When I was in the fourth grade we moved to paradise. We lived in the big city in a cramped 2nd floor apartment with a bed that folded up into the wall, a couch six inches away where I slept, a closet sized kitchen with a tiny booth for eating and a bathroom barely large enough to accommodate the necessary facilities.
The country house we moved to was not large by anyone's standards, but it was heaven for me. A cute little eat-in kitchen that actually held a table and chairs and a connecting back porch that expanded the kitchen space, a living room with a sofa AND chairs AND end tables AND coffee table AND a TV stand AND a desk AND still room for the oil heating stove. True, I still had to sleep on the couch, but there was a separate bedroom with a door that gave everyone more privacy.
There were outbuildings galore that I would fill with animals and find my true self and a detached garage that matched the house with it's native stone construction. I didn't know it at the time but that garage would one day be all mine; an island of respite, a little haven to sleep and dream and write in journals.
This rainbows-end sat on 9 3/4 acres of rocky wooded wonderland. A world away from the noisy crowded city streets I came from. By the time the weekend was over and the station wagon slash school bus squeaked to a stop in front of my house I was a true country girl. At least in spirit.
I was the third passenger; I stiffly took an empty seat and avoided eye contact. By the time we pulled into the parking area the bus was full: six students. The last to get on and the first off was a boy in a football helmet with auburn hair barely sticking out. About an hour later I discovered it was a girl. She took no guff from the boys, looked the teacher straight in the eye when spoken to, made a grand slam at recess and aced every quiz. My idol.
She was a few years older than I; several of the students were. But, there was an equal mix of younger kids, too. The one room school seemed like a family to me. Brothers and sisters I didn't have. Kids talked to me and included me and traded sandwiches. New feelings erupted. Of belonging. Of becoming. Of being born.
A scant three years later I learned a word that struck terror and made my insides freeze over. Consolidation. The entire summer my folks and all our neighbors who had children in the country school ranted and raved and retold horror stories of what happened to kids in the city schools.
I cried and prayed and begged God to please let the little country school stay open. I remembered the city schools. I wanted no part of what they offered: loneliness, humiliation, failing grades.
When the inevitable came it was big and yellow but the brakes still squeaked. The driver was different but the kids were the same. An hours ride gave us plenty of time to speculate and commiserate that we would never be in the same classroom again.
I wasn't good at meeting strangers. I didn't want to. I was afraid to. The faces of the bullies from my big city school loomed in my mind. I was doomed.
By the time I was seated at my desk my hands clenched, my teeth gritted, my stomach queased. It was all I could do to keep from crying. Instead of a grown up eighth grader I was that little miserable scared fourth grader all over again.
But, more things happen at lunch than bologna sandwiches. She walked right over to me and smiled. "Hi", she said. "I'm Janet."
Those words changed my life. Really. Changed my life. She became my role model, my confidante, my go to person for all my girl stuff, school stuff, parent stuff, teen stuff, boy stuff. Her mom became my mom, her dad-my dad, her brother-my brother.
She was my day and night, my life jacket, my friend. I can honestly say I don't know what would have become of me if it had not been for her. She believed in me then; she believes in me now. Through all the ups and downs in my life and in hers she has tethered me to saneness.
And, the beautiful thing is--I'm not the only one who feels that way about her. Everyone loves her because she has been a friend to all. She will do anything for you; she is always there for you--loving and listening.
I love you, Janet. WE love you--the "kids" from that "city school" I was so afraid of. Thank you for your life-and-beyond friendship. Thank you for being you.