My name is Emma and I’m upset. In my forlorn eyes it shows. My disposition displays my doldrums. My mood defines my disappointment. Three weeks before Christmas and we’re moving – moving. Father took a new job and timing was horrible. Father’s first day, somewhere in Montana, was two weeks before Christmas so we piled into the Suburban. Yesterday we experienced the emotions of father being released as bishop and saying goodbye to our ward family. Saying goodbye to my best friend, Sarah, tore at my soul. My stomach turned in circles and my heart ached. What could possibly be good about Christmas this year when I was leaving everything I cared about behind.
I was not alone in my despair. My sisters, Norma and Judy, shared my sorrow. Patrick, my six year old brother, didn’t understand. He was happy going with dad; he didn’t care where we were going. But I was sixteen and I was leaving my best friend behind. Moving to Montana made no sense to me. Why couldn’t we stay in Salt Lake where everything was familiar? Christmas would be a waste of time this year without my friend.
“Why do we have to move right now?” I blurted out. “It’s so unfair, dad.”
Father knew my pain and in his compassionate voice, said, “You’re going to love Helena, sweetheart. You’ll make new friends and you’ll be happy before you know it.”
I appreciated my father’s optimistic outlook; although I must admit I didn’t share in it. The future I foresaw didn’t appear rosy. Sure, I might make new friends, but not in time for Christmas. Dad couldn’t understand why I needed friends to share my Christmas stories with.
We pulled out of the driveway towing the u-haul. I curled up in a fetal position feeling sorry for my plight. I stared blankly at the city I loved. Snow fell from the darkened sky which meant travel would be slower. That was okay because I planned to sleep. Snowflakes turned from solid shapes to disconnected images as I began to dose.
I awoke when we stopped for lunch. I couldn’t believe I’d slept for three hours. However, my sleep had done nothing to improve my spirits. I looked out on unfamiliar surroundings and resumed my binding connection with remorse. I wanted to scream out at my father to turn around. He could work in Salt Lake. He should do it for his family. If he loved me he’d do it for me. But who was I kidding. We weren’t turning around just because I wanted to. Instead, father turned north. Our new home and the end of life as I knew it lay ahead.
I rode the rest of the way in silence. I felt no desire to talk to anybody. Random thoughts of growing doom passed through my mind as I stared uncomprehending at the passing landscape. Before I knew it my dad, always cheerful, announced we were nearing Helena. My despair reached a new low.
Helena was larger than I expected. It wasn’t like Salt Lake, but maybe there’d be things to do. I couldn’t stay at home and hang out with my family 24/7. I got enough of that with all those family things dad insisted we participate in. Scripture reading, family prayer, family home evening; it all piled up and sometimes suffocated me. Family would always be there, but I needed a friend, someone who understood me and related to the burdens I carried.
We pulled into a driveway rimmed with snow. Someone had used a snow blower to clean a space. Snow walled the driveway almost five feet high. I immediately wondered why we pulled into the driveway. Dad had said nothing about a house, but this must be where we would live. I had assumed we would stay in a motel for awhile until dad and mom found a place. I hoped dad would see how miserable life was going to be away from Salt Lake and decide to move back.
“Everybody pile out,” my over exuberant dad led the way. “Welcome to our new home.”
I was crushed. That was it then. We had really moved. A new home meant we were staying. Norma, Judy and Patrick raced after mom. They showed much more enthusiasm than me. My devastation obliged me to become lethargic as I approached the house. I moved through thick molasses, each step heavy laden. The only silver lining I considered with my current situation was maybe dad would skip family home evening. We’d traveled all day and the hour was late. His next words smacked of a double whammy. Not only would we have a short family home evening, but it would be preceded by scripture reading and family prayer. Dad sure knew how to pile it on.
Dad kept his word. Family home evening was short. I read one verse. It was something from Alma about trusting in the Lord when things were crumbling down around you. I didn’t want to read but something about the words in the verse stuck with me as I lay down in my bed. I felt a strange kind of comfort invade my rebellious soul.
I hated mornings in the Thomas family. We were always getting out of bed way too early. My inclination was to pull the covers over my head and curl up in a ball. Let the world pass me by, I noted mutely to no one. Next thing I knew dad jostled my shoulder.
“Time to get up, sweetheart,” his tone was soothing, with an abrasive edge. You, Norma, Judy and Patrick must get registered at your new schools.”
What? I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. Was there no God? At least let me wait until after Christmas to start going to a strange school. I couldn’t go through new girl syndrome right now. Not when I thought back on how we often treated new kids coming to our school in Salt Lake. Suddenly I realized how cruel people could be. I had been cruel more than once.
“Do I have to go to school, dad?” I asked. “Can’t I wait until after Christmas?”
“Christmas is three weeks from now, Emma. You can’t stay out of school for three weeks.”
I could do it without working up a sweat I wanted to blurt out to my dad. Instead, I got out of bed and began dressing. I couldn’t think of anything good happening to me living in Helena. All I could expect was sorrow and torment. I had no way of knowing that a heartbreaking incident involving people from Helena and Salt Lake would help me realize I was perhaps the most fortunate person on the earth. I would come to understand I’d left nothing important behind.
I was quiet the first couple days at school. This was not normal for me; no, definitely not normal. Sarah, my best friend, would have been shocked. She would’ve said this is not the Emma she knew. Emma is much more talkative and friendly, she’d say. I would ordinarily agree with the assessment, but something about the kids in Helena was different. There was a girl named Lani, who I’d talked to a couple times. She seemed genuinely nice. Still, I decided to put caution first as I chose new friends. Lani couldn’t be the kind of friend Sarah was.
Sunday came before I had time to prepare for it. I must face a new ward for the first time in many years. I considered, briefly, asking father if I could stay home, but I knew he’d never allow that. Truthfully, I wanted to go. I couldn’t blame Heavenly Father for my father taking a job in Helena, Montana. So I dressed in my floral ankle length dress, put on a respectable amount of eye shadow and chose some modest earrings.
The ward in Helena matched the one I’d left in Salt Lake. There were fewer people, but everyone extended their hands. I went to Sunday school and was surprised when Lani sat down next to me. I had no idea she was LDS. I hadn’t seen her in the chapel. Maybe, just maybe, I should pursue a friendship with Lani. After all, she would think like I did and have the same standards.
“Hi, Emma,” Lani’s greeting was enthusiastic. “I didn’t know you were LDS.”
“I didn’t know you were LDS either,” I said. My mind explored the possibilities of having Lani for a new friend. The more I thought about it the more I liked it. A friend would make living in a strange city bearable. But Sarah was my best friend and I didn’t want someone else to take her place. Could I have two best friends? I knew Lani was far from being a best friend, but I felt I could have two friends. I knew I needed somebody to be my friend right now.
Two days before Christmas news came from Salt Lake that brought my world crashing down. At the same time I would learn the true meaning of friendship; of Christ like love when I needed it most. The icy roads of Salt Lake claimed many accident victims, but I was oblivious to most of them. That changed when Brother Brown called my father. His daughter and my best friend, Sarah, had collided with a truck on a slippery intersection. She was in the hospital and the next forty-eight hours would be crucial. Father didn’t tell me the details. He just brought our family together to pray for Sarah.
I retreated to my room and curled up on my bed. Tears streamed down my cheeks unabated. I loved Sarah so much. She had to be okay. Christmas would be completely ruined if Sarah died. My anger rose when I thought of father’s new job in Helena and me being too far away to be with Sarah. My heart ached with the pain of separation. Later exhaustion took over and I fell asleep.
A bright sun shone off the white snow when I awoke. The pain in my eyes reminded me of the pain in my heart. I rushed downstairs to see if dad had heard anything new. Brother Brown had not called back. Dad reminded me it was still early. A feeling I’d never experienced before tormented my soul. I had to talk to someone, someone my own age who could understand. I went back to my room and dialed Lani’s number.
Lani answered after the third ring, sleep evident in her voice. “Hello,” she said, disoriented.
“Hi, Lani, this is Emma. I’m sorry for calling so early. Something terrible happened. I needed somebody to talk to.”
Lani’s voice cleared almost immediately. “I will be right over,” she said.
“Are you sure you can come over?” I asked. “I don’t want to take you away from your family.”
“It’s fine. I want to be there for you. That is what a friend does. My family won’t mind. They would expect me to be there for my friend.”
Lani’s words of friendship unfeigned brought new emotions to me, unexpected, but welcomed. My worry for Sarah didn’t lessen, but Lani gave me a reason for hope. I couldn’t explain where the feeling came from. It simply was there, fighting for space in a troubled heart.
Thirty minutes later Lani knocked on our front door. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She didn’t take time to put on makeup nor did her beautiful face need any. I hugged her at the door. Her arms embraced me tight in response. Lani understood, perhaps instinctively, my sorrow and fear. I hadn’t made any attempt to keep it at bay. My face showed evidence of continuously falling tears.
“Good morning, Brother Thomas,” Lani greeted my father, who’d come to see who our guest was. “Emma asked me to come over. I hope I’m not intruding.”
My father always knew what to say. His voice had a velvet touch that naturally soothed. “You’re welcome any time, Lani. I assume Emma told you about Sarah.”
I grabbed Lani’s arm. “We’re going to my room, daddy,” I said.
“Okay, I’ll call when mother has breakfast ready.”
“Please let me know as soon as Brother Brown calls.”
“Of course, sweetheart.”
I climbed onto my bed and motioned for Lani to sit near me. She sat down facing me and waited for me to open up. My emotions churned near the surface and Lani knew I needed her strength. Instead of speaking, however, my cheeks once again became stained with falling tears. I began to sob. I tried to control my emotions, but couldn’t. As I began feeling embarrassed, with tender hands Lani dried my cheeks with a Kleenex.
“Can we pray for Sarah?” Lani asked.
Feeling an immediate need for the strength I knew prayer could provide, I slipped off my bed and onto my knees. Lani followed, kneeling next to me. Her head was bowed in reference. For a moment we knelt there saying nothing, perhaps waiting for some guidance.
“You should pray for Sarah, Emma. But, if you can’t, I will,” Lani spoke softly.
“I can do it,” I replied. “I want to do it.”
After a few moments of silence, words began forming in my heart. They transferred from my heart to my brain and from there spilled forth in humble prayer. I can not remember the spirit taking me over so completely before. Yes, I was young, only sixteen, but father had taught us children to pray from an early age and we had done so often. But something different was happening now as I prayed for Sarah. I, for the first time, really felt the words and wanted, really wanted this prayer to be heard and especially to be answered. Accompanying my prayer were tears I could not restrain. Soon I would see that Lani could not stem the flow of her tears either.
I finished with a customary “Amen” and heard Lani repeat it, adding confirmation to my prayer. Now I truly felt Sarah’s recovery was in the Lord’s hands. An indescribable joy filled my soul as I received confirmation from the Holy Ghost that Sarah would be okay.
But I heard nothing from Salt Lake. The day before Christmas I went shopping with mom, Norma and Judy. At my request, Lani also joined us. Patrick spent the day before Christmas with dad doing whatever men did the day before Christmas. It was usually the day dad got mom her present. Even as I window shopped, I thought of Sarah. I wanted so much to hear her voice; to know she was okay. Lani reached for my arm and led me away from my mom and sisters.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Follow me,” she whispered. “Your mom and sisters will be fine.”
I wasn’t worried about mom or my sisters, but I wondered if they should know where I was going. When Lani pointed toward a painting her eyes moistened with true emotion. I looked at the painting then at my mother standing about twenty feet away. The scene was a peaceful place and center stage was Jesus, my Savior, looking with loving eyes into the troubled eyes of a teenage girl. I knew beyond any doubt the young girl was me. I wanted so bad to be with Sarah as she lie in her hospital bed, but my Savior spoke softly saying I was where I needed to be. I felt it so strong in my heart. My mother’s smile told me she had been party to my revelation all along. Later I went to sleep feeling much different than a few weeks before.
I imagined Christmas morning in our home wasn’t unlike Christmas morning in many other homes. We began with family prayer, as we did each morning. My brother gave a short prayer. Next we opened presents and smiles and hugs were offered abundantly. Each of us had gotten several material things we’d asked for in our lists. It was still early when my mother opened the final gift, another family tradition, and held up a beautiful blouse from my father for all of us to see. Then, to our surprise, while I helped mother prepare waffle batter for breakfast, the phone began ringing.
My father answered the phone and moments later motioned toward me. His smile told me I soon would be very happy. The phone call would be the Christmas gift I’d hoped for most of all. I lifted the phone to my ear and said, “Hello,” my voice hoping, yet tentative.
Then beautiful words filled my ears. “Hi there, Emma,” Sarah’s sweet voice was stronger than I expected. “I wanted to call my very best friend and tell her Merry Christmas. I am feeling so much better and the doc says I can go home soon.”
“I was so worried about you,” my words were broken, genuine emotion touching my voice. “Then Lani asked if we could pray. I felt so much better after we prayed.”
“Who’s Lani?” Sarah asked.
“Sarah, when we moved here I thought I was leaving behind my best and only friend. Lani showed me I could have a second best friend. She is so nice and she’s been there for me when I really needed someone.”
“Lani sounds wonderful,” Sarah said, now sounding tired.
“You’re tired, Sarah,” I didn’t want to stop talking, but knew I had to. “You need to rest.”
“Thank Lani for taking care of my best friend. I look forward to meeting her when I come to see you in the summer. I am tired, Emma. I need more rest. I love you. Bye, bye.”
I closed the phone and I was no longer upset. The curve of my smile confirmed my joy. My disposition now displayed the delight in my soul. And I was a very, very happy girl.
4 thoughts on “18 Leaving Everything Behind”
I loved this story. It was very touching.
This story made me cry.
Emma is an awesome teenage drama queen! I loved the first paragraph, and lines like "Is there no God!" and "my devastation obliged me to become lethargic." Made me happy she found a good friend.
I vote for this story.
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