Saturday, January 23, 2010

Angels in our Midst

“Buckle Close Friends to Your Soul”

--Maya Anjelou

And so it begins. Eiledon came home from school last Thursday and said, “Mama, the other kids in my class really aren’t nice. Especially the girls.”

The first kick to the gut of a mom who went through upper elementary, junior high and high school completely lost among the daily dramas of adolescent identity-seeking, internally crippled by insecurity and falling back on the only way she knew how to be, which was “weird” and a “know-it-all” and a “teacher’s pet.” I didn’t get my classmates and I was sure they didn’t get me.

“Oh, Eiledon,” I said as gently as I could, trying not to make it about me, “I remember how that felt. And it’s okay. It’s normal. But it may be that way for a while, maybe even up through high school.”

“Well that sucks,” she said. “Sucks” is a new word for her. I try not to giggle.

“Now is the time, Eiledon, when you have to hold on to your good friends.”

I am so grateful that Eiledon has good friends. A handful of girls for whom she has indomitable affection and with whom she can truly be herself. She will need them.

I think if it hadn’t been for Lora Grisafi, Susan Waldenmaier and Mika Nishida, I wouldn’t have made it through high school with my sanity intact, much less my optimism.

Lora was my very first friend. Seven months older than me and just two doors down the street in our neighborhood, Lora and her brothers were just a part of the pack we kids ran with. When we were little girls we fought like sisters, friends one day, “I’m not your friend!” the next. As we grew up, it was evident that we had little in common beyond proximity, but it never mattered. Lora was a constant in my world and someone I could count on to love me even though I had absolutely no clue about anything worldly. We talk maybe once a year anymore but every time we connect it’s as if no time has passed, we just pick up where we left off.

I met Susan in kindergarten at Carl L. Dixson School. We would be Brownies and then Junior Girl Scouts together, have the same third and fourth grade teachers, and both play flute in the Alice E. Grady Elementary School band. When you’re kids, friendships are more casual and situational and, particularly after I skipped fifth grade, I wouldn’t say we were “close.” But for some reason, when I was in ninth grade and she was in eighth, something changed. It’s weird, when I think about it: I have this crystal clear memory of the Hamilton High School cafeteria, sitting with Sue and a few other people, eating lunch, and from that day, things were different. We were inseparable. She probably doesn’t remember it the same way, like it was an ‘all of a sudden’ thing. But I just remember that before that day, I was horribly, miserably, devastatingly lonely and after that, I had a best friend. (I still have her. I am so lucky.)

Mika moved in when she was in the sixth grade and I in the eighth, having been born in Japan and lived in California from age 3 to 10. She lived two doors down from me in the opposite direction from Lora. Because of a quirk of school district mapping, she was in a different district than I so we never had the common backdrop of school. What we did have was a shared passion for music and the arts. We sang together, we drew together, we ran around like maniacs together. She went to church with my family for years. When I went off to college, and she, later, to the Boston Conservatory for the Performing Arts, we lost touch. For whatever reason, we just couldn’t keep up the communication. Say what you will about Facebook, but it has brought Mika back into my life and my life is much richer for it.

I’ve grown past all the stomach-churning memories of ‘mean girls’ from my past. I understand, now, that they were as lost as I. But at the time, in my naïve and socially inept navigation of the confusing maelstrom of growing up, Lora, Susan and Mika were no less than angelic presences in my life, giving me all the unconditional love and grace I didn’t know how to give myself. They are still buckled close to my soul. Thanks guys. You rock.

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