This month the Souris River, flowing through my hometown of Minot North Dakota, broke a century old record – with water flowing over the dikes, thousands were forced from their homes.
I was one of the lucky ones. My business, Main Street Books, was spared by two city blocks. My current house, sitting on ten acres, was spared by twenty miles of highway. Our new house, which we are slated to close on in three short days, was spared by another two city blocks. The people I know and love in this city weren’t so lucky!
The new homeless in Minot include three employees, a large percentage of my customers, my daughter and three grand-children, my step-son and his wife, and many friends to include two women that, if I was 16, I would refer to as my BGF’s.
But this year I turned 52 and, despite my age and throughout my life, I have found the relationship of "girl friend" not only a hard one to consider – but also the hardest of my relationships to nurture. Prioritizing time for friends hasn’t been an easy or socially comfortable part of my personality.
The warnings about the flood came while I was on vacation in California. Struggling mightily to save my daughter’s trailer, I called one of my best friends, Jeanine, and asked her about the situation in Burlington, a tight knit community that was right in the path of the flood. I had helped Jeanine sandbag her Burlington home when the first wave of evacuations and warnings came a month earlier. She had no reassurances for me. I had none for her.
Last minute pleading found a home mover who finally acquiesced to "work all night" in order to find the time to move my daughter’s trailer up and out of the flood plain.
I returned home on Tuesday to find road closures, the city overtaken by National Guard and a 24-hour local newscast detailing river projections, crests, dam release CFS , as well as a town filled with U-Hauls, campers and flat-bed trucks full of the worldly possessions of people who were destined to lose everything else that they couldn’t contain in that small space of mobility.
Thankfully, the altruistic nature of North Dakotans is unsurpassed. Regretfully, there is also a survivor’s guilt that has creeped into my consciousness– and perhaps the two go hand in hand. This makes it easy to run down the block to help sandbag a neighbor, yet difficult to call your best friend and ask how she is doing – especially when you know you were one of the lucky ones.
I didn’t call my best friends. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t cry when I saw the videos of Jeanine’s city Burlington go under. Which isn’t to say I didn’t hyperventilate or search for her cell number in a dozen different ways when I saw the videos of Heidi’s section of town -- only rooftops peeking above the raging river. I just didn’t call them. I didn’t know what to say! I felt guilty! My house was dry! My business was dry! I had a home!
My first contact with Heidi came the following day by way of Heidi’s husband, Joe. Joe stopped by the bookstore to check on me. Me. Mrs. High and dry. While he talked on the phone to Heidi, relaying my messages to her that if she needs anything, anything at all "please let me know," he had a message for me that stopped me short: Heidi says she loves you!
I think I had a split second deer in the headlight look and then quickly regained my composure . . . "I love her too!" I finally sputtered. He relayed my reply to Heidi – while I quickly looked away, in the sudden realization and shame that this was the first time I had ever told a friend I loved her. How many men, in my life had I pledged that kind of devotion to?
A couple hours later, Jeanine called me, expressing her apologies for not having the time to help my daughter and also expressing concern for all the women on our softball and volleyball team that lost their homes. I assured her that I was here for her and apologized profusely for not calling. Survivor’s guilt. I knew also that she had lost her home and yet she didn’t mention that fact.
"I love you," I told her.
"I love you, too!" she responded, without the hesitation – the hesitation that I had exhibited just hours earlier.
52 years of living and not once have I said those three simple words to a friend.
Today I said it not once, but twice, to my two best friends in the whole world.
Today I can stand out in the middle of the road outside the door of my bookstore and see the river rushing through the town where there was once homes and businesses and families and baseball games and zoos and fairgrounds . . . all gone. But I would also see something else in that torrent of water that is destroying homes – I would see those rivers tie us closer as a community. From Jeanine in Burlington, living in a camper outside a schoolyard – to Mrs. High and Dry Bookstore owner me – to Heidi’s submerged home down river – there are those three words flowing rising from those murky waters. "I love you."
And that, my friend, may not be enough. But for today, that may be all we have.