Lipstick

on July 19, 2011 in Lipstick

Gail Lineback

“That lipstick is too bright,” said my good friend Gail.

“Really? I don’t think so. Maybe I need to blot…”

“You can blot all you want, won’t do any good. The color’s too bright.”

I have had a lot of best-friends at different stages of my life. But when I think on my very best-friend, my mind will time wrap all the way back to the sixth grade at Tucker Elementary. I returned to public school mid-year after an on-and-off illness of four years. The first person to greet me at the classroom door was Gail.

“Welcome back Diane! I know you don’t know me, I’m kinda new, I’m Gail Lineback,” Gail said with a big smile. But I know you. I signed some of the get well cards. It’s okay if you don’t remember my name. If you get tired, let me know. I can carry your book bag. My father is a doctor, and he told me how to look after you,” Gail assured me, “I know what signs to look for.”

Before I could speak, she said, “My parents are divorced. I live with my mother and little sister, Little Nancy – just off Chamblee Tucker Road – not too far from where you live – just off Chamblee Tucker Road. I have an older sister Ellen; she’s moved out and doesn’t live with us anymore. My father has re-married and has another family. My mother has a boyfriend, but she probably won’t marry him. Little Nancy collects Barbie dolls…”

Gail could go on for hours. She was determined to be my friend, and did her best to look out for me. It was Gail that I talked to during the seventh grade dances. We were the two tall girls in the class. It seemed that all the boys were short and did not really grow tall until late high school. The most popular girls were short; makes sense. We would dream about how different our lives would be if only we were “short girls.”

High School came and Gail was still looking after me, on occasion, remarking about my skin tone. “You look pale, want something to drink? How about a piece of cheese? Maybe it’s your lipstick. It’s too bright. Honestly, Story, the birds know it’s you that’s coming down the road, when they see that lipstick.”

“Well, I look paler with lighter lipstick, Gail. When I look pale, they think I’m sick!”

“Just take it down a couple notches.”

“Well quite frankly, Lineback, I like this shade.”

“You need to get your eyes checked out.” And on and on the conversation went. Gail Lineback could never offend me, nor could I offend her.

In our eighth and ninth grade, we had Physical Education together. One cold morning after walking out to the practice football field behind Tucker High School, Gail said, “You look flushed, sit down, Story.” Gail instructed me as though she was a real doctor. “Here, sit on my purse so you won’t get wet.” She stood tall and gave a big wave to Miss Bell and Miss Curtis our PE teachers. They gave her the “yes” nod. “See, it’s okay, you sit here until you feel better.”

I was never allowed to run laps around the field with the other girls, I walked one lap. If I walked too fast, Gail would pass me and yell back, “Story, slow down!”

In the tenth grade, Gail and I did not have any classes together. She was also busy with drill team practice. It had been a while since I talked to her, so I decided to call her at home and catch up. I was met with an unfriendly voice.

“Well hello Diane.  Why the sudden burst of friendship?”

“What?”

“Diane, you haven’t spoken or had lunch with us in weeks.”
“I know I’ve seen you around, I know you’ve been busy with the new girl…”
“Of course, I’m busy with the new girl. I want her to feel welcome. You should be busy making her feel welcome. By ignoring your friends, you make her feel unwelcome. She thinks you don’t like her.”

“Oh no, I didn’t mean to do that. I’ve been busy and thought y’all were doing a good job taking care of her…”

“That should never be the case. You should go out of your way to speak to a new person; have lunch with her.”

“You’re right, I just didn’t think…”

“Dee Dee’s funny. You’d really like her. Join us Monday in the lunchroom, you know the table.”

Gail was serious about her friends. I was very fortunate to be included in that list. The other thing she was serious about was her French. If ever she had a moment to spare, she had her nose in that French language book. Her accent needed to be “authentic.” She wanted to impress her father and make her mother proud. She worked hard to strive for perfection.

We graduated from high school and went our separate ways. I found myself soon married and living in the Canal Zone where my husband urged Green Berets to jump out of helicopters into the jungle; jungle training for Viet Nam. Afterwards, my life became focused on my two sons. Gail became a school teacher. Her life became focused on her children; her students.

I saw her once at a THS reunion. Gail met me at the door. She was still pretty, but I was concerned about her eyes since she wore glasses with very thick lenses. She was married briefly to a British man.

“What? Not French?”

“No,” she laughed, “but he could sure speak French! It was an authentic accent! I couldn’t resist. Oh, by the way Story, your lipstick is too bright.”
Gail missed the next reunion.

The years slipped away quickly and again, I prepared for another class reunion. Hopefully Lineback would come to this one. I would look for her at the door and this time, I would introduce myself to her. I was certain she would not recognize me since the years had changed me so much.

When we graduated, I was five seven and weighed just under a hundred pounds. My dark brown hair had given way to — shall I say — platinum blonde. Some would say — almost white. My Twiggy short hair was grown out pony-tail length. I had gained over forty pounds. No one would recognize me tonight, not even Gail Lineback.

I walked in alone – divorced. Before entering the ballroom, I looked for my senior photo button pin. I walked about a long table looking for it. As I made my way around the table, I happened to look up and saw Gail’s photo framed – on the Memorial table. My heart almost stopped and I could hardly breathe. I walked over and stood before her smiling face. As I looked at her smile, I had a silent conversation with her.

“You’re still meeting me at the door, girlfriend…”

I had seen enough. Just as soon as I get my bearings, I will turn and walk out that door. I will slip out and not talk to anyone. There were a few people about, but no one had spoken to me yet. I’m sure no one has recognized me. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I was not prepared for this. Why had I not heard about her death? Why couldn’t I have been a good friend and stayed in touch?

“Diane, here is your pictured down here!” called out Brenda Martin from the other end of the table.

Steve McLeod walked into the hallway from the ballroom, “Diane! I thought I saw you come in.”

How in the world did they recognize me? I know I look like a stranger.

 

Then I thought…uh oh! I need to check my lipstick. I hear you girlfriend!

As I walked down the hallway to the lady’s room, I thought, I don’t want to appear unfriendly to my friends. I will finish in here, and then I will enter the ballroom, where I will speak to each and every friend here tonight.

Yes, Lineback, I still hear you – loud and clear!

 

AJC Obituary 2007: Gail Lineback was an artist, a teacher, and an avid and accomplished gardener. She pursued a wide range of interests, including St. Matthew’s Handbell Choir and Cajun dance. She was active in the spiritual communities at St. Luke’s Episcopal and St. Matthew’s Episcopal churches. She was a passionate advocate for women and families in need, giving generously of herself. She will be remembered fondly by friends and family. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Family Promise, to Bethesda Elementary Care Team, to the American Heart Association or the American Diabetes Association.

And Gail Lineback was my best friend.

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