I grew up in the sticks. There was one stop sign in my town, and it was mostly optional. The nearest Wal-Mart was a twenty or thirty minute drive depending on the lake effect snow. We were the first kids picked up on the school bus, and the last to be dropped off. That meant two hours everyday was spent with my knees pressed to the back of the plastic seat in front of me, pinning my elbow against the cold, metal wall at my side as I tried to write the answer to the math problems on my lap. I had very good bus handwriting.
But this sudden burst of warm weather has me remembering the summers spent in the sticks. There was a lake and a creek and woods, and there was Sarah. There were few families who lived nearby, and mostly by default, Sarah became my best friend. She was the kind of friend whose stories you’ve made together do not get shared with your parents until your adults and not living under the same roof. Like the time I jumped out of the attic and smashed my face in the ground. I had jumped because Sarah had jumped, but I definitely fell. That’s what I told my parents.
Sarah and I had clubs. There was Fort Pole, which was technically my brother’s treehouse, but we took it over when Jake became too cool for play time. Fort Slime based on the slime that got in the little plastic containers out of the vending machines. Fort Rope, where her dad tied a rope to a tree in her backyard. (One of the decidedly more questionable clubs now that I think on it.) And of course, Fort Junk where we basically went around picking up trash. I’m not sure how that really established a club necessarily, but we thought it was cool.
Sarah was older by six months, but it meant she was a year ahead of me in school. So she always went first. She had all the teachers first. Had the first boyfriend. Went to college first. And because she was first, she also left first. She disappeared out of my life when adulthood came knocking. But that doesn’t mean that Sarah is not still there. Sarah cannot go away. Six short months ago, Sarah was a bridesmaid at my wedding, and it was like there was no space or time between us. And I couldn’t figure out if that was because we grew up in the sticks and there was no one else around with whom to form this kind of bond, or if it was just because it was Sarah. Like her being could not change so drastically as to cause a divide between us, even with a lack of communication for years.
Sarah helped me put on my wedding gown, exclaiming the whole time, “You’re wearing make up! Do you remember the fights you would have with your mom because you didn’t want to wear make up?” Sarah was the only bridesmaid to know what I had been like as a kid, and her stream of exclamations reminded me of a time when my hardest decision all day was whether or not to wear shoes. I was wearing shoes the day of the wedding, but they were not flip flops from Payless. They were red, croc patented leather heels, and Sarah wore a dress of purple satin.
But standing there in my room at the inn before my wedding, it was still Sarah and me. And I knew, she could still convince me to jump. Only this time, I would tell the truth if I fell.