up had been my mom’s best friend’s little girl. A girl who was easily led and was easily swept up in my mother’s dysfunction, which included belittling me at every turn to keep my spirit down. Laura was a step out of the place where I had come from. I felt relief.

    I have the same sense of relief as I drive up the red dirt road in Rowe NM, just outside of Santa Fe, the place where Laura and her father have an art center. As I enter the gate, I can’t help but notice the sign on the gate. It is a heart so much like Jon’s renderings. It bursts forth with love and life much like Laura burst into my life a long time ago. I made a friend in an unexpecting place. I feel blessed. I’m not alone.
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