I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude for people in my life. Yesterday, I remembered two girls who gave me the opportunity to feel the pain of rejection and make me question my value as a friend. Today, I want to express my gratitude for two young women who lavished me with friendship without question. They liked me just the way I was and I liked them back!
Barb, who I met in eighth grade became my friend for that year. I don’t know why I had not known her all along in my Catholic school years, since most of my classmates had been there since first grade! Maybe she and her family moved in later, or didn’t put their kids in the school until that year. Anyway, Barb and I seemed to bet along pretty well, and we did a lot together because we were in the same Girl Scout troop. I had not been active in Girl Scouts for a few years, but Barb’s mom organized a troop for “Cadettes”, junior high aged girls, and I joined it.
Barb’s house was on a long way home to mine, so we would walk together, dropping her off first. I could stay for a little while before going home. One memory that stands out is a time that Barb’s dad got upset at us, though. As I recall, we had been dismissed from evening play practice early. I said, “Barb, we could just walk you home, then maybe your dad would take me.” She liked that idea and we headed out, cutting across the park and over to her house. It was just a block away from the school! To my surprise, her dad, instead of acknowledging our promptness, yelled at us. “You shouldn’t be walking in that park at night! Don’t you know how dangerous that is?!! There are all kinds of bad people there at night! You should have called me!” Then, he stomped away. He didn’t say anything about taking me home, so I just left to walk myself home, another three short blocks. I was thinking, “If it’s so dangerous to be out at night, why doesn’t he offer to take me home? I guess he doesn’t care about me, just Barb.”
I was walking home, and on the way I met Mr. McGary, who lived in the house on a corner I passed. I knew him because he was our Track coach. He said, “Why are you out alone? I’ll walk you home.” And he did. I have no idea why I had not called my own parents. I probably thought they were busy, and wouldn’t mind me walking home anyway. So, I guess I can add my gratitude for Mr. McGary reaching out to me, and to Mr. Gephardt for giving me that little challenge to my sense of well-being and safety.
Anyway, back to Barb! I liked her because she was beautiful, with her dark hair. I felt good being with her! She got the lead in our Eighth Grade production of The Mikado, and got to be Yum-Yum. I loved being one of her character’s attendants as Pitti-Sing, even though the kimono I had made myself wasn’t as perfect as hers. (Remember from my post about Teachers in Gratitude 17, I had learned to do things myself even if the outcome was inferior!)
Barb and I got to go to Girl Scout Camp together! Those four weeks were some of the best in my life so far! Four weeks of camping, making ice cream, walking, singing, and being with Barb and the other friends we met. I’m grateful that I got to go to that camp and for being with Barb. I think I would have kept being Barb’s friend for a while if she had not moved away out to the suburbs later that summer. I did go to one slumber party at her new house, but we didn’t stay in touch after that.
High school at the all-girls and Catholic Julienne put me in the company of hundreds of girls. I could branch out from my grade school where Barb had been my only good friend, and make new friends. And I did! I made a friend in Kathy Brinkman, who sat very close to me in homeroom where we sat in alphabetical order. As Regina Bernard, there was just one other girl named Bridget between us. I got along with Kathy because she matched my sarcasm, which I had mastered. Nothing went by that didn’t inspire some joke in my mind. Kathy and I both saw a lot to criticize in the regimented, narrow minded ways of the Catholic school. Kathy, especially, kept up on the news and got involved in local politics. I was still compliant and ready to follow the lead, so I admired her pluck and wit.
She introduced me to The Living Arts Center where she could express her knowledge of a bigger world view and I could realize there WAS a bigger world view. Kathy left the limited world of Julienne High School after two years to go to the public high school, which seemed so big and scary to me. She talked all about the principal there and how he embraced diversity and politics and encouraged Kathy to get involved in it. She beamed with excitement at her chance to go there where her boyfriend, Dan, went as well. I got to meet Dan, too, at Living Arts. That was my first chance at being in a group of kids I felt I belonged with. We took a variety of classes in visual arts, writing, and dance. With Kathy’s modeling, I learned how to joke around and talk with our teachers, who constantly challenged my narrow view of life.
The summer after our junior year, Kathy went to France in a student exchange program. Although we wrote letters to each other, her experience there seemed distant and alienating. When she came back at the end of the summer, she didn’t seem interested in her old friends anymore and we drifted apart. I was sad, but believed that losing friends was a normal expectation of life, so I just moved on to other relationships. I continued going to Living Arts for another semester, but it just wasn’t the same without Kathy and Dan. Besides, it was my senior year and I was making other friends at Julienne, including my first boyfriend, Chuck. And that’s another story!
So, thanks, Barb and Kathy for being my friends when having just one was enough! On my bedroom wall during those years was a poster that said, “Forgive my trying on these many faces. I’m urgently looking for my own!” That’s a fitting line for my teenage years, and I’m grateful that my friends could mirror back my confusion with love.