Morning crept slowly through the mists, almost imperceptibly, waves of pinks, yellows, and blues spreading across the horizon, reflecting off the glassy, rippling lake.
Sitting in my Adirondack chair, legs bent, with my chin resting on my knees, I waited, watching— listening as the world around me whispered back to life.
We had arranged to meet this morning for a reunion, but I came early because I wanted time to think; I did my best thinking at sunrise.
We were close friends back in the day— but that was many years ago.
I had recently begun following her on social media, enjoying the pictures she posted of her two adult children and herself, but time has a way of changing people. What would it be like to see her again? That was a question I didn’t have an answer to, but I was about to find out.
It was her first year in Brownie Scouts; it was my second. She was the new girl in the neighborhood while I had lived there my entire life. She was outgoing and adventurous; I was shy and unsure of my place among my peers.
We couldn’t have been more opposite. Still, she chose me for her friend.
I can’t remember now whether I questioned my good fortune, or if I simply accepted it as children are apt to do. I remember trying so hard to be like her, despite the fact that I was a year older. She was the daring and resourceful one. She was the leader, and I was the follower.
She had a brother and sister who were more than a few years older than she was, which may have accounted, at least in part, for her accelerated maturity. That, and her family was better off financially than mine, so she’d had a lot of experiences and opportunities which I lacked.
The mere fact that she had a pixie haircut, something I wanted so badly but couldn’t have because it meant a trip to the hair salon every couple of months to maintain it— a luxury my parents couldn’t afford. This, among other things, should have marked us as being different, but we were young and completely oblivious to what might have been painfully clear to others— we were not in the same social class.
We had two wonderful years, but then her family moved to the other side of town to a new, more upscale, neighborhood. We tried to stay in touch. We had sleepovers on long holiday weekends and during summer break, but eventually she made new friends, and I no longer heard from her.
Six years passed, and circumstances necessitated a move for our family as well.
We needed a larger home so our grandmother could live with us, and as luck would have it, we found a house that suited our needs on the other side of town. It wasn’t actually in her neighborhood, but it was in the same school district she had moved to, and I was excited by the prospect of seeing my friend again.
Unfortunately, time had wrought its changes in both of us, and our first meeting did not go as I had imagined it would. We were no longer children, and her family had clearly continued to prosper, while I was still a girl whose family had too many kids and not enough money.
I was expecting to see my rough and tumble elementary school friend, but cold reality smacked me down. My hand-me-down clothes, unfashionably straight hair, and makeup-free face set me apart from the girl she had become, and even though no words were exchanged, it was clear there was no place for me in her life.
I had never made friends easily, and her silent rejection really hurt. In a way, it was a relief when the administrators at the new school informed my parents they would have to hold me back a year because some of the classes I had taken at my old school wouldn’t transfer.
I say it was a relief because my parents were not happy with this decision at all. I was a good student, and they could see no reason for this other than the new school’s inflated opinion of their own status. With the help of the principal at my old school, they devised a way for me to remain there for my senior year, despite the move, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.
It wasn’t easy. I had to be up early to ride across town with my Dad, who would drop me off at school on his way to work. After school and marching band practice, I had to catch the city bus to go back home, but I was spared the daily humiliation of having to face a friend who had decided I was no longer good enough for her, and being an overly sensitive adolescent, I was grateful for the reprieve.
It’s funny how many thoughts can flash through your mind in the space of time it takes for the pre-dawn sky to go from a cold steel gray to its customary blue.
Moments before, the waves lapping against the sand and small stones along the beach had been my only companions, but as the sun rose, the gulls began to fill the air with their calls. The chill damp lakeside air had worked its way into the folds of my Irish woolen shawl, and the mug in my hands no longer radiated heat from within.
Still, I held on, hoping the warmth from my hands would rekindle the heat in my drink, much the same way I hoped my willingness to hold on to the good from our past, might renew our friendship in the present.
We had a chance encounter on one other occasion in our early adulthood. I walked into a bank that I didn’t normally go to, in order to cash a check that I had been given. Approaching the counter, I had a moment of déjà vu as I recognized the teller. Coming closer, her name tag confirmed that it was indeed my old friend.
It felt awkward, but I had already started towards her position; to change directions now would be too obvious a snub, and regardless of how she may have behaved years before, I wasn’t going to treat her that way.
I didn’t say anything to indicate that I recognized her, preferring to let her decide if she was going to acknowledge me or not. I noticed an expensive engagement ring on her finger, but there was nothing more, she was all business. I left, and that was the end of it, until many years later, when her name appeared on my social media account, and I took the opportunity of bridging the past.
I wasn’t sure how that would go, but she accepted my request, and I enjoyed the little glimpses into her world that it afforded. Her daughter seemed to be very much like she had been, and I would smile to myself when she posted about one of her exploits. She seemed to have less to say about her son, but perhaps he wasn’t as active as his sister. Sadly, there were no pictures of her husband, so I suspected the rumors I had heard about her marriage were likely true.
I don’t know if she follows what my family and I are doing through my posts or not, but when I suggested we could meet up, she accepted the invitation. I'm not sure what I am hoping will come of this, but it felt like the right thing to do in that moment.
Fully light now, the sun warms my face and hands, the sounds of the road beyond the sand dunes, evidence that others are out and about.
Gravel crunches beneath slow moving rubber tires, followed by the light thud of a door closing. Am I ready for this?
Closing my eyes, I take a few calming breaths, waiting in nervous anticipation. I feel her presence before I hear her— the creaking of the wooden Adirondack chair beside mine, as she lowers herself onto it. I can tell by the lack of sound, she is sitting on it sideways, facing me, rather than sitting back into its reclining depths.
And now, I must put my demons to rest.
“You haven’t changed, you know,” she tells me as we chat over brunch at a nearby hotel.
I smiled— if only that were true, I thought to myself. “Nor you,” I replied, remembering some of the posts where she and her daughter had been hiking in the mountains, and doing other equally daring activities for someone in our age group.
We talked and we laughed, as we shared stories of each others ups and downs, our children, their lives, and how proud we are of their accomplishments. Our marriages, and what we would have done differently if we had it to do over again.
One thing we have left unsaid, however,— but that’s okay. Some things are better left to the heart, to be spoken without words.
We part with a hug, my vision blurring as I walk to my car. Blinking the tears away, I back out of my parking space, pulling out onto the road, as life beckons me on.
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Another beautifully written poignant story of old friends. Loved the honesty and simplicity.