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Dear Melissa:

Dear Melissa:

You are the one thing I have always been able to count on. For as long as I can remember, I have known that all I need to do for unqualified, unstinting support is to give you a call. Even at times that we've annoyed the crap out of each other, we have always been able to count on each other.

We have been friends for more than twenty years. That's pretty impressive in and of itself, even for people who are old enough that twenty years is a smaller slice. But for us, that's over 80 percent of our lives. And think about how much we've changed and gone through in those twenty years:

When we met and became friends, I was five and you were four. Our brothers were both about two. Our mothers knew each other through church, and we had playdates. I don't even remember the time before then. But I do remember your old house in Lowell, which you moved out of somewhere around second or third grade. I remember the second-floor porch that had a window in your room and a door in your brother's room. I remember gathering there to watch the fireworks display every year, and I remember the year that your dad set off firecrackers in the driveway.

About the same time you moved, we were finally old enough to join the junior choir. Between the two of us and the McSheehy girls, it must really have seemed like a junior version of the adult choir. I don't remember the early years as well, but later we ended up pretty much dominating the way things went. We must have driven Maggie and Wayne nuts.

We discovered boys together, as best I recall. I remember hours agonizing over whether he noticed this, and what that really meant - every day. Hours every day pretty much covered it. Once we were old enough to use the phone, we used it constantly. When we weren't talking about the latest boy problem, sometimes we weren't talking at all. You'd watch TV, and every so often describe part of it. I'd do my homework. But we'd still be listening to each other on the phone. We got so used to just being, over the phone, that once when you slept over, we were just reading on couches across from each other in the basement, and we didn't talk for hours. Eventually I picked up the modem line, and put you on the house phone - we stood back to back, talked for about half an hour and then went back to ignoring each other on the couches.

Throughout the adolescent angst and back-stabbing politics, I always had you to rely on. I knew you would never turn on me, and I knew you would tell me it was survivable. You literally kept me alive, in the worst of my suicidal period. No matter how much I wanted out, I could not do it because I couldn't do that to you. Later, in college, I learned just exactly what the fear of losing a dear friend would do to me. You were the strength that let me keep fighting through. And you shared with me your friends and your support network, to make up for what I didn't have.

You also started a chain of circumstances that continues to affect my daily life. Because you wanted me to go to your Junior Cotillion, you convinced Bryan to go to a dance he didn't plan to go to with a girl he'd met twice for a total of five minutes. And, although you told me later that I wasn't supposed to like him, that was all it took. Not only does that change my life, and even more so Bryan's, but also the lives of pretty nearly everyone I know. It wasn't just me you gave a precious gift to, but an enormous network of people.

As we headed to college, it got harder to stay in touch. Long distance put an end to the hours of talking every day. Still, I always knew you were there when I needed you. And for the first few years, we had the summers together. I guess you could say we spent most of two summers at the mall together, right? We even got paid for it... Working at Hallmark together was quite the learning experience. We may not have been paid to think, but at least we got paid.

We continued to agonize about boys, and eventually about girls as well. And you came to visit me at college, and made friends with my group, in a neat reversal.

Then came the dreaded Real Life. Now, we're only talking every few months, and seeing each other less than once a year. I don't really know what's going on in your life, for the most part, and I daresay you're equally foggy on mine. But I know you'll always remember my birthday, and I yours. And I know that you will still give me the love and support you always have, through the many people I have been and the many people you have been. And sixty years from now I'll lean on my walker and say "Yep, Melissa. We've been friends, oh, eighty years... longer than your grandmother’s been alive, laddie."

Maybe nothing is forever, but some things sure come close.