Lori Gant is my oldest friend.  We met in preschool and remained best friends up until we attended different high schools, and even then, and even after, we could always pick up our conversation as though we’d never stopped.

I loved spending the night at Lori’s house, because her mom always served those frozen honey buns for breakfast.  When she spent the night at my house, we slept in the guest room at the opposite end of the house from my parents’ room, so we could get away with talking for hours and hours.  But I preferred sleeping in Lori’s bedroom – fully Fancy-Nancy-fied (before she even existed) – with lacy bedding and frilly curtains and an overflowing ballerina jewelry box.  The lone exception was a huge poster of Michael Jackson, sparkly glove era, hanging over her bed.  Lori could NOT understand why I didn’t find Michael Jackson sexy.  We spent hours and hours darting from room to room in her house, making up elaborate games of pretend.  I envied Lori’s Esprit wardrobe.  I did not envy her bratty little brother, who once hit me with a baseball bat and gave me a black eye.

Lori and I swam together, took dance classes together, ate hot dogs together, painted each other’s nails, giggled, took summer school classes, slurped Otter Pops, and talked about boys, kissing, boys, and also boys.

In 7th grade, we partnered for the Utopia contest in social studies class.  We envisioned a world with parks and waterways, strict anti-gun laws, and a very high-tech fingerprint recognition crime-fighting program (like, waaay more cooler than boring ol’ ink).  We also had an elaborate monorail system, brought to life in little painted wooden cars gliding above our painted ponds, which were filled with miniature ducks and swans selected for the honor from my prized miniature collection.  We won.  And we got A’s.  Our world was called Kalora, and Moo now plays with one of the wooden monorail cars as part of her prized train collection.

Our biggest fight occurred when she came over to my house one day and we decided to play stuffed animals.  We threw my ginormous collection of animals into one huge pile and took turns divvying them up.  When we got to my beloved Unicorn, Lori scoffed and tossed him aside.  “We can’t play with a unicorn,” she said.  “Unicorns aren’t real.”

Lori and I were close as sisters, but we were also very different, and came from very different families.  I was a dreamer, and once carried on a long penpal friendship with a band of brownies who left tiny notes and fairy jewels on my front doorstep.  Lori refused to play with imaginary creatures and preferred the hard facts in life, as well as the rat-a-tatting vocal pattern of her sharp-nosed father.

So we sat and scowled at each other over Uni’s golden horn. 

“How do you KNOW?” I kept repeating.  “How do you KNOW they don’t exist?”

“Because they just don’t.  They’re just make-believe.”

“But maybe they existed a long time ago, they could have!  My mom says they could have!”

Lori wouldn’t budge.  “I am not playing animal school with your fake pretend unicorn,” she insisted.

I wouldn’t budge either.  It broke my heart that Lori would personally insult poor Uni.  I burst into tears.

At this disappointing display of weakness, Lori declared she no longer wanted to play with me.  My mom tried to step in, but there was no compromise for us in the great unicorn debate.  We drove Lori home.

It didn’t ruin our friendship, but years later, we would still argue about the damn unicorn.

The last time I saw Lori, I was living in LA and working at Houston’s, about 10 years ago.  She happened to be in town and we spent hours talking, and I remember marveling how crazy it felt to have cocktails together – weren’t we still 12?  We shared a long hug, and she drove away.  

Every Christmas morning, Lori and I always called each other to discuss our haul.  But when Christmas came around that year, I realized I didn’t have her current phone number.  I probably could have tracked down her mother to get the number, but I didn’t.  I just took a post-brunch nap instead.  We haven’t spoken in 10 years.  Every Christmas, after all the presents are opened, I think of Lori and my heart aches.  I wonder where she lives, what she’s doing, if she has any children, and if she got anything good for Christmas.

And I’d really love to have that argument about unicorns again.  Because I still say that maybe, maybe, they existed once upon a time.  She’ll have some scientifically sound assertions, I’m sure, but at least this time I definitely wouldn’t cry.  Or maybe, just at the sight of her, or the sound of her voice – I definitely would.


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