By Kathy Drue
We shivered in fear when we spoke to Others. We both wore shyness like our new winter coat, zipped close to keep us safe. On the second day of Kindergarten evil sixth grade boys pointed make-believe guns toward our quivering hearts and we sprinted desperately back home, our knee socks falling down, tears in our eyes.
We lay side-by-side on our sleeping mats during nap time, our eyes glued toward the ceiling, listening to the Others breathe. We couldn’t relax, could we? Someone might accidentally jab or prod, whisper a taunt.
We kept vigilant, best friends always, through first grade and the weeping principal who announced the death of our President Kennedy. We dashed home through the same field where last year make-believe guns threatened to annihilate us and, yes, we could truly almost imagine the blood, the loss, the heart-stopping fear of it.
In second grade we splashed in a delightful mud puddle in our new blue rubber boots and the teacher—oh the horror!—yelled at us. Yelled at us? We quiet little girls, we little girls with pigtails who couldn’t, wouldn’t, do anything wrong because our fear still pinned us like our Girl Scout badges?
In third grade we memorized poems and recited them aloud to the class and fought against each other to win, to learn the most poems, to Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod it to glory. We agreed to cease our memorizing at thirty poems each, to tie, to share, and yet you skipped home through the field lying through your new white teeth to recite next morning, “Abou Ben Adam may your tribe increase…”
In fifth grade you let me cheat off your math paper, sharing the answers to those dreaded impossible story problems and in sixth grade we convinced our neophyte teacher to let us go home for lunch. We ran free as wind through the field as the rest of the class remained jailed, chewing stale bologna sandwiches, learning how to negotiate junior high friendships.
Oh my best childhood friend, where did you go? One moment we sprinted free with our 1969 peace necklaces and the next moment you grew up. You let your shyness fall away like a too-small dress and wore bell-bottomed blue jeans and ironed your long straight hair.
You met your future husband in seventh grade and left me behind to bleed alone in confusion with wild curly locks and glasses, to trek among those with make-believe guns and story problems impossible to fathom. Five years passed before my own shyness loosened its clasp, before I opened to the Other.
Years, oh years later, more than 500 miles apart, we birthed babies into this poem of a world within four hours of each other. Last summer, our babes now 31 years old, we held hands as we lapped around the high school track, telling stories of pain and reconciliation. The sun shone on our faces. As if no time passed we shared our hearts effortlessly, and this time we weren’t afraid. Oh no, we weren’t afraid.
Kathy Drue lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and blogs from her “Little House in the Big Woods.” She works two part-time jobs to help buy health insurance and organic produce and loves to travel from San Diego to NYC to Florida to visit family members whenever possible. She misses her best friend from childhood, but hopefully will visit her again next summer. The photograph used in this piece was taken by her.