One of the first things you learn as a literature student is that it’s tough to trust an unidentified narrator. So if you’re going to put any time into reading me, I suppose I ought to explain a little about who I am. And if you’re going to take any interest in my compatriot’s responses and stories, I ought to tell you a little bit about her, and about how we fit together.
This can serve as our first iteration. I’ll tell you who I am, who she is, how we met and lived connected lives. But she gets her chance too, and I’m going to ask her to challenge not just my stories of her, but my stories of myself. No one ever sees you the way you think. And I’m curious to know if my self-definitions fit her memories of me at the various stages of our lives.
So here goes:
I am a drifting former graduate student (of literature, clearly) who has made her way through countless different lifestyles and shifting identities. My one constant, essentially, is my inconstancy – my inability to stay anywhere for long. I bounce a lot and rarely stick. But what really matters here is what I was like a long time ago. Because that’s the version of myself that met this long-time friend, and that’s the version I’m interested in hearing her take on. As a kid I was quiet and strange, the sort who, once she finally started talking, would fail to be quiet at appropriate times. I was terrified of nearly all real-life situations, especially those that involved meeting new people. My inner life was detailed and complex, but out in the daylight I was hopelessly disheveled and confused.
I remember E as being a counterpoint to me: friendly and talkative, unafraid to be silly, to giggle. I was a horribly serious kid, and she helped to temper that with a lot of laughter. She is someone who has never seemed afraid to feel a little silly or ridiculous. Her hair was also so blonde it was nearly white, and her eyes are a strange shade of greeny blue. I am deep-eyed and, if not smiling, immediately appear to be sad. We had something of the light and the dark about us, I think, that helped us match up well – but that also helped us grow apart for a long while in our later years.
We met on the first day of the second grade at a nondenominational (read: incredibly religious) private school in Baton Rouge, LA. (I’m fessing up towns but not necessarily names of places within the towns. We have yet to carve out how much anonymity we want to retain here, so I won’t reveal too much in this initial post.) It was my second year at the school, but I was shy and first days were always difficult, implying different teachers and different procedures. (This was before I developed my deep, deep affection for change.) I rarely ever talked, so how I met anyone is beyond me. This is one of those times when memory serves to repress certain aspects of self for others. My memories of feeling shy and silent and strange (something I now know most kids feel) are so powerful that they overcome any recollection of speech. What I can say for certain, though, is that E.T. became my friend through alphabetical order. The most likely person for a shy kid to eventually talk to is the girl who sits behind her everyday, so I can only assume that’s how we met. But, as is the purpose here, maybe she remembers it differently.
We became fast friends, and from that point until she left for public school if 5th grade, we shared the same classrooms and essentially the same memories. I was a part of her family and she was a part of mine. She’s in a huge percentage of our home movies.
We attended the same middle school, although this time separated by the strange divide of the gifted and magnet programs. We went on to the same high school, attended the same church.
But none of this provides you with much entertainment, or with much information that she can serve to contradict or confirm. So, in the spirit of storytelling, I offer up a list of the most prominent memories I have from our childhood. All of these will likely serve as story fodder for upcoming posts:
1. Playing unicorns in the front yard of her house, probably with her younger brother in tow. Her front yard faced out onto a fairly major street but was blocked by a row of bushes. We would beg and plead with her mom to take us across the street for snow cones (only in the summer). This particular snow cone stand made a fantastic rainbow snowcone that turned everyone’s teeth a dark shade of disgusting. We would pretend to be unicorns for literally hours, debating whether unicorns were only girls or whether there could be boy ones too (a debate mostly intended, I think, to keep younger brothers away). We had a big red plastic jewel that featured heavily in these games. It was probably supposed to be a warp stone of some kind that took us into other worlds to help people learn about unicorn power. She got the jewel from a grab-bag present that came from the Nursery Outlet where we had gone to purchase a Christmas tree (memory blends seasons). The grab bag concept consisted of a big barrel of paper-wrapped small gifts at the front of the store by the registers. Each one cost probably a dollar or so, and her mom must have bought us each one.
2. A sleepover she held for her birthday in which we all watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Labyrinth, the latter of which made me cry so uncontrollably that I had to be removed from the room by her every-understanding mother and given Peanuts comics (or possibly Garfield) to read until I could calm down. I remember being sad because my younger brother was still very young (maybe three at this point) and I somehow equated the lost baby in the movie with him and felt sad. Telling this now, I feel like that must have been a reflection of guilt for feeling like I didn’t appreciate him or some such thing – just like Jennifer Connelly in the movie.
3. Spending the night at her house ALL THE TIME. I had no bedtime as a kid, so I was late to bed and late to rise. E, on the other hand, had always woken up at the absolute crack of dawn. So she would fall asleep before me and I would stay up reading whatever books were available – usually the Babysitters Club – until I could fall asleep. She would wake me up early, though, to watch Garfield cartoons. A good bit of our childhood was Garfield- and Bullwinkle-themed, I think. I still remember laughing hysterically with her at a Garfield comic that featured the phrase “bean-filled whack-bonk” and another involving the paradoxical and Schrodinger-like “empty cat in an empty box.” We were little baby absurdists.
I could go on, but I’ll stop here for now and pass the mic to her, for the first real test of our experiment.