My first best friend was Marisa M. She arrived as a New Kid in our kindergarten class mid-way through the year and for no other reason than novelty, I stopped her on the way to the handball wall before anyone else could and asked her did she want to be best friends? And she said yes, and that was that. We remained best friends, despite having absolutely nothing in common, until I moved away two years later.
Marisa M. was my opposite: tall, lanky, sort of delicate. She was one of those kids who looked like they might blow over in a stiff wind. She was terrible at sports (all knees and elbows as she ducked from the ball), had wispy brown hair which she always pulled back with two plastic animal clips, and dark brown eyes I knew to be jealous of even at age five. She lived three streets down from me in our Southern California suburban neighborhood, on the very end of a coul de sac called Juniper Court (I lived on Rubicon Court). She had a dad who was big and burly with a full beard who played guitar in his living room on weekends and taught us to sing ‘going up to heaven in a 747‘ to earn our Fireflies campfire badge and a batshit insane mother who could always be counted on to cause a scene.
Brownies Summer Day Camp, ’82: Marisa brings home a muddy swim towel and her mother turns the car directly around to berate the teenage camp counselors and threaten to withdraw Marisa for the rest of the week.
Tot Gymnastics Lil’ Tumblers, ’83: Marisa is left out of another child’s sleepover party, and her mother storms up to the offending family to demand a reason for the exclusion in front of twenty little girls in sparkly leotards.
Once I knocked over a box of baby bottles in her garage with a rubber playground ball, and she screamed at me until I literally ran home crying. (I had been chewing on the neck of my sweater while she yelled, and somewhere between Marisa’s garage and my street, I swallowed a button.)
Another time she invited me to come with their family to see a movie at the drive-in, but then took it back. (I was relieved; I would have thrown up my Junior Mints for sure.)
Marisa had a baby brother, Matthew, with white-blond hair that always fell into his eyes and even bigger brown eyes who was always sick; at least, Marisa’s mother was always saying he was. A bottle sterilizer always sat on the kitchen counter and a humidifier constantly rumbled in his bedroom, releasing steaming mist that made me cough. Matthew himself was a permanent fixture on Marisa’s mother’s hip, his blankie trailing the floor behind. The only time I ever saw Matthew without Marisa’s mother was when, on one isolated occasion, we were told to get him up from his nap. Marisa had to flip herself nearly into the crib to get him out, and once she had him him her grasp, his added weight caused her to topple all the way in. When she dropped him back down onto the mattress, he cried, a big snot bubble bursting in his nose.
We got him on the second try, and then Marisa asked me did I know what a baby penis looks like? I definitely did not, and I definitely wanted to know, so we changed his diaper and looked. (It wasn’t as exciting as I’d thought.) We used so much baby powder that Matthew sneezed and more snot blew out his nose. We wiped it with the leg of his clean pants.
I moved away in the summer of ’84, and never saw Marisa, her angry mother, her snotty brother, or her cheery father again. I really don’t think I’d know her if I passed her on the street. Before sitting down to write this post, I hadn’t thought of her at all in years, and doing so now makes me realize how much I ask of my relationships today, and how little I asked of them in childhood. How easily I lived in the now, demanding nothing of friendship but what could be experienced that day, that hour, in that day camp or that sunny bedroom. Children are ready and willing to cast their lot with anyone, really (as long as they live close enough to commute between houses on bicycle and preferably take the same bus). Maybe this is due to the transient nature of childhood…nothing lasts. Everything changes. Our early memories flicker and fade, and what’s here today is gone tomorrow. When kids part, they do so without a backward glance and full of confidence in the next soft landing and welcoming embrace.
I hope you are well, Marisa M., and have landed on your feet.