The summer before 4th grade I went to the town's
swimming pool with my best friend Jolene.
We'd met in 1st grade –
We were both tallish and blondish
And had much older brothers,
but we were basically raised as only children.
Considering how much time we spent at the pool that summer,
it's funny looking back on what little I remember.
While I can't recall the events of that morning,
all of a sudden I realized I was alone in the deep end.
I couldn't see Jolene anywhere.
I checked the kid's area that was popular because it was warmed by the rays of summer sun seeping in through the window,
I checked the bathrooms and nurses station.
And finally I checked the changing rooms.
There I found her. Hanging out with another girl.
Worse yet this girl was also tallish –
More so than Jolene, but less so than me
while ours was long and stick straight,
the new girl's was cut into a short bob and permed.
and Jolene didn't leave her side all afternoon long.
I had been ditched, and I instantly despised this new girl.
Jolene explained that she had just moved into town the month before and I learned later that afternoon, sneering at her from the warm waters of the kiddie pool, that she could dive into the deep end like a dolphin while I still had to plug my nose and pray to God before leaving the pool's edge.
Yup, I hated her.
Two weeks later school started, and I'm sure I went through the normal 'first day of school' routine of picking out the best outfit from my back to school shopping trip and posing for pictures with my brand new backpack in front of the house or car or mailbox, but none of the preparation for that day was memorable.
What I DO remember is walking into Mrs. Pointer's class and seeing most of the desks pushed into groups of four and labeled with assigned seats.
I walked all around the room looking for my name and hoping that Dustin was next to me, when finally I found 'Carla' scrawled across a bright yellow nametag off in the corner in a lonely group of two.
As I looked to see my partner's name, Mrs. Pointer ushered the new girl from the swimming pool – Ashley – over to me and explained that I would be her 'buddy' as she learned the ropes at our elementary school.
I was devastated.
Not only was I clear across the room from every cute boy in my class,
but I was paired up with my arch nemeses.
4th grade was obviously going to be a nightmare.
Turns out it wasn't so bad.
Ashley was funny and nice and in a turn of events, Jolene was in a different class and Ashley quickly replaced her as my best friend.
Nearly twenty years later and we're still friends.
We survived middle school AND high school together.
She flew out to visit me at college back East.
I flew out to be with her for the birth of her daughter.
She was the first visitor after Hannah was born.
We have our own lives, which in many ways are completely different,
And we've had countless fights and reconciliations –
some of which only time could heal.
But since the first day of 4th grade, she's always been my buddy.
I rarely make it back to my hometown, but this weekend I went down to spend time with my mom for her birthday weekend, and to see Ashley.
We met up at the site of our old elementary school,
The significance of which I only realized while writing this
and I followed her out to her new home.
Back along winding country roads,
through old red covered bridges, and
along tiny creeks lined with old rope swings
We drove and drove and drove.
Finally – Finally! – we turned up a long gravel driveway cut between fields of cows and arrived at her house.
Far beyond the reach of internet and cable TV, we sat in front of big windows overlooking the fields and talked as Hannah played with vintage My Little Ponies that Ashley had pulled out of a box of childhood toys.
We talked for hours - about family, babies, infertility, classmates, memories – and as the sun began to set we walked down the gravel road and watched the cows settle in for the night as frogs croaked and crickets chirped.
To say it was idyllic was an understatement.
I hope that Hannah has a friend like Ashley someday.
A friend that teaches her patience, and perspective, and loyalty.
A friend that challenges her to be a bigger person,
And a friend that forgives her when she's not.
A friend that she can always be honest with,
And a friend that knows nearly all of her secrets.
But most importantly, a friendship that spans decades:
That outlasts ugly hairdos, bad phases, mean boyfriends,
dumb choices, bitter fights, utter heartbreak,
and is stronger for it.
Sometimes you just need a long drive, an old friend, an amazing
sunset, and a bunch of cows in order to gain perspective.
Sometimes a journey that starts off badly ends beautifully.