BFFs, Weddings, and Childhood Nostalgia

Friday, July 29, 2016

Last Friday I had the honor of attending the wedding of my oldest childhood friend. It was probably the most emotional wedding I’ve ever been to—even I cried a little. And it was gorgeous, but not too serious (so pretty much the opposite of my solemn pajama wedding).

There was much eating, much drinking, and much dancing. When it was time to do toasts and stories, I had a really hard time picking one,  because when you’ve known someone for as long as you can remember, when you were like their awkward extra cousin growing up, you collect a hoard of things you love about them. I ended up going with a serious, mushy story about some advice she gave me during a dark time in my life: “When God is all you have, you realize that God is all you need.” The moral of this story? If Peter ever needs advice, Sarah is always right—because after something that serious, the room needed some comic relief.

Sarah’s grandparents lived across the street from my parents, so whenever she would go over to her grandparents’ house and it wasn’t a holiday where I was obligated to be somewhere else, we would either play at her grandparents’ house or at mine. Since I’ve known her kind of forever, I’m going to have to be selective about which memories to include here, because I could literally write a book, and because you don’t need to know all the gristly details about things like awkward female conversations, who had a crush on who, the time I had the wrong phone number, color-coded easter egg hunts, prank calling Miranda, or the time Sarah helped me dig a hole in the giant bush fort to dispose of something (that was NOT a dead body).

I don’t remember meeting Sarah. She tells me that she remembers my mom being pregnant with Gideon, and I guess that’s possible (I remember going to the hospital to visit her/him after he was born—which I totally shouldn’t because I was only 2 1/2). I’m pretty sure that the story that we tell is something that our childhood minds contrived. Basically the tale goes that I was playing on one of the swings that hung from a giant fir tree in my front yard and she saw me and came over and we started playing. That’s about all we’ve got. If anyone (*cough*cough*parents*) who might have actually been there and old enough to remember introducing us to each other would like to share the real story, I would appreciate that.

By the time we were four years old, I would spend the night at her grandma’s house (never at my house) with her when she stayed there. Here’s a picture from what I think was our first sleep over. Gideon was a turd and ripped it up when we were pretty young, but my mom pieced it back together and pasted it on a piece of cardstock for me.

In my memory, I have always called Sarah’s grandparents “Pete” and “Vivian,” rather than Mr. & Mrs. Duhart, even though I’m sure my mom would have preferred that I refer to them by more respectful titles. Anyway, Vivian always had and abundance of coloring books and crayons stashed in her coffee table thingamajig for her grandkids and their friends (mostly just me). She also kept a stash of bathtub boats and toothbrushes for all of her grandkids in her bathroom. As I was not a grandkid, there was no toothbrush for me, though I probably spent the night about as often as some of them did, and certainly more often than I recall spending the night at my own grandma’s house. She also usually fed us spaghetti and/or corn on the cob for dinner, and we loved it.

Vivian usually made Sarah and me a bed together on the floor of the grandkid room. After some years, Sarah developed the habit of stealing all of the blanket in her sleep and rolling up like a burrito, which left me in the cold. Have you ever tried to steal blankets back from someone rolled up like a burrito? It’s not worth it. At some point, Vivian realized this, and started making the bed with separate blankets for each of us so that I wouldn’t freeze to death. We always slept with a night light, partially because of fear of the dark, partially because that way we didn’t step on each other if we had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and partially because that allowed us to make shadow puppets on the wall when we were supposed to be sleeping.

On one occasion when we were way older, Gideon wanted to tag along and spend the night with us, which we weren’t too enthusiastic about. It was the only time I remember him having a sleepover with us. Anyway, one of the terrible running jokes in our neighborhood was that he was in love with the neighbor girl (he was way too young for that crap), so we harassed him with shadow puppets of him and the neighbor girl saying sappy things and basically devouring each others’ faces. After we’d done that for awhile, he was cured of wanting to spend the night with us, and in a huff, promptly walked back across the street to his own bed. We felt kind of bad after that—we hadn’t realized that he was upset enough to leave.

When we were maybe five, Sarah actually convinced me that a storybook of Goldilocks and the three bears was about soup monsters. I didn’t know any better—I couldn’t read (and I doubt that she could either). But she was the cool girl from Salem who was a whole three and a half months older than me, and I totally believed her. I did get kind of skeptical, however, when she started telling me that the dictionary was a book about monsters (and pointed out the “dirt monsters” that lived in the mole hills in the yard)…because even a five year old knows what a dictionary is for.

Sarah was my best friend when I was growing up, because I didn’t socialize much and when I did, it was usually with boys. To me, it was a rare, wonderful thing when I got to hang out with her. I remember once she was planning to stay two nights with her grandparents and I wanted to go over there and play. My mom wouldn’t let me the first day. I don’t remember if we had somewhere we had to go, like grocery shopping, or if she just didn’t want me to go over there that day for whatever reason, but she told me that I could play with Sarah the next day. Her parents came back early from wherever they’d gone and picked her up, so I never got the chance. I cried. I was soooooooooo mad at my mom! That was maybe second or third grade.

We played outside a lot, and sometimes we’d climb trees. There was one tree in Vivian’s back yard that Sarah actually named all of the major branches on. First Avenue. Second avenue (which split into Horsey and Countryside). Third avenue. Fourth Avenue. Fifth avenue (the trunk which went straight up). Weirdo. Who names the branches of trees? And after streets?

About fourth or fifth grade we decided to start designing clothes. Like pretty much everything we did, this was Sarah's idea. Our designs weren’t particularly original. It was mostly the same spaghetti-strap tank tops, t-shirts, dresses, etc. with different words and designs printed on them. This was accomplished with pencils and paper, as were our trading card designs. The cards were called Pretty & Pinks. All of the cards—which we never cut out—bore doodles of stereotypically girly things like butterflies, lady bugs, and teddy bears with a short description of what good fortune they would bestow on the female holder of the card and what way they would orchestrate the death of boys.

For instance:

Teddy Bear
+20 points
This card has the ability to wrap girls in a warm hug, but it strangles boys.

The point values were arbitrarily assigned and never meant anything, as we never established any rules for playing the game.

That was also about the time that Sarah, Gideon, and I decided to start a band. It didn’t matter to us that none of us really played an instrument. I mean, I’d been trying to learn a backwards strung guitar since I was six, and we had a terrible little keyboard from Goodwill, and we could all sort of sing, so who cared? At first Sarah named us “Banana Split.” After awhile, she decided that something more sophisticated like “Jasmine Flower” would be better. We wrote songs with pretty ridiculous lyrics, a few of which I can still remember and sing (Sarah’s “Old People,” “Just Go Away,” and “Choose”). I would guess that she probably stole the band names from somewhere, and maybe even some of her lyrics, but that doesn’t matter now. We had fun. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), the tape recorder that we had previously used to make “radio shows” died long before this, so we had nothing to record with. Instead, we wrote out tickets to our first concert, which we never performed. I remember ticket No. 1 being a key part of my gift for Sarah’s mom at her sister’s baby shower.

While all of this was going on, we were in a pretty intense “notebook” phase of our childhood, which neither of us has really outgrown. Sarah started carrying notebooks around with her everywhere and writing “books.” Since she was cool I wanted to do whatever she did, I did likewise. Sarah is responsible for introducing me to fiction writing, and my particular attachment to novels. Our early stories included a lot of troublemaker children who played pranks on one another, families with crap tons of children, ghosts and scary weather phenomena (like tornadoes), and weird pets with wacky names. She also introduced me to tag-along stories, which are still my favorite bored-at-a-party game/ice-breaker.

On one occasion, we were sunbathing in my backyard and writing in our notebooks. We lost track of time. Now, there was a basket where Sarah, Gideon, and I laid our apples between bites so that they wouldn’t get covered in grass. The apples got all mixed up and we couldn’t figure out whose was whose. As you can imagine, this kind of grossed us out, so rather than finishing the half-eaten apples, we threw them away. My mom found them, washed them off, and tried to get us to eat them. So we tried to dispose of them again, and once again she found them. I think that Sarah ended up getting out of it, but Gideon I had to eat the darn things, though I can’t remember if we trimmed off the bitten parts or not. On top of that, I had a pretty terrible sunburn, because I don’t tan—at all.

That was just one of many weird memories that I have that are vaguely related to swimming. For instance, Sarah was actually the first person to baptize me. Because really, what ten year old doesn’t want to practice baptizing her friends while saying in a dramatic, manly voice, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”? On another occasion, we made a whole philosophy around jumping into the pool to get used to it, and Sarah’s motto for the whole day was “the only way out is under.” Don’t ask me what that means. I don’t get it even now.

Sometimes when it was really hot, Vivian would take us to swim in the river by her her boss’s house. Our affinity for fiction came out with a vengeance on one of these occasions and we made up a story about a girl named Cynthia (like Angelica’s doll from Rugrats) who was murdered on thus-and-such rock and how every hundred years a huge black hole opens up and swallows someone.

This was also around the time that we were obsessed with making friendship bracelets. Sarah always made very serious wishes on these things, like that her cat Carter would come back to life. Sarah has always loved animals, and she’s had a more than a few cats and dogs. However, she has no great love of beetles. I was not present for the famed “beetle incident” but she told me about I numerous times, usually as she was lifting up the covers to check for bugs before getting into bed.

On an occasion or two when we were a bit younger, Sarah thought we should be pen pals. That didn’t work out so well, since we called each other much more frequently than we had the patience to write, and I was too cheap to buy stamps. One time I tried to mail her a letter with a $0.34 stamp I’d found in my Dad’s desk and the stamp price had already risen to $0.39. That particular letter only got delivered because Vivian worked at True Value, which had Mehama’s post office in it, and knew that her granddaughter was coming to spend the night at her house soon anyway, so rather than sending it through USPS like it was supposed to, she just took it home and I got to watch Sarah open it over breakfast one morning. The whole mail-intercepting thing is probably illegal, but I appreciated it. If memory serves, I was the one that the pen pal adventure died on, though I don’t think that’s entirely my fault, since Sarah sent me stuff like her Christmas list, which is itself pretty funny to read now, but not exactly response inspiring.

As we got older, Sarah brought some of her friends to Mehama and I got to meet them. That was kind of cool, and when she invited me to her fifteenth birthday party, I already knew a few people, including Sydney, the other Sarah from New Zealand (who is the source of my false quasi-British accent), and Stephanie, whose driveway we chalked that night along with the driveways of 10 other people Sarah knew....aaaaaaaaand one other random house that someone else had already toilet papered. Between the chalking adventure, my first and last game of The Virgin Tea Party (invented by Sarah and her friends—a hilarious but terrible game that brings out the worst in teenage girls), going to church with everyone in the morning, and hanging out with her family for the Superbowl party afterward, there are just too many fabulous memories from a time span less than 48 hours for me to tell them all, and I doubt that anyone besides myself would find them as awesome as I do. However, one line is worth repeating: “One of you streakers lost her bracelet on the porch last night.”

When we were in middle school, Sarah got to meet my herd of friends once or twice too. Unfortunately, my friends had this obnoxious tendency of inviting themselves over to spend the night (I actually really miss it), and that wasn’t usually a problem, but I had already been planning on spending the night with Sarah. I was a stupid people-pleaser and didn’t say anything, so that was one sleepover that I missed out on with her.

When we were about 10, Sarah’s favorite TV show was Friends. I liked it too (much to my parents’ dismay, my sister let me watch it), and this may have been one of the sources of our horribly age inappropriate humor, which got exponentially worse as we entered middle school and high school. One outlet for our horrible humor was a work that will forever be known as The Bus Stop Letters—a bunch of fake letters supposedly from Sarah’s friends (with weird alter egos not at all like themselves) and addressed to myself, the neighbor kids, and Gideon. These were to be read at the bus stop every morning so that the terrible, hilarious, messed up story could be revealed in episodic fashion. The neighbor boy was not amused (we were characters in the story), but his sister took them home to read, and brought them back to me a day or two later. She, at least, had been almost as entertained as I was.

Written words frequently get me into trouble where people I actually know are concerned—probably because y’all can’t hear my tone of voice and such. So there’s one last thing I want to tack onto the end of this post. I might have seemed sarcastic about my regard for Sarah growing up, and that’s partially true. I think that the degree to which I looked up to her at the time is kind of funny now, but I still admire her. A lot. She’s smart in all the important ways (school smart, common sense smart, critical questioning smart—it’s rare to see all of that in one person), she’s a born leader, and she’s flipping gorgeous. Sarah is one of the major people who has shaped who I am, and in spite of not being all that close to her in the last decade, she’s still one of my ten favorite people. Peter is one lucky fella—I just hope he knows what he’s getting himself into.

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