It’s now been 35 years. I know I never met you in person, but I’ve still known you my entire life. You’re the reason I grew up wanting blonde hair. Not that cold platinum blonde that pervades magazine covers, but a warm, rich, almost coppery blond that reminds me of sunsets and sunflowers. You’re the reason that I tried, and failed, taking Russian in college. I’ll try again one of these days, I promise – both on the blonde hair and on the Russian courses. Maybe I’ll make “Laurie Lee Blonde” a trending hair color one day.
It would be a lie if I said I never wished that we had switched places. Losing you broke my grandmother’s heart, and my mother still gets misty eyed when she talks about you. There’s no limit to what they would do to see you again. You were an innovator, a student whose knowledge knew no bounds. You applied to Harvard on a dare, just to show you could, just to prove that yes, you, too, could make it in, even though you didn’t want to go. I still can’t believe you turned down a scholarship from Harvard, by the way. I’m an esthetician and college dropout. You could have done so much good for this world, but somehow fate decided I needed to be here and not you.
You’re the only person who could tell a group of people that you wanted to be the ABC correspondent in Moscow during the Cold War and have no one look at you like you’d lost your damn mind. And here I sit, wondering what you would have to say about today. I know in an alternate universe, where all this is happening but you’re still alive, I’m able to Skype with you. I’m able to have conversations with you about your experiences with the Russian government, and how the political climate has changed so much since you were in college. How everything has changed so much. I can see you trying to figure out where your personal beliefs sit in this political landscape, trying to figure out at what point you move away from the party you identify with when it clashes with your morals. I can see you getting frustrated – no, I can see you getting pissed off. Pissed off that this is what we’ve been left with, that people aren’t thinking critically, not applying logic and reason, and not taking into consideration those around them. These are questions I’ll never get the answer to. The fact that I’ve lived seven years longer than you ever got to is a strange, strange feeling.
I know that in that same alternate universe, you’re a Russian studies professor at UVA (Professor Woolen has a nice ring to it, I think, but knowing you, you’d have your students call you Laurie Lee like everyone else). You live in a two-story colonial with that man from Montgomery (who by the way, has never fallen in love since you left) and you have two darling children and some Labrador retrievers. You probably got the pups from my husband’s mom, actually. And you still eat a grapefruit in the morning, and still fold your gum wrappers into origami, and still likely have a fridge full of Popsicles.
There are so many times I wish you could have been here. I wish you’d been here when my parents were married, so you could tell my mom that her gut was right and she should leave. I wish you’d been there to tell me that I really am allowed to do what I want in this life, instead of me continually having to remind myself when I become completely miserable. I wish I’d been able to learn the red velvet cake recipe from you directly. I sometimes wonder if you’d be disappointed that I dropped out of college and and make a tiny paycheck, but mostly I’m pretty convinced that you’d be pushing me to learn everything I can and not be afraid to get totally lost in a subject.
Thank you for giving me your long legs, your ability to tan, your ridiculous sense of humor, wavy hair, and your ability to soak up the world like a sponge. Thank you for passing along your love of writing, of silly movies, and sincere lack of fine motor skills. Thank you for everything, Laurie Lee. One day we’ll be able to sit back with sweet tea that’s gloriously thick and talk about everything (including Grammy’s awful Bisquick brownies).
Until we finally meet, Laurie Lee. Here’s toast with a big glass of sweet tea to you.