In second grade, Joe was pudgy and shy. She took to him right away. Their alliance was a comfort because they were the two youngest in the class. Surreptitious communication was easy, as their desks were next to each other. In the third grade, Joe voted for her to crown the Blessed Virgin Mary in May. The statue and she were the same height, but the Virgin was on a pedestal. The winner had to climb two steps to carefully place the crown. The honor was a privilege awarded the girl with the best grades, etiquette and decorum. Not being certain what that meant, she felt her chance of winning was a long shot. She was relieved when the girl with the red hair got it.
In the fifth-grade Joe offered to carry her books home. It was January. Bundled up, they slogged in silence through six blocks of icy blast, insulated from one another. The snow muted everything, as the wind’s intensity propelled them. In sight of her front door, Joe suddenly pitched forward, careened a bit, then plopped down. The slide and spin seemed to her like a odd choreography. She stood above him as they stare at each other with faint surprise, then laughter. Watching from the fogged window, her mother points directly at her and shakes a finger. The admonition was not deserved this time, because she had not pushed him as she once might have; he had slipped of his own accord.
She thinks there must have been some other rule in the lexicon of growing up female, that she had violated. They had been practicing the “boy likes girl” routine while walking home, but she hadn’t realized what that was exactly. A sinking feeling arose in her. She expected that her mother’s dictum will go like this: never laugh at another’s foibles, even if they are funny. Remain polite and composed, especially around boys. Turns out this incident was only the beginning of the tedious task of growing up in 1953.
One short moment they were buddies having fun together and the next moment, who knew? Chastised for what, she wasn’t sure. She felt lonely and adrift. as though she had lost something important, and she didn’t understand. She wondered what he felt. They never spoke of it again, because they had no language between them that could explain what was happening, only the feelings. What became clear to her, was that the carefree friendship they’d had for so long, was coming to an end.
Jean Cassidy 2021