It’s a indeleble memory, protectively treasured in the annals of my mind.
My first day at school: I had been placed at a desk, where I carefully evaded the glancing touch of my neighbour, a girl whose surly expression belied a shy uncertainty, mirroring the look on my own nervous face. I was left handed while she was one of the majority who were better with the right. This caused difficulties, because our elbows kept jutting out, perilously close to each other, and we both dreaded physical contact.
Most of the children in our class already had friends. They lived in the village and had bumped along together since birth, whereas neither Marion or I were used to mixing with our peers.
As was to be expected, Marion and I were both socially inept. Our eyes communicated unfriendliness, while pouting mouths sent silent messages of distrust.
When we filed out into the playground to play, she stood alone, by the wall, and I stood some distance away, watching small groups as they romped and skipped, relaxed in each other’s company.
We continued to freeze each other out until the day that Marion bravely directed a briefly worded insult at me, thereby breaking the ice, freeing me to speak in reply.
That was when Marion became my first ever friend.
We went through school together, always at each other’s sides, and for six years we were the best of friends. I have since wondered what we talked about, because I knew nothing about her home-life or her history until I was told about it by another, but we always played together, unless I was on the climbing frame, in which case she would stand next to it and watch, awed, but never frightened, by my dangerous antics.
Things change, and people often grow away from the familiar. When we went to Secondary school I met Bett, and we instantly connected. We tagged along together, the three of us. Marion and I placed ourselves at distant points of a triangle, while we both vied to be Bett’s best friend.
It was not surprising that when we left school we didn’t seek each other out. I heard that she’d married, had a child, and though that interested me, I had no desire to see her.
Time passed and I began to miss Marion. I regretted the loss of our unassuming friendship, which, though it was merely the result of two lonely children banding together for solace and safety in a world we didn’t understand, was like none I have known since. By this time I had no idea how to find her.
Forty years had passed since we had gone our different ways. One day an aquaintance told me that she had mentioned my name to a friend, and her friend had exclaimed that at school, I had been her ‘bestest friend ever.’
I immediately knew she was talking about Marion.
I learnt that Marion had fallen off a horse three years before and the accident had resulted in tetraplegia – almost complete paralysis. She can move her head a little, and her fingers.
The first time I visited her in her home, it brought tears to my eyes to see that avid horsewoman so helpless, unable to even feed herself. When I looked at her face I didn’t recognise my childhood companion, she had changed so much. Her hair, which had once been black, had faded to a nondescript shade and lost its lustre. Her trim body was hugely bloated from lack of exercise.
I smiled warmly, because I knew that inside that wrecked body my old friend still resided.
And I was right. When she spoke it was as if we had never been apart. Marion and I are very different. We always were and we always will be, but it doesn’t matter, because we are an essential part of each others history:
My first ever friend, Marion, and me.
I have just joined Raili and friends for the sumptuous second course of her Sunday event, Circle of Friends. This week’s theme is Close Friends, and the inspiration for this post comes from the closing question in her post: Is it someone who has passed through your life yet the memories retain a closeness?
©Jane Paterson Basil