Do you remember your first best friend? Your feels-like-your-long-lost-twin best friend? The one that loved the same books, laughed at the same jokes, had the same crushes that you did?
Mine was in the 7th grade. Her name was Ulrike Enders and she was German.
At the time both our families were stationed in Algeria and we both went to the International School of Algiers.
Ulrike and I were inseparable. We sat next to each other in every class, spent recess together, and slept over at each others’ houses. Together we fell in love with Elton John, ABBA and the Bay City Rollers. When Ulrike’s family went to Germany on holiday, I went with them.
Ulrike’s mom, Mrs. Enders, was warm and friendly. I have a very distinct memory of her taking Ulrike and I shopping and Mrs. Enders helping me pick out my first two-piece bathing suit.
In the foreign service, families move every couple of years. So in due time, the Enders packed up and left for their new post in Cameroon. Shortly after that, my family left Algeria too, to spend a year in Montana.
Ulrike and I wrote long letters, often, to each other. Back then there was no internet and we wouldn’t even consider an overseas phone call due to high costs. One day I received a letter from Ulrike about her mom, Mrs. Enders. There had been a freak fire in their house and Mrs. Enders had died.
The news was devastating and completely surreal to me. I felt disconnected, sad and very alone — Cameroon felt a million miles away.
Ulrike and I kept writing on and off for a few years, but our correspondence eventually petered out.
40 plus years go by, and Ulrike and I find each other and connect on Facebook.
Ulrike was at an Elton John concert recently in Frankfurt and she took a video of the now 70 year old Elton John singing Bennie and the Jets and sent it to me.
She also sent me a copy of a letter she received when her mother died. A letter she has kept for over 40 years, because it was important to her. It was a letter to Ulrike from my mother, that I didn’t know she had written. My mother, who passed away from cancer, almost 10 years ago. So it was a very strange voice from the past for me.
Here is the letter my mom wrote Ulrike:
Wednesday Febraruy 4, 1976
Hilary received your letter (about your mother) yesterday.
I was exactly your age when my own mother died. Everyone was very kind to me. Yet, as no one was feeling what I was feeling, no one really understood….I began writing after many months, about my feelings. This helped me. Still, after the numbness had gone, things were painful. Often I was mixed up and did not understand the reason for anything. I am telling you these things about myself because I so vividly remember my aloneness and hope my few words will help to widen your courage, and help you to feel so not alone.
Love, Mrs. Melton
Across cultures, across ages, even across time — there are so many ways in which connection is possible and important. As it was for me, Ulrike and our moms.
At Pathways Vermont, one of our core values is connection. We believe in exploring our shared human experiences. In happy times, or in the midst of the most challenging situations, we look for the thread of joy, hope, or even pain, that link us together.
Our programs are built on the value of discovering the meaningful ways we cross paths with each other. Whether you are accessing our 7-day-a-week Support Line, moving into our Soteria House, volunteering at our Community Center kitchen, meeting our intake coordinator inside an institutional setting, or signing a lease on a new apartment: we want to connect and begin to build a community of support together. In my mother’s words, we hope to “widen your courage, and help you feel so not alone.”