Saturday, November 10, 2007

Back in Time

When I was in elementary school I had a friend I'll call Susan. She lived down the street from me so we spent quite a bit of time at each others' houses. We made a lot of plans together, for trips to Seattle on the bus to stay with her grandma, and for moneymaking schemes. We even hired ourselves out as clowns to entertain at kids' parties. (We were terrible entertainment. I think we did a couple of somersaults and handed out butterscotch buttons.)

Susan was in my class and she was smart and funny. We were both in the highest reading group (does everyone know what that means?) and she was really fast with multiplication tables. She loved to play school; she had set up a whole school room with desks and a chalkboard in her basement, and we would take her two younger sisters down there and bribe them with candy to do science projects and read aloud to us. Susan was one of the good kids at school who got along with the teachers and stayed out of trouble. We laughed a lot together.

Even though both of us lived with our moms and had dads who visited periodically, I knew life at her house was a lot different than life at mine. At my house we ate Chips Ahoy after school; at her house we scooped peanut butter out of a big metal can and ate it straight off the spoon. There were no pictures on the walls at her house, just a couple of posters that the kids got free at school taped up in the bedrooms . My dad and I had scheduled visits; her dad just showed up unexpectedly or, more often, didn't show up at all. Her mom, who even I could tell was having a rough time and doing her best, had a younger boyfriend who Susan hated and who looked at the two of us in a way that made me uncomfortable. Sometimes she brought her sisters over to our house with no warning, and my mom fed them dinner and told them they could spend the night.

At the end of sixth grade, Susan's mom decided to go to college and moved the family to a small student house at the state university campus a few hours away. They were going to start a new, better life, or that's what her mom had planned for them. Susan was angry. Her sisters were younger - they didn't mind moving - but she didn't want to leave her school and her friends.

Susan visited me a few times that next year. She told me she'd gone to a party at the university and gotten drunk and done a bunch of things she hadn't intended with some older boys. She was twelve years old.

I lost track of her over the years, though every now and then I'll hear something about her through her cousins that still live in my hometown. Her mom got her degree and is doing really well. One of her sisters is a doctor and the other is married and has several children. The last I heard, Susan was living on her own and her family thought she was drinking too much.

In my mind, she's still a twelve-year-old and I want to go back in time and remind her that she is smart and funny, and that she wanted to be a teacher, and take her to Seattle for the weekend.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: All That You Can't Leave Behind : U2


Barbetti said...

This post inspires me to write about my former best friend in elementary school who also went down the wrong path.

Thank you for sharing. I really liked this post.

Martina said...

My daughter (turns 12 in February) has friends like Susan. I do my best to give them a feel for "normal", boring family life when they visit us, and they have also shown up unexpectedly and been invited for supper and to stay the night.

Funny how the world doesn't really change.