Fair-weather friends

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.


25 thoughts on “Fair-weather friends

  1. Once, I watched my best grade-school friend’s mother put hot oil on her tongue for saying something bad. I had forgotten that. This post brings back so many childhood memories I thought my brain had surely let go of, both intentionally and unintentionally. So powerful, Amy.

    And at the risk of sounding obvious, have you looked Marisa M. up on Facebook?

    • I have…no luck! And wow, hot oil?? It’s amazing the things we see as children and file under ‘normal behavior’ until we know better!

  2. This reminded me of a couple little friends that I had. I too have no clue where they are today, but wouldn’t it be so cool if we could find them!

    I like all your details. Very descriptive. You kept me wanting to know where this was going the whole way through. Nice memories and nice prose.

    • Thank you! I found it a difficult memoir to write, because I only had little bits and pieces of memory to work with, and I didn’t know if they added up to much!

      • I think the fact that you did only have snippets is exactly why this works. It is the small really off-the-wall glimpses that we see from time to time that add up to the sense that there is more here than meets the eye and whatever it is it isn’t healthy.

  3. This is the time for Google and Facebook stalking! I don’t even know the girl and I want to Google her to make sure she turned out okay and that her mother didn’t go completely off the deep-end!

    And isn’t it so easy and effortless to be best friends when we’re little? I miss that. It’s so hard to make friends as we get older.

  4. What a true conclusion.
    As children we really do live in the minute.
    Hitting the playground full force and asking strangers if they want to be friends. Not afraid of rejection because it didn’t enter our brain.
    Great post.

    • And back then, rejection rolled off our backs, for the most part, because we didn’t overthink it. At least I don’t think I did. Now…not so much!

  5. I loved how you focused on this friendship, this mother. Your memories are so clear your details put me right beside you. That button can’t have felt good going down!

    My favorite part, though, was your reflection at the end. This: “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” particularly spoke to me as solid. authentic, transparent. you know- the good stuff.

    • Thank you. I really had no idea where this post was going to land (I only had bits and pieces to work with), and was surprised it came to any coherent conclusion at all!

  6. This makes me sad. I worry for poor Marisa. And for her brother.

    There was so much going on in people’s homes that we, as children, were completely unaware of. And while that was good at the time, looking back now you wonder was was REALLY going on, you know?

    • Yes, we absorb what we see in other people’s houses (and our own) with such acceptance as children, then have these memories that make us think, WTF?! It’s crazy.

  7. what a vivid picture you paint here, and how impacted you were with Marisa’s homelife. I like that you looked at your writing and saw that it reflected the way you have grown to be. I commented back to someone on my post about the revealing things I found when I wrote about first grade. Kicks up all sorts of things, doesnt it? Great post!

    • Yes, I hadn’t thought about any of this in ages, but something about splintered memory makes better sense of the whole, doesn’t it? Thanks for stopping by!

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