With the days getting longer, the weather getting warmer and flowers bursting forth from the earth in a Ta-Dah! of color and fragrance, Spring has not been shy about announcing its arrival this year. And I’ve welcomed the season just as enthusiastically, spending as much time as I can out on the veranda enjoying the beauty and sweet perfume of season’s first blooms.
As is typical, Spring not only coaxes new life from the ground, it also invites the children of the village to come out and play. The sound of their laughter and excited voices as they run and play, indicating it’s an invitation they eagerly accepted.
If I happen to be outside, as I was today, the children will come to greet me and spend a bit of time resting in the cool shade of the veranda, enjoying the Sunny-D and Otter Pops I always have ready for them. After debating serious issues such as which color Otter Pop is the best and whether Sunny-D or KoolAid is the superior thirst quencher (obviously, it’s Sunny-D, because if it were KoolAid that’s what I’d have on hand), the roar of them all talking at once as they weigh in on the topic at hand eventually drops to a low rumble, punctuated by the slurping of Otter Pops.
It’s during this lull that one of them will inevitably ask, “Will you tell us a story, Baroness?” I’ll hem and haw, suggesting that I might not have time or am unable to think of one at the moment. And like children everywhere, they’re familiar with the power of “please” and know that saying it long enough or loud enough often gets them what they want. And when more dozen of them join forces, it doesn’t take long for me to cry uncle.
Then those same children, who just minutes ago were engaged in a boisterous, ear-ringing Pleeeaaase! campaign, gather quickly at my feet, looking up at me and waiting with quiet anticipation for the story to begin.
Maybe you’re the age you are now, or maybe you’re a little older. Summer is coming to an end, and you and your best friend are squeezing as much fun and freedom from it as you can. You live across the street from each other and neither of you can remember a time when you didn’t know each other.
You see each other everyday and do everything together. Today you’re in the woods behind her house, which is actually just a part of her big back yard that hasn’t been landscaped, but you’ve always called it the woods.
You’re surveying the damage done to the clubhouse you built and have been playing in all summer. The likely culprits are the older boys whose favorite hobby seems to be riding their bikes around and making life miserable for anyone younger or smaller who has the misfortune of crossing their path.
Repairs this late in the season don’t seem worth the effort, especially since those boys would almost certainly knock it all down again.
“They go to our school, you know,” your friend says. “Our new school. They’re seventh graders.” You knew this, but had never thought much of it, until now. Until you were the one in their sites and being made miserable. But you’re not really scared. You have your friend and she has you and, if necessary, you’ll stick up for each other just like you always have.
Summer vacation, which always starts like a marathon with an ending somewhere out past the horizon and too far to see, also ended in it’s typical fashion – sprinting toward the finish line as though it was trying to break some kind of speed record.
Getting used to your new school and adjusting to all the differences — changing classrooms every hour, finding your locker, remembering its combination, no recess, changing clothes for gym — takes a little time, but eventually you settle into a routine. You and your friend only have two classes together, and spend the daily walk home filling each other in on all the details of the goings on during the hours apart. Your friend talks quite a bit about some girls in her English class, who you’ve never met, but know are part of what’s considered the popular crowd.
Not always, but a few times, your friend has eaten lunch with them; explaining to you that it’s their group and their table so she can’t just start inviting other people (you) to join in. You think it’s a little weird that who sits at which lunch table seems require a formal invitation and a majority vote, but it’s not the only thing that’s weird about junior high, so you shrug it off.
You meet to walk home at the same place every day, so when you’ve been waiting for quite a while, you begin to wonder if she got in trouble and is sitting in detention. You walk by the library where the detention group is gathered, but she’s not among them. You check her 6th period class room and walk by her locker. She doesn’t seem to be anywhere at school, so maybe she was sick and had gone home early.
You take your regular route home, but not having her to talk to and being concerned about her maybe being sick or hurt (in addition to illness, you’ve also allowed for the possibility that she suffered some kind of P.E. related injury) mad the walk seem longer and further.
As you come around the corner on your street, you look to see if her mom’s car is in the driveway, an indication that she was picked up early from school. But what you see stops you in your tracks. The car isn’t in the driveway, but your friend is; and she’s not alone. There’s a girl from the popular group and two boys. Boys on bikes. Boys who probably destroyed your clubhouse.
As you get closer, your friend spots you. She walks quickly to meet you, apologizing the whole time. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you and Justin said he’d give me a ride, since Trevor was taking Ashley home. Don’t be mad at me. I couldn’t find you. I’m really sorry.”
You don’t mind that she wanted to ride with Justin. You’re young, but you’re not dumb, and you’ve been looking at boys in a different way, too. But you couldn’t understand why she was lying. You were in the exact same place at the exact same time as every other day. She never even tried to find you and tell you you’d be walking alone.
You’re not sure, but the way she’s standing between you and the other kids makes it seems like she doesn’t want you to join them. And when she says, “I’ll call you after dinner and we can work on our social studies project, okay?” you know that you’re right and she’s trying to get rid of you.
Your face flushes, eyes burn and throat gets tight, but you’re not going to let them see you cry. “That’s okay,” you say. “I’ve got a ton of other homework I have to do.”
As you’re walking a way, the popular girl, Ashley calls, “Hey! I like your shoes.” You don’t turn around. You just give a little wave of acknowledgment over your shoulder and say, “Thanks.”
“Did you get them in the children’s department?” she asks in a sarcastically sticky sweet voice.
The boys instantly burst into loud, obnoxious laughter. You hear your friend loudly say, “Oh my God, Ashley!!” And then, you hear your best friend laughing at you with kids she hardly knows. The tears you’ve been holding back begin to flow and your heart falls out and lands in the street. You stop to pick it up and it feels a little harder and a little colder than you remember.
You don’t know it yet, but she won’t be the last friend you’ll lose in your life. She’ll always be the first, though … and the one that hurt the most.
It’s very quiet for a moment, then the freckle-faced little girl sitting right in front of me says, “Damn Baroness, your stories are always so fucking dark.”
I nod in agreement. “I know,” I say. “And yet, you keep coming back for more.”