Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hopscotch and Penny Candy

I have never been a fan of the term “best friend.” I think it puts an unfair burden on a person to handle all the crap that I am too much a wuss to handle on my own. But I do like what the words represent, the intensely close sharing with someone who gets me, time spent together with my guard down, with no pretense or trying, vulnerable and not caring, talks that go on forever, that are as comfortable as discussions I hold with myself, and encouragement from one who knows how to move me when nobody else can, who doesn’t put up with my whining, my excuses, my self pity. At times, someone has stepped into my life unannounced and assumed this role without even realizing. At others, the role has assumed us.

First grade, and I am sitting at my desk writing down every swear word I know. Every one. Which is a lot. But I am not allowed to swear, and I am afraid of getting into trouble, so I am crying, but writing nonetheless. My best friend, bully that she is, is making me do this. She is making me do this until Whitley Crow tells the teacher and gets her in trouble. Bully or not, we are great friends, she and I. We take turns every weekend spending the night at each other’s house. She has a toy piano, and I learn to play Swing Low, Sweet Chariot using the book with the colors for notes. When she comes to my house, we walk to the corner for a big bag of penny candy. We get Tootsie Rolls and jawbreakers, licorice and Double Bubble. We like beauty shops, hopscotch, and Whitley Crow. Then I move, and I have to get a new best friend.

Third grade, and I have two best friends. I never go to their homes, but we play in school all the time. We play clapping games like Miss Mary Mack and Have You Ever, Ever, Ever, in Your Long-Legged Life. We like recess, Pig Latin, Donald Keys, and passing notes. We get in trouble for talking all the time. When the teacher is out of the room, we go up front and sing songs and entertain the class. The teacher doesn’t mind. She lets us do it sometimes even when she is in the room. I like being up front. It’s fun. It makes the other kids smile and laugh. I like having my best friends up front with me. Even if they are better singers.

Fifth grade, and I have a best friend and a boyfriend now. I wonder why boys have to be boyfriends and can’t just be best friends. I don’t like that rule. I think anybody should be allowed to be a best friend without being a boyfriend. What if you don’t want him to be a boyfriend, and you just want him to be a really best friend? I spend the night at my best friend’s house, the best friend who is not the boyfriend, all the time. This is fun because she is from a different country, so I learn new words and new ways of doing things. Her house smells different. I can never wear shoes when I go inside. I line them up with the others in the long row beside the door. Her dad is nice. He is quiet, and he is small. I don’t know where her mom is. I tell her to vote for me for Good Citizen because I want to win the class award. The teacher talks to the class, then, about how it is not polite to tell people to vote for you, that that is not the point of the award. Still. I want it, and I don’t feel bad about asking my friend.

My boyfriend sits right across from me. He is funny and nice. He has blond hair. We get in trouble for talking. We get in trouble a lot. I get marks on my report card that say Tammie is a good student, but she talks too much in class. My mom doesn’t care. She says if you can talk and still get A’s, I don’t see the problem. The teacher moves us. We don’t sit together anymore. I am sad about this because a boyfriend is not like a best friend. You can’t spend the night at each other’s house. You can’t even go to each other’s house. He is funny and nice, and now I can’t talk to him because he is on the other side of the room. My teacher is mean.

I am glad for those in my life who have filled this role of utmost burden, those who have listened without judging, who have made me laugh when I didn’t think I could, who have been bold enough to tell me when I am out of line, and to tell me also when I am not, but should be. I am thankful for the friends in my life who have felt comfortable enough sharing with me what they would never with another, who have confided vulnerabilities and confessed that which I can tell has been painful to confess. I am thankful for time spent in the company of one who knows me and gets me in the way that others never will, not having to explain myself, not having to care. I am thankful for those who have loved me when maybe I have not even loved myself. Know that if you have ever been that person, you have a special place inside of my heart. You may leave my world, but you will never leave my life.

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