First Time Chosen
“Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief”
—Marcus Tullius Cicero
Annette’s departure turned life at the hotel into a lackluster existence, so I was glad when we moved to the island. It was a bit of a rocky transition. We stayed in an apartment, rented a house, then finally moved to a log home my father had built. It was a Pan Abode; they’re still in business, and probably the only such structure at that time on an island that was on its way to becoming one of the wealthiest suburbs of Seattle.
The log cabin was set amongst the trees, with views of Lake Washington. Next door lived a family with a boy my age and his older sister – so much older I don’t think I ever exchanged words with her. I had been excited to hear there was a child nearby, as this was not the density-rich offering of the city in terms of potential friendships. But the boy, Archie (*name changed), was only interested in reptiles. Literally. Their basement was filled with aquariums housing various snakes and lizards. I do recall going to Archie’s house one time to play cards, but the biggest takeaway from that was his father’s insistence on showing us a scar on his stomach from the Korean war.
“Look at this,” he directed, pulling up his shirt to display a jagged marking surrounded by a fair amount of belly fat. I remember being shocked he was so bold in displaying the evidence of his soldiering. We did not employ such casualness next door. “And, can you do this?” he added, rolling his stomach like a Balinese dancer.
“No,” I whispered. Archie stared off in the distance. He’d seen this show. I avoided the house after that.
Now, I was in another new school and another new house. I began again in my search for a friend. I ached for a pal to join me on the playground or at lunch. Meanwhile, I employed my passive observation of other children, trying to note social cues and skills.
Just go up to them and ask if they want to play foursquare, I’d tell myself. Laugh when the other kids laugh.
One day, another quiet girl with sea-glass aqua eyes approached me. “Would you like to come to my house to play?” she asked. Would I! I hadn’t noticed her before, much the same as no one noticed me, but suddenly all I saw was Peggy (*name changed). I began to study her behavior. She seemed completely at ease at recess and in class, joining in if she felt like it, never a leader but welcomed wherever she went. Maybe she can explain it to me, I mused, hopeful I’d finally have a guide into the foreign world of play. At the very least, I’d have a friend.
She gave me her phone number so my mother could call hers, and arrangements for a Saturday visit ensued. When our car pulled up to Peggy’s house, I could tell immediately it was a different kind of dwelling than any I’d seen before. In Laurelhurst, all the houses were fairly similar. Lined up in a row; front door two or three steps from ground level, the living room fully visible upon entry. Conversely, Peggy’s family house, upon first viewing, looked wild. In the front yard, bats, balls, and garbage cans countered one another like numbers on a lopsided clock. I was a bit afraid to enter, not knowing what was on the inside. But Peggy and her mother opened the door, waved me in, and my mother drove away.
If the school playground was alien, the inside of Peggy’s house was like another planet. The main room contained the living room and kitchen, and there was a large table in the middle, covered with games in various stages of play, though no one was currently engaged. Two large aquariums lined a bookcase that housed, not books, but more games. It wasn’t the O’Malley version of chaos, nor the abundant caloric feast of Ellie’s home. This house felt more like a circus, and I became slightly giddy considering what a home with garbage cans on the front lawn and two aquariums inside might offer.
“What do you want to do?” Peggy asked me politely. Having no idea what one did when playing at a house like hers, I threw the option right back.
“Whatever you want,” I said, mesmerized by the colorful fish that seemed as casual as the rest of the environment, zigzagging in their enclosures with what could only be joy.
“Monopoly,” she declared, thus opening the door to the wondrous world of games, just as Jean had introduced me to Oz. Peggy was a patient teacher, but I was often distracted by the constant stream of brothers and sisters, their friends attached, who weaved in and around the main room as we played the game.
Some of Peggy’s brothers (were there two? four?) were teenagers, and I’d never been around a teenager besides Katie’s snobby older sister. They entered the room with such velocity, every time the door opened, it felt like a truck had just crashed through. These boys were loud, and typically hit Peggy coming and going, and she socked them right back. I was terrified one of them would accost me. Should I hit them back? How do you hit with your fist? What if I cry? Luckily, I was ignored, and I began to ease into the climate of a culture I’d never experienced, but one I now wanted to join.
Peggy and I became fast friends that year, and I often visited that house. I then transferred to another school for fourth grade and didn’t see her again until high school, when our social sets were a complete mismatch. Yet, in the year we were eight and nine, she became my first real play friend.
Her contribution was significant in another way. Being with Peggy felt like a vacation. Our house was quiet; her home filled with constant noise and energy. At our house, I spent much of my time in my room; at Peggy’s, that large living room, with its fish, games, and moving bodies, felt like if I’d been given a free ticket to an amusement park; each visit a new adventure. I had a glimpse into a household that seemed to thrive on fun in every form, ongoing verbal and physical contact as part of daily discourse, and a chance to breathe in a completely different way. When I was with Peggy, possibility was always in the air; a game, a change of venue, crazy snacks and hitting teenagers.
Peggy, and that haphazard, free-flowing house, was my first introduction to the awareness of how impactful surroundings could be. It was nothing I could articulate at the time, but I began to sense, after a few visits, that the moment I entered her front door, my chest felt lighter; the future somehow more promising, if only for a few hours. This was not the lull of watching cartoons with Ellie nor the wickedness of spreading sugar and butter on Wonder Bread; it was an opportunity for transformation.
Most importantly, Peggy, my third friend, was the first companion who seemed to want to be with me for me – whomever that was, rather than a circumstantial friend that happened to live down the block. That gift was significant. I couldn’t have named it, but being chosen, truly chosen, was revelatory, even for an eight-year-old. I had yearned for such an experience without naming or understanding what the yearning was.
Next Week: Gabby and Deb, Group Dynamics
Art by Lisa Jensen.
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