When I was in grade school I had one really great friend. We lived on the same street, liked to do the same things: bike ride, roller skate and build forts in the empty treed lots around our house.
Monica was a tall girl who had moved from the United States up to our little patch of Vancouver Island, Canada. This made her a star in my eyes. Minnesota sounded so foreign and aloof, a place where magical things happened.
We became fast friends and were inseparable most of the time, almost as though we were joined at the hip. When we weren’t actually together we would be on the phone talking about someone or making plans for this or that. One day in grade four, the strength of our friendship was tested.
As luck had it that year we were put into two separate classes, something that neither of us was pleased about. We even tried pleading with our parents about the situation but it turned out that our parents were for the separation, saying that it would make us focus on school work more.
I was stuck in a classroom with some of the more “popular girls”, those of a more privileged means. They had the best and latest clothes, toys and went on big vacations. I can remember being so jealous of them sometimes, and it would only make me more lonesome for Monica. I tried to be nice to them, thinking perhaps that once I got to know them they would not be as bad as I imagined, but they just looked down their noses at me. I knew most of them were brought up in the same neighborhood and that would have been another reason why their bond was so strong, but it didn’t take the sting out of the rejection.
Which is why what happened on the school yard took me so off guard.
Monica and I were down on the bottom playground where a balancing beam stood two and a half feet from the ground. The idea was each person gets on either side of the beam, then by balancing along the thin piece of wood, they would come to the middle of it to spar with their arms to try to knock the opponent off of the beam. The first person knocked off the beam is the “Chicken”.
We were having a great time trying to knock each other off when all of a sudden we heard “Well if it isn’t Laurel and Hardy.” Jennifer, the most popular girl in the school always referred to us like this. I had to ask my Dad who they were and he told me about the classical comedians of the black and white era of American television. I looked them up. They were two men who dressed up in suits and did slapstick comedy. One was tall and lean—that was in reference to Monica, and the other was short and stout—in reference to me. The names at first didn’t bother me at all because I didn’t understand the insult, but once I knew who they were and watched some of their acts I got what Jennifer was laughing about.
Monica and I stopped our mock “Chicken Fight” and hopped down. “What do you want Jennifer?” I asked, knowing full well she hated being called by her full name. She came over to me and smiled, her friends circled and crowded around.
“We’ve noticed you.” She said pointing at me. “We want you to join our group. There is a sleep over this weekend at Stacey’s house and you are invited, but only if you give up your friendship with Laverne here.” She finished pointing at Monica.
I started to get really angry by this point; she had just insulted us again about our height differences and insinuated that Monica was somehow flawed. Why would she think I would give up my best friend for her and her band of rich—I’m too good for you—girls that clung to her every word? I wanted a friend of equal footing, not some girl who wanted to reign queen over her subjects.
I looked at Monica and tears were welling up in her eyes, she had this look on her face that said I should do it and she would not be mad. Like she would understand if I went with the others, and then she turned to leave. I looked at Jennifer who, by now, had a huge grin of victory on her face.
“Wait!” I called out to Monica, “Where are you going?”
“What do you mean? You can’t be friends with me if you want to be friends with them.” She stated.
“Who says I want to be friends with them?” I smiled at her. It grew larger as I saw the shocked expressions on Monica’s face and on the faces of the other girls.
“I would not take a thousand of them over our friendship, they have no idea what true friendship is, if they did they would never have asked the question.” I told Monica. The smile was restored on her face.
I went over to where Jennifer was standing. “I thought at one point that it would be cool to be part of the in crowd, but today you have made me realize something. You aren’t happy. You might look happy on the outside when others are watching you, but that is only so they won’t know how lonesome you truly are. There is nothing like a good friend to turn to when things get tough, or when you have something great to celebrate. Hopefully sometime soon you will find this out.”
Then Monica and I left them standing in silent streaming sunshine, and headed back to class.