I'm going to tell you a story today, one that has been long in the making, mostly because I had to let it sit within for many years before I could tell it. The other people in the story are grown up now, but we were all children then. Nothing huge happens in the scheme of things; it is just the way of the world, the way of children, but in the moment, it meant everything. I did not ask anyone if I may tell this story, so I'm changing names.
When I was nine, I started reading Anne of Green Gables. I didn't finish it then; I didn't like how old she seemed. The next year, a girl in my class, whom I'll call Diana, encouraged me to read it. So I did, and I found myself. I was Anne, dreamy, imaginative, given to ignoring plain speech when there was a bigger and more beautiful word that could be used. And I cast Diana as Anne's Diana, and I decided she was my best friend.
It didn't really dawn on me that I wasn't Diana's best friend. She didn't always choose me for partner work in class, the way I always chose her. She was nearly a year older than I, since her birthday fell after the cutoff for starting school and mine just before. She was pretty, with dark, curling hair, fine skin, and long fingers. Diana was chubby in that leggy way of girls who will later stretch into tall, slim gorgeousness. I was chubby in the way that would settle into my hips and thighs later.
Most of the time,we were happy, real bosom friends. I took on that dream world of Mongomery's books full force, reframing every experience and person in the language of the stories. At Diana's urging, I read the Anne books until she grew up and had her own children. I read the Emily books. I loved them, reading and rereading them.
At the end of fifth grade, I had what in hindsight was a foretaste of things to come. Diana inexplicably stopped talking to me. She sent notes back with "no comment" carefully printed at the bottom. I took it in stride; I had a good role in the spring musical, I had Girl Scouts and church choir. I had other friends. And eventually, she came around, and things went on as before.
Sixth grade came, with a move to middle school and the advent of boy-girl parties and changing classrooms. Diana and I were in the same class again, and I loved it. I had two or three little circles of friends, some of which included her more than others, but she was still my best friend. I included her in all my plans, called her every evening, chose her for group work. Perhaps she liked my company as much as I liked hers. We had other friends, people to invite for sleepovers and parties. Still, I loved my time with her, when we would call one another Anne and Diana, or Emily and Ilse, and everything was beautiful.
The axe fell at the beginning of seventh grade. She came to my birthday party at the end of August, a small gathering of girls, and brought me a Judy Blume book about best friends starting seventh grade. She seemed cool and distant but I chalked it up to there being other girls there, and we had a nice time. And then, there was the first day of school, when I ran up to compare schedules, and she turned and walked away. She would not speak to me, ignored my notes, wouldn't come to the phone when I called.
I tried for weeks to get her to tell me what I'd done, why she was treating me this way. I was devastated. My first period came, and she wasn't around to talk about it. She avoided me at all costs. I was lucky, though. I wasn't a complete pariah, and for that, I am so grateful. I had friends, though no one would go into those fantastical worlds with me any more. At twelve, I still played with dolls, still loved make-believe. Mine was the house where the too-cool girls could relax and be children for a few hours. But at school, no one wanted to acknowledge it, no one wanted to be a little child with me any more, and I longed for it.
I wrote melancholy poems in my diary, poured out my heart, asking why, why, why? The year went on. A friend's father died of cancer, another's committed suicide. We performed the HMS Pinafore. I went to parties, had a boyfriend for two weeks, planned to go to Chinese camp. And Diana was not there for any of it. She glittered in my peripheral vision, sitting at the other end of the lunch table, on the other side of our groups of friends, never looking directly at me, never speaking my name.
There was one afternoon, at a middle school dance, where we ended up sitting together in the cafeteria, taking a break from the pop music in the gym, with one other girl, who asked Diana why she didn't talk to me. There was a whole conversation, all through this other girl. We were all laughing, and I thought perhaps this might be it! She might want to be my friend again! But she didn't. She drifted back to the gym and ignored my attempts to talk to her without the medium.
In August, a few days before my thirteenth birthday, a letter came in the mail from Diana. "Happy birthday," she wrote. "Are you surprised to hear from me? I wanted to tell you that though we will never again be friends as we were, we shall always meet as acquaintances." I was delighted,and so goddamned grateful that she would be speaking to me again. My mother was disgusted.
Why m I telling you this? Because it is part of my story, and because it has so deeply influenced how I interact with people even today. Isn't it amazing how much those slights in childhood still hurt, decades later? Part of me wants to write to Diana; last I heard, she was working in a former Soviet republic, where she had been in the Peace Corps. We were cordial in high school, but she was right: we were never friends again. Something had broken; I don't if she had broken it on purpose, or if she had simply recognized that she was growing up faster than I and had to get out of a constrictive friendship that no longer served who she was. I hope it was the latter, that we were just sad little girls who didn't know how to do anything better, didn't have the vocabulary or judgement to talk rationally about the pain of change and the need to explore life beyond Avonlea.
Somewhere, deep inside me, is that twelve-year-old girl, still mourning the loss of her bosom friend. I wish I could hug her, tell her that better, bigger things were coming, that this was freeing her to find something more real. But sometimes, I can only react as little Me did, and I am filled with fear that I will be too much, too demanding, and that I will squeeze my relationships to death, harmed by my own intensity. So I dim my light, I pull back, I put weights on my my feet to ground my ebullient nature.
Let's let them out, our little selves. Let them breathe, let them dance. Let those children shine their light, create their worlds. Let them be as big and bright as they are, so that we can find again the fearlessness that they had, before they were hurt. That is the only way to heal, and the only way to forgive our Dianas, for they were little children, too, struggling to shine.
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.