Memories flood my mind today. Of the beauty and fun of enduring friendship. And the pain of loss.
After the first day of my freshman year of high school my mom quizzed me about whether I’d met any new kids. There was one cool girl, I told her, who seemed to be in most of my classes. I didn’t catch her name but she smiled and was friendly to me.
The next day I realized the “one” girl was really two lookalike girls – Monica and Marlene Manning. The Manning Twins had gone to St. Catherine’s Catholic School through 8th grade so our paths never crossed before. Interestingly, they later told me they compared notes after that first day, too. Both twins got a kick out of an awkward, but slightly funny girl from nearby Sleepy Hollow. Me.
Over the next four years at Dundee High, the Manning Twins and K-A (their older sister’s nickname for me) morphed into The Three Musketeers. Most always one of us had another one of us by our side during the school day. Two of the three were lab partners. Two survived a difficult social studies class. Two got sent from class for too much chatting. Two were gym buddies. Together, two learned the art of sewing. Two tried out for cheerleading (Marlene made it). All three joined the softball team but Monica was the star.
We shared clothing and secrets. We learned to ski. We partied a little. We listened to music (including country). We went camping with their parents Phil and Marylou. We took the little Manning sister and brother to football games. We capsized a sailboat and waited for my dad to rescue us. We made pledges. We talked their older brother into driving us to Missouri for a college visit. We raided our mothers’ kitchen cupboards for snacks. We met boys. We shopped. We danced. We paddled a canoe. We became part of a bigger group of fun girls. We had a blast as seniors.
When college rolled around we separated to pursue different educations. Monica got into physical therapy school; Marlene began with dental hygiene and later earned a masters in health education. I followed my dream in agricultural communications. We remained friends.
Eventually Marlene and I became roommates while Monica finished up college and visited
us on the weekends. Next they got the urge to move north and found jobs in Marquette, MI. They lived near Lake Superior and worked with kids with special needs one summer. A few years later Marlene yearned for a warmer climate and eventually pursued graduate school in New Mexico. I married and moved to Iowa. Monica moved with Marlene to New Mexico and met and married her prince, Reid, a local guy. He and Monica had two kids and later moved to Alaska. Marlene moved back to the Midwest, was married briefly, pursued her career and eventually met a sweet guy named Matt. She bought a cool condo, got a cat and swam laps almost every day. She was the classic fun aunt…to Monica’s two kids, her many other nieces and nephews and, symbolically, to my daughter, too. One summer Marlene brought 12 swimsuits for a visit (she bought suits like some people buy shoes) and let my little girl pick just the right one for a swim outing.
As fun and zany and pretty and fit and loving as she was, Marlene suffered from depression, mostly in silence. Overwhelming, debilitating periods of time gripped her. She tried hard, with various therapies, treatments and philosophies, to combat dark and hopeless days and weeks. But on May 9, 2008, she quietly succumbed to it.
I will never forget Monica’s call to tell me what had happened. As bad as I felt, I knew Marlene’s family, especially Monica, felt even worse. There is a special bond with twins that I witnessed by being close to them. I felt privileged for that vantage point.
Today is their birthday. I called Monica in Alaska to wish her well and catch up. We talked about the fact that this week is National Suicide Prevention Week, a poignant coincidence. It is bittersweet. But Monica focuses on the happy memories of Marlene and she was pleased to reflect with me about the Manning Twins.
At Marlene’s funeral I read a eulogy with a list of a few words and phrases that I felt defined her. Yesterday I looked at that list again and got the idea to add in words that describe Monica. The collage below is meant as a tribute to both precious halves of the Manning Twins. In spirit, that union endures. Happy Birthday!
Learn more about suicide prevention:
-The National Suicide Prevention Week is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The organization raises awareness, funds scientific research and provides resources and aid to those affected by suicide. It also sponsors the Walk to Fight Suicide – in which Monica and her family have participated. Learn more at AFSP.org
– Last week it was announced that country singer Chris Stapleton’s powerful video Fire Away was nominated for Music Video of the Year at the upcoming 50th Annual CMA Awards. The video brings attention to the emotional suffering of depression and encourages those in need to seek the care they deserve. Learn more at the website changedirection.org.
The video is posted from Chris Stapleton’s VEVO channel on YouTube. I claim no rights to the content.