Intersections – First Friend
By Nicki Salcedo
Second grade was a year of change for me. It was my first year in Georgia. In Connecticut, our friends were Italian and Polish and Jewish. It was not strange to be from Jamaica. Everyone was from somewhere until we moved South. In Georgia, it was only white and black. You might have been from Waycross or Norcross, but certainly not another country.
The black and white truth is that my second grade teacher hated me. She would not call on me when I raised my hand. She despised the sound of my voice. I could see her face shutdown and her body become impatient when I spoke, so I opted not to talk or answer. Even now I know instantly when someone doesn’t like me. I learned early. Those things you don’t forget.
You don’t forget the good things either. We had a beautiful yard surrounding our Georgia house. A perfect expanse of fescue, the softest grass, the most welcoming. And even though I kept my shoes on, I can’t tell you the number of times I pressed my face to that Georgia lawn wondering if this place would be home.
I made my first friend in second grade. I don’t remember when we met. But I do remember that when she arrived our teacher adored her. When she raised her hand, the teacher called on her. She got to answer. Her work was perfect. Her handwriting sure. She wasn’t just smart and pretty, though she was those things, but she was also good. Deep down good and kind. When you are seven years old not much matters other than kindness and mutual laughter. We had that.
We wore the halves of a broken heart necklace in the early years. When the sides met, the heart said “best friends.” It didn’t need to say forever. Somewhere along the jagged line was eternity.
I wish I could explain to my kids the importance of these first friends in their lives. All of my friends since have been modeled after my first best friend.
We last saw each other as teenagers. Our guess is that we spent the first half of our lives together and the second without. Then this weekend I saw her for the first time since high school. I wanted to cry. I did cry. Both of our eyes filled with tears outside of the airport.
I am still silly and snarky, and she is still kindness and goodness. We talked without preamble. She knows everything there is to know about the person I was, the person that history can’t change.
We were supposed to marry boys named Jason and Jeremy. I would have three sons, and she would have a boy and a girl. Of course we would live in mansions and drive convertibles and be perfect. Her only fault as a child was not liking tomatoes, and I thought of this as she served me dinner accompanied by a Caprese salad. Only little things had changed.
Our fortunes had not materialized the way we expected. I held her babies who smiled at me to prove that our current lives might be better than what we had hoped for.
When I think back, I wonder how or why we became friends. The kid in me remembers the laughter. The adult in me thinks logically. We were the only brown girls in that class. Maybe we had to be friends. We didn’t have a choice. Her family came from India. Our food looked and smelled similar. We both had two brilliant older sisters. She lent me her copy of the “Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis. We loved adventure. We wanted to escape.
Friendship is not a simple connection of being alike. It is often a game of chance all through life. I feel lucky she chose me. How do you ever make friends as an adult? How do you get chosen by another for a lunch date or a shared secret or pain? Who will still be your friend when parts of you change?
I have college friends and neighborhood friends and the occasional friends from work. It is so difficult to make connections in the jaded rush of adulthood. Difficult, but not impossible. I know instantly when someone might be a new friend. I learned that early. Age seven. Those things you always remember.
I look for similarities and differences and jagged lines that, brought together, make connections.
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.