Last year on this date, I wrote about a little girl who made me feel a little better about myself at a time I was hurt and vulnerable. (A Lesson In Shame)
So today, I thought it would be appropriate to write about another childhood friend.
When I was fifteen, my family moved across town.
Although we hadn’t even changed zip codes, it was still a big move for me. I would be switching to the rival cross-town high school. I figured I might know a kid or two once I got there, since I had been to a parochial elementary school with kids from all over town. But it was still a big change.
In a way, I was looking forward to it. I hadn’t exactly got off on the right foot as a freshman at my old school. For the really dumbest of reasons (I know that now). I had been on a couple of dates with a boy that everyone made fun of. And so they made fun of me too. Which was a shame. Looking back on it, I think he was a pretty nice kid. But I was awkward and immature and I cringed at the snickers. It may have been unkind of me, but I was just a dumb kid, and I felt humiliated. So I was glad to get a fresh start in my sophomore year.
It was summer when we moved. You’d think it would be easy to meet kids in the summer. Everyone home and the weather is nice. And that’s true for little kids. My brother was nine, and as soon as we moved in, he met every boy in the neighborhood, and was happily off and running and playing. (Or at least it appeared that way to me – he may have been terrified too. And if so, I’m sorry, little brother.)
And my sisters were in college. And they could drive. And their friends could drive. I’m not saying that they or any of their friends had cars and money of their own. But it certainly did seem easier for them, and not much a transition. Their independence and mobility made continuing their friendships that much easier. (Or at least it appeared that way to me – they may have been terrified too. And if so, I’m sorry, big sisters.)
But fifteen. I didn’t drive. My friends didn’t drive. We had working parents who had to leave us to our own devices in the summer. We had no money. There was no summer camp. There was no school for meeting friends. There was no school bus with gangs of hollering kids. It was very quiet. And neighborhood teenagers don’t exactly come knocking on your door to ask if Nancy can come out to play.
I felt there were either no teenagers in the neighborhood at all, or that they had some secret meeting place that I could not uncover. I also thought they might have somehow got the word that I was an idiot.
Still, the new neighborhood seemed nice. The house was lovely – I had my own room. And I had a chance to reinvent myself, once school started.
The weather was good that summer, and I was a bookworm. So I often sat on my front steps and read.
And so that’s what I did – just like I had done at my old house.
And not long after we moved in, a little girl walked by and stared at me.
And she walked past me a number of times.
And then she walked over to me.
“I’m Amy,” she said. “Do you want to play cards?”
Amy was a tall little girl, but still a little girl. But hey, I played cards with my little brother all the time. So I agreed.
And I grabbed a pack of cards and we sat on the steps and played.
It turned out that Amy was eleven years old. She chattered about everything and anything while we played. I learned all about her family and her school and the neighborhood. She told me about all the other kids – and it turned out that there were not a lot of teenagers in the neighborhood after all. One boy who lived just a few houses down – “Very cute but very conceited”, confided Amy. And a few others she saw around but didn’t really know. After all, she was eleven. What teenager would hang around with an eleven-year-old?
Me, that’s who. I hung around with an eleven-year-old.
All summer. We played cards and board games and we took walks. We listened to music. She had a great record collection for an eleven-year-old. And she was smart… really smart. I have to admit I was a little embarrassed sometimes to be seen with such a little kid – but really, who was there to see me? I was alone and lonely. Overwhelmingly I was just happy to have a friend.
School finally started. I did meet teenagers who lived near me. And I recognized a few faces from my old grammar school. And I made friends in my classes. Quite a few are still my friends more than fifty years later.
Amy went back to her grammar school too. And played with kids her own age.
But every once in a while, for the next year or two, we hung out. Mostly in the summer. I remember playing the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album over and over in Amy’s room when I was 16 and Amy was 12.
If Amy’s mother thought it was weird – or even unhealthy – for a teenager to hang out with her little girl, she never said a word. She and Amy’s dad and her whole family were never anything but kind and welcoming.
My own mother was kind about it – she knew I was lonely. She just cautioned me not to push Amy to grow up before her time.
Of course with that age difference, it wasn’t long before I was off to college while Amy was just starting high school. It was inevitable that eventually we lost touch.
Skip ahead a short 52 years.
I was looking at the Facebook page from my hometown, and there was a name that looked familiar.
I jumped right on and re-introduced myself.
And Amy was just as happy to re-meet me and be friends as she was when she was eleven.
All those sweet memories are revived.
She has moved away from Connecticut. But one of the pleasures of social media is that friendships are so easily resumed. And now that we are both in our sixties, well, it turns out there isn’t an age difference after all.
How lucky I was that Amy wanted to be my friend – just when I needed one.