Dusty Picture Frames and Kamikaze Birds
I met them in seventh grade, when the students from three separate elementary schools merged together in one junior high. They all grew up in the next town over from me, within walking — or bike-riding — distance from each other. Jen and I met in art class. We sat at the same table, and got to know each other over our linoleum carvings or paper mache face masks, as the first few months of our junior high years passed by. I’d see her in the halls, milling around outside before school started, at lunch, or in chorus, and we’d say hello and chat briefly, but that was about the extent of it. We were art class friends — she had her circle of friends, and I had mine.
But middle school girls can be fickle, and cruel, and one day around Thanksgiving time I carried my lunch tray to the table my friends were at, only to discover that there wasn’t a seat saved for me. And when I moved to drag a chair over from a neighboring table, I was told by the girl who had been my closest, “best” friend that there just wasn’t any room. Someone else was sitting in my place, at her side. A new best friend.
There as no warning. No explanation offered. No hint of regret in her eyes.
Around the table the other girls looked shocked, looked embarrassed, looked away. The Queen Bee had spoken, so no one else made room, regardless of what they themselves may have felt or thought. Lost, suddenly without a lunch table, suddenly without a friend, I did the only thing I could think of. I headed across the room to Jen, and her friends. And refused to look back.
She welcomed me, no questions asked. Moved her chair over to make room for me. Introduced me to her friends. Included me in her circle. They all welcomed me…Jen, her sister Carrie, Shay and Tanya. My forever friends. Adolescence is a nightmare, when you’re in the midst of it. Going through it with them made it a bit more manageable. We supported each other through exams and break-ups, lousy jobs and group dates. Unplanned pregnancies, and horrendous parental dramas that no teenager should ever have to deal with.
As high school becomes a more and more distant memory, we’ve somehow remained close. Through marriages and divorces, pregnancy and childbirth, job changes, moves out of state and even overseas, and more parental dramas that no adult child should ever have to deal with, we’ve been there for each other. With each other.
Even with the distance in our lives, we still try to make an effort to stay close. Through e-mails and Facebook and text messages, and through periodic get-togethers. Several years ago, we met, with kids, at a local state park. We had planned on sharing a potluck lunch, exploring the beach and playground with the children, and catching up on each others lives. It wound up being a cold, windy, on-ond-off-drizzly day. We gathered together, shivering, on a picnic table overlooking the ocean, for a group picture. Our boyfriends/husbands manned the cameras, and we got countless shots of the five of us together. Then we pulled the kids on our laps for another picture.
There were a few pictures with everyone looking in the general direction of the camera. And then…the bird attacked. A massive, overstuffed seagull dive-bombed our picnic table, and we erupted in screams and laughter. Shay’s husband pressed the shutter button at just the right time to capture this image:
Since the day this was taken there’s been two more marriages, and seven more children, between the five of us. But this is the one photo, out of all the images I have of my friends and I, this is the one I cherish the most. This is us: unpolished, un-posed, uncensored.
Laughing uproariously while simultaneously dodging what life throws at us. Together.