Best Friends

Written By: Lorraine Paceleo

Suzanne and I were the best of friends. We grew up in South Freeport in the 60’s. Freeport was and is a small fishing village on the South Shore of Long Island, NY.

I don’t remember the first time I met her and she probably would say the same. You see we met each other when we were very young, definitely before we were 5 years old, because we had already been best friends when we entered kindergarten.

At any rate, we became fast friends and spent our childhood together. We grew up on the docks, among boat yards, in fish markets and around restaurants. For fun and entertainment we built “forts” in the weeds next to the factories and vacant lots in our neighborhood.

Suzanne and I shared everything. We told each other secrets. We laughed. We played. And we would get into trouble together, like most good friends do. We had the world at our fingertips and were perfectly content to spend our time together exploring and imagining all kinds of adventures.

In the winter we would climb the stairs that led up to the big boats in the boatyard and jump off the top of them into huge mountains of snow. We would go ice skating down at “the end” where a whole block stood empty, it was the last block of So. Ocean Ave.—where years later they built condo’s (just before the docks that sheltered Freeport from the Bay). This empty block turned into a skating rink in the winter wherever water would gather and freeze. Some areas would be big enough for the boys to play hockey and other places where the water would freeze between the weeds and rubbish, but always there would be a way to skate between it all. Those were the days. Afterwards, we would return to my house only 3 houses away from the start of that block and my mother would make us hot chocolate. We used to have a burner room outside the house with a washing machine in it too, under the carport overhang. It was in that room that my mother would make us take off our boots and jackets and then rush us inside for hot chocolate. It was in that room that Suzanne and I wrote the names of both our families on the wall, just us kids. Cory, Lorna, Suzanne (Billy wasn’t born yet, so he was not listed) and then Michael and Lorraine. We put a big heart around all the names and said at the bottom “4-ever”, we must have been 8 or 9 at the time. I remember years later seeing the names there and adding “Billy” and thinking maybe it was this writing that kept us all together.

In fourth grade we were allowed to walk to school, 4 blocks away. I remember walking home with Suzanne, always on Woodcleft Ave. (a/k/a the Nautical Mile) and making our own paths home, never on the sidewalk! We would go in the alleys behind the buildings, in between the boats in the yards and run past the smelly house (the one filled with cats and the cat lady, Nora, who lived there). Then we would slip into the boat showrooms and crawl between the boats to avoid being seen and out the back door. When we got to Suzanne’s house she would make tuna fish sandwiches or cream of mushroom soup for us. Oh, how I loved that tunafish!

When we made our confirmations we gave each other matching silver necklaces, it was a head of Jesus, and on the back we had the same saying: SW love LP and LP love SW. We were bound for life and I can instantly go back in time whenever I hold that necklace in my hand.

As we got older we would play together less and less. Some time between 4th and 8th grade, Suzanne moved about a mile away, when her parents separated. By the time we got into 8th grade Suzanne had a boyfriend and I did not. We still would be friendly in school but were pretty much separated because we no longer lived near each other. I remember running into Suzanne the summer between 8th and 9th grade at a park in nearby Baldwin. We both wanted to know what was going on with each other and we instantly shared our experiences smoking pot. We laughed together and again went our separate ways.

After high school I went to a local college and Suzanne went to beauty school. In 1984, I visited her at a cosmetology school up in Boston, I was 24. I remember having so much fun that night, but at the end of the night or maybe it was the next morning she said we have to drive back to NY because her boyfriend had gotten into trouble and we had to leave right away. As we approached my house to drop me off, she pulled over to the side of the road and quietly told me my mother had died from a heart attack the night before.

Now when I think back I realize we were always there for each other during the best and worst of times. When we were 16 I remember hearing about her mother’s fatal car accident, and although I hadn’t seen Suzanne for awhile I immediately went to her house, knocked on the door and cried holding her in my arms.

During our late 20’s and most of our 30’s we would always get together and celebrate our birthday month, April. Hers was on the 2nd and mine on the 19th. On one Saturday night in the two weeks between our birthdays we would always go out with a gaggle of girlfriends usually to the City and live it up BIG. We would rent a limo, go to the best and most popular restaurant that year and then continue dancing late into the night. I remember spending a whole week’s pay check on this one night. Yes, it was the 80’s and we were disco dancing!

As we grew older the birthday outings slowed down and then stopped. Suzanne got married and I did not, although neither of us had children. We still would get together every few months with the rest of the “girls”, either at someone’s house or at a restaurant and we would always have a grand time.

I don’t exactly remember when Suzanne told me she had cancer. It was something that developed over time, a small spot on her face, then a scar where the spot had to be removed. Then a few years later the diagnosis, Melanoma that metastized into her organs and brain. The doctor had told her she needed brain surgery and wasn’t sure how long she had left. We talked about the “what if this was it” scenario. It was April, so everyone decided we should have one great big birthday party, just in case it was the last one. Everyone was invited and we served Champagne and Caviar and, of course, we danced all night. It was 2004, we were 44. Soon after that party Suzanne had brain surgery #1 and was sent home to recover. I worked in Manhattan and lived in Queens, I would visit her whenever I could, mostly on the weekends. I would sit on one couch and she on the other and we would talk about anything just like when we were kids.

Her 2nd brain surgery was at Sloan Kettering. It went well and everything was normal again, for awhile. Over the next few months Suzanne gave her all and lived right up to her last few days. I remember the weekend before she died I took her shopping to one of her favorite stores, she was in a wheel chair. As I pushed her around the store displays she was grabbing and touching everything and we laughed and giggled like we were children again. She has such a zest for life not even cancer could quell it. The next day when I was told she was dieing and that this was it, I rushed from NYC to her home in Freeport. I saw her sister in the street as I approached the house and was told it was too late, she was gone I screamed NOOOOOOO!

That was ten years ago, October 6, 2004, she was 44. I treasure those last few months we had together. I treasure the friendship we had as children and of all the good times we shared. A lot has happened during my lifetime but I thank god for the good memories.

I often think back about the burner room wall and whether our names are still there all together, but no matter, we were and still are the best of friends.