Finding Elzada

Linda A. Dougherty

© Copyright 2023 by Linda A. Dougherty

Photo by Marco Chilese on Unsplash
Photo by Marco Chilese on Unsplash.

In June 2020, I wrote a short story in this publication about my high school friend, Elzada and of my hopes to find her and close the spiral of my age-old regrets. This is the ending of that story that really began in 1969.

(Click here to read that story first.)

Sometimes, my life seems to circle backwards as it inches forward. Perhaps it is the perspective of getting older…this wanting to tie up loose ends, to right wrongs, to look backwards into the future of my past and find out what happened.

For me, it was a high school friend, Elzada. The last time I recall seeing her was in high school in the spring of my freshman year in 1970. A local prestigious private Quaker school, The George School, awarded her a scholarship for the next year.

Tall, smiling Elzada with bowed skinny legs was a frozen memory for fifty years. Our friendship, a fossil buried deep in the mire of my parents’ refusal to accept her as my friend because she was Black, unfinished.

Off and on for years, I would do a search online with no success. Fast forward to June 2020. More bungled attempts to find the girl of my past in the middle of a world gone upside down with COVID. It finally occurred to me to email George School and see if they had contact with her as an alumni. On June 15, 2020, I wrote my olive branch to the administration, hoping they could help.

They forwarded my email to her and on June 17, after over half a life time of wondering where Elzada was, how her life turned out and even hoping for reconnection, Elzada wrote me a short email.

I am the Elzada you spoke of- Don’t worry, all is forgotten…… Let the past go and remember the good things and times.”

Hope I can talk to you sometime. Your letter brought tears to my eyes. Looking forward to hearing from you.”



On Friday, June 19, the first of many weekly phone calls began. We shared emails with our lives in pixels. And most of all we talked. Fifty one years of chatter across decades and distance because I live in Massachusetts now and she never wandered far from our home in Pennsylvania.

I can’t believe you remembered me.”

“ How could I forget you, Elzada? You were so friendly.”

Her recall of people and detail astounded me, week after week, as she regaled me with endless tales of this or that person I knew from high school. Somehow, despite moving to a different school she kept up with a long list of friends. Even in her late sixties, she kept eight address books and sent out 200 Christmas cards each year until her sight faltered. Her circle of friends was huge and she remembered details of them all.

A typical phone conversation started with her slipping into nostalgia… “do you remember so and so” or “Do you remember when such and such happened?” My response was invariably, “no!” while I sat in awe at her recall.

She told me things I never knew about her when I was her fourteen year old friend.   Dark things, deep things, hard things. But always, she landed on hope.

My friends meant everything to me.” I’d let her down because of my father’s prejudice, yet she never held it against me. The Quaker philosophy threaded through her life as always looked to the light.

Friday, June 24, 2020 Elzada sat COVID protocol six feet away from me on a wooden bench under a spreading maple tree outside of her brick apartment building in Langhorne, PA. Our eyes searched each other over the rims of our masks as we looked for the girls we once were.

I stood up, stepped back to remove my mask and grinned. “You look exactly the same as you did in high school….the same smile and eyes.”

Elzada pointed down at her legs- “they aren’t skinny anymore…surprised you remembered I had skinny legs.”

We spent an hour together under the blue cloudless skies. The breeze blew gently around our words.

Too soon, my husband pulled our car into a nearby spot, got out, waving and from a distance, introduced himself. Too soon, we left on the way to go on our vacation.

Our phone chats wove bits of our past together week by week. I was worried about my friend’s health. Heart disease, liver disease and diabetes kept her sequestered, especially as a risk with COVID.

She planned to get her first COVID vaccine. She was relieved and in a happy mood in early March 2021. Then, she did not answer her cell phone or land line phone day after day for several weeks. Her brother messaged me in early April through Face Book to tell me she had been found dead of an apparent heart attack on March 19.

Thankfulness enveloped my sadness…..thankfulness that I had found her and enjoyed nine months with her. Thankfulness that I’d had many questions answered. Thankfulness that there was nothing left unsaid between us and fond memories eclipsed the hard memories of the past. Thankfulness for my friend, Elzada, who never forgot me.  


Click here to read the first story about Elzada.

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