An Open Letter to Melanie Shankle (And Gulley)

Dear Melanie,

(I was going to address you as Mrs. Shankle, but I doubted you would appreciate that. Plus, I just couldn’t bring myself to be so formal when I feel as if we are already kindred spirits.)

I was hesitant to write this letter, as I was concerned I would come across as (at best) too earnest, or (at worst) like a spastic-stalker-fan. For some reason it felt of utmost importance that I seem cool and portray the exact amount of enthusiasm that one would hope to find in a reader. Which is ridiculous really, because if you happen to be reading this letter, you are on my website, and one quick look around will prove that I have publicly lost all chill and embarrassed myself via the Internet many times. I don’t know why this always seems to be my way. What can I say. I am an open book.

In fact I have often felt much like YOUR open book.

Wait! That came out wrong.

Let’s start over.

When I read your first book, The Antelope in the Living Room, about a year ago, I almost fell off my chair. A few times from laughter, and more than a few times from surprise. It seemed like you had been spying on my life and maybe writing a book about it. (Which would make you the spastic-stalker-fan.) (Totally kidding. Please, read on.)

From the hunting husband who thinks the best kind of reading material is a Cabela’s catalogue, to the best friend of over twenty years, to the preference of Taco Bell above fast food burgers while on a road trip (Or something to that effect? I can’t remember you saying those exact words but I do know you’ve mentioned Taco Bell enough times in your books for it to stick with me.) I secretly (openly) love Taco Bell. If you ever want to know the perfect trifecta to order there, call me. I’ll walk you through it. There is a system. There are Taco Bell food groups. And yes, I eat three items. I have no shame.

But I digress.

It was literally a week after reading The Antelope in the Living Room, that I came home from the grocery store to find this on my living room wall.

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So yah. This thing is a part of my life now.

I realize this is not an antelope but I had to laugh at the irony. I will tell you that because we were living in a rental during this time while we built our “Forever House”, this was the one and only decoration that adorned my walls for an entire year. And a very aggressive decoration at that. It seemed to loom out over the whole room, with it’s wee beady eyes, darting to and fro.

I loved your book so much that I insisted that all my friends read it, but most importantly my best friend, Amber. Yes, we have the same name. Maybe it’s kitschy to share a name, but it works for us. We tend to come as a package deal anyway. There isn’t a time in my life that I can’t recall identifying as one half of “The Ambers.” We hope we are raising the bar with our name, because in TV or movies, the “Amber” character is usually ill-fated, ill-mannered, or both. Like a stripper with a neck brace. Or Amy Poehler’s SNL character who was one-legged, flatulent, and proud of it.

I mean, don’t get me a wrong- it was hilarious.

But, really.

What’s up with that?

Anyway. She did read the book, and of course she loved it.

You see, Amber has been my “Gulley” for 30 years now. We met at age 4 in the church nursery. Initially there was a bit of a skirmish over the sharing of some stickers, but we managed to overcome it and went on to have maybe only one more fight, ever. Which is saying a lot, considering we’ve grown and changed and survived everything together from kindergarten, to puberty, to high school, college…and of course, BOYS.

Through moves out-of-state, marriage, motherhood, moves back into a state (Sweet baby Jesus in a manger! Thank you!) we have laughed together, cried together, and prayed together in almost every big moment of our lives.

Through loss and pain and through triumph and joy, our hearts have been knit together in a way that we feel like we can’t fully explain to other people.

Until we found Nobody’s Cuter Than You.

I finished this dear, sweet, brilliant book yesterday and I must admit that I was sad to turn the last page. It felt like I was saying goodbye to a friend. Incidentally I found the last few chapters to be filled with equal parts depth and hilarity causing me to intermittently laugh loudly and cry quietly. Which would have been fine if I’d been at home on my couch where my family is used to such carrying on. But I happened to be at my daughter’s horse lesson and let’s just say that Peaches the horse wasn’t the only one I may have spooked with my erratic behavior that afternoon.

Not only do Amber and I love this book because we can so easily relate to the bond that you and Gulley have, but also because we just can’t believe all the silly little things we have in common with y’all.

While reading your books we have weekly daily texts and phone calls back and forth.

“Did she really even just say that Gulley is the one who makes all the friends for them?! That’s you! You’re my Gulley!”

“Amber! She has a redheaded Jackson! YOU have a redheaded Jaxon!”

“Melanie does all the road-trip driving. Even when it’s in Gulley’s car. This is so us.”

Now, in the spirit of transparency, I should add that even when we’re just running errands around town (which we like to do together because grocery shopping) the other Amber does all the driving. Partly because she gets carsick, and partly because I am the kind of driver that prompts people to look over my shoulder every time I turn left and grip the door handle a little bit too tightly.

Also in the spirit of transparency, I would love to say that we already took annual road trips with our kids, but truth be told, last summer after we read your blog post about your road trip with Gulley and the kids we immediately called each other and said “We have to do this. Why aren’t we already doing this? Our kids are basically obsessed with each other.  You and I are clearly obsessed with each other. Let’s take this show on the road.”

As we read your second book, Sparkly Green Earrings, and continued following your blog, it started to become funny- the sheer amount of similarities between your friendship and ours. It just became this ongoing inside joke between us.

From the stories about your kids interactions with each other, to Justin Timberlake concerts, to waking up sick that week, to buying travel sized Cetaphil, to running to Wal-Mart to pick up the exact same ironing board, it seemed we were randomly doing all the same things around the same time.

Now, at the risk of sounding like a crazy person I do realize these are common things that common people tend to do. It just made us laugh.

When I read on page 136 of Nobody’s Cuter Than You about your dog Scout who may or may not have been guilty of flatulence in the car I wasn’t even surprised anymore.

I too, have a car-farting dog named Scout.

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As evidenced here, by his guilty side-eye. If the children seem oddly happy to be trapped in a truck cab full of Scouty’s farts, it’s because this picture was taken about 1.5 seconds before the kids smelled what I was already smelling.

I want to tell you that I have loved all of your books, not only because I can so easily relate to them, but because I admire the way you weave Jesus, humor, and living real life in the real world together so beautifully in your writing. I love that you can so eloquently say what I have always felt in my heart to be true about my best freind…my “Gulley”.

That she is someone with whom I feel safe and confident, knowing “my name is safe on her lips.” Someone who knows the realest me and loves me still. Someone who can cheer me on and call me out, who can encourage me and pick me up when I’m down, even someone brave enough to sit down with me in my despair and not leave until I am ready.

Someone who knows all the nuances of my children’s personalities and loves them fiercely. Someone with whom I am lucky enough to do life with.

Because isn’t that exactly what a friend is? Someone who not only bears witness to your life, but walks through it with you?

In a world full of relationships that rarely move past the surface, and social media that shows only the best version of people’s lives, we know we are lucky, Amber and I. God has knit our hearts together, and woven our lives in such an intricate pattern that we scarcely know what we would do without the other. We somehow managed to get married and have babies within months of each other. Our husbands joke that they are better friends than us Ambers, and we all laugh heartily because, nice try.

Now we are thrilled to watch our kids forge their own bonds. We can’t believe that our youngest children are now the same age that we were when we met all those years ago. It is no surprise to us that our daughter’s main goal is life is to wear matching outfits as often as possible,

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and our tinies have spoken of ‘getting married’ ever since they could talk. Nevermind that they were both still in diapers and one of them was saying all of these adorable things through a pacifier.

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We do holidays, soccer games, slumber parties, meals, road trips, and this year we’ll do our first family vacation together.  Even the most mundane things in life become fun when we are together.

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To borrow a quote from you and Gulley, as far as Amber and I are concerned, any day is “a good day for chicken in the bed.”

So thank you Melanie and Gulley.  Thank you for reminding us that whether we’ve found our “Gulley” or not, our girlfriends are worth the investment. These relationships need care and effort and honesty and grace. Because when the going gets tough, or when our husbands simply run out of words, or when we just want to celebrate with someone who really gets it, our girlfriends are one of life’s greatest blessings.

If you’d ever like to borrow it, this quote is our favorite, on loan from the Ambers:

“If anyone should ask to give a reason why I love my friend, there could only be one answer: Because she is she, and I am I.”

imageP.S. Im not sure if this letter will actually ever reach your eyes, although it is possible. Thank you, Twitter. I take back all the negative things I ever said about Twitter, and how it demands things from me that I cannot bear. Things like brevity. I feel like my soul dies a little bit every time I have to backspace and delete down to 140 characters.

And so what if I am always 7 years behind on signing up for these things. So what if I can barely figure out how to check my email and 90% of technology stresses me out. I am much like Derek and Hansel in Zoolander when it comes to the Internet…

image All of that is okay with me now, because last week you tweeted me back! And then I quietly died a thousand deaths because as writing goes, you are kind of my favorite, and a lovely example of the kind of books that I one day hope to write.

So much for keeping my cool.

 

5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Melanie Shankle (And Gulley)

  1. Melanie

    This made me tear up and laugh out loud. You articulated so much of what I hope women would feel as they read the book and I think Gulley and I could hang with the Ambers any day of the week. Y’all would get us. 🙂

    Thanks for braving the Twitter to make sure I saw this!

    1. ambersalhus@msn.com

      Proving what I said was true about being like Derek and Hansel when it comes to technology, it took me a full week to see your comment sitting in my SPAM queue. I mean really, computer! Spam? I almost had to slap my keyboard. I’m so glad you enjoyed my letter! Because we have so enjoyed your books! If you and Gulley are ever in Oregon, hit up the Ambers. Im fairly certain we could arrange for some queso, margaritas, and laughter.

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