She was the first “enemy” I ever had. But we were only kids so I’m not sure what that even meant at the time. I am sure if you asked 8 year old me about her that is likely the way I would have identified her. We had a mutual best friend in our neighborhood and that made it an unavoidable and undeniable unpleasant thing. She was different. And we couldn’t get along no matter how hard any of us tried.
When I was in 5th grade, my very best friend (our mutual friend) moved to Pennsylvania when her dad took a new job. So we didn’t have to deal with each other as much.
Fast forward to 8th grade. Everything changed when I tried out for cheerleading. At our high school, friends and families would hang out in the hallways after tryouts to be there for support with signs and flowers. And I had no one. I was alone. And like a scene in The Wonder Years, there I am in my required white keds, white shirt and gym shorts sitting by myself in the hallway outside the cafeteria and in walks my sworn enemy. She had a bunch of daisies wrapped together at their stem with tin foil and a note. I say hello and assume she’s there to support a friend who is trying out. She is. It’s me. Me? Really? Yes, me. And that was the start of a very special friendship. And no, I didn’t make the squad. But I did make a friend!
When she got married I wrote a silly poem about our friendship. We couldn’t be more opposite if we tried and it was a funny little recap of all the ways. She had 3 brothers, I had 3 sisters. They liked miracle whip, we liked mayo. (Mayo became my nickname she gave me.) She had a dog, I had a cat. She was Jewish, and I was a Christian.
I had the sense that our parents weren’t sure what to think of us. No hate that I recall. Maybe uncertainty. I remember asking my mom about it once and she said something I remember well. She said it was just that she never knew anyone Jewish before. It was just…unfamiliar. Over time, our families grew to love us and she became a life long friend that I still treasure. We openly shared our faith and traditions over the years with each other and it was such a gift to have growing up. A bonus.
Brene Brown said you can’t hate up close. I know this to be true. The story of our friendship is a simplest example of this. When you love someone I think it builds empathy for them. You may not know exactly how they feel, but you do feel protective and share their joy and their pain to some degree. There’s a lot to feel pain about in this world right now.
This morning I woke up with my feelings wadded up and I began writing this at 4:30am to try to sort them out as I sometimes do. I don’t know if this will sort them. It’s a bigger wad of feelings than normal. But I want my friend Weezy to know I am thinking about her. And I’m so incredibly sad imagining the fear, terror and hate she must be dealing with. I am shocked and heartbroken. I wish daisies would help like it once did, but maybe these words will in some small way remind you that you are indeed loved.
I love you Ilisa Levine.