When Seeing the Mother of the Girl with Hair the Color of Fire

I was at work the other day, and a woman approached my desk. I looked up and stared straight into my past. This woman was the mother of my childhood best friend. I instantly ran around the desk and gave her a huge hug. We sat and caught up, but for the rest of the day, a lingering sense of memory clouded over me in the best way possible. I started remembering honey lemonade and tree-house secrets. I remembered sleepovers where we sat up in our sleeping bags, talking in soft voices, until eventually we fell asleep side by side. We had our own language filled with abbreviations and acronyms. She had long red hair she usually wore tied into a braid, and my eyes were bright brown.

It’s funny, we swore best friends forever and even got best friend necklaces. We wore matching outfits and spent every day of the summer swimming together or jumping on her trampoline. I trusted her with everything. The night my grandpa died, I was with her. When darkness started to speckle my days, subtly at first, then in large, painful streaks, she was already disappearing. My charisma slowly went from a full bursting bloom and transformed into a small hard rock in my chest. My eyes went from bright brown with a million dollar smile to boot, to sullen muddy eyes with tears fringing the outsides, smiles all but vanished. I managed a fake smile for show, but on the inside, I ached. I retreated into a dark world, and this girl, the one with the long red hair, was no longer sitting next to me at lunch. We no longer chitchatted throughout recess, instead, my thoughts went into a notebook. My best friend became a Meade notebook and a pen. I tried writing my thoughts in erasable ink, but the ink smudged my palms and changed the words into indistinguishable letters.

For such a long time, my world felt like it was attached to hers. Her parents were my second of parents. Her brothers like siblings to me. My happiness hinged on hers. If she ignored me at lunch or threw me a look that I deemed offensive, I was devastated. I remember crying into my hands in the bathroom when she told me she was going to visit her dream high school (our dream high school) with another girl. We had talked about going to high school together since the sixth grade, and by eighth grade, she barely flicked her eyes in my direction anymore.

However, when I saw her mother at my work the other day, all that came to my mind were the happy memories, going to the Fall Fest together and riding the rides, going to amusement parks and begging her to ride roller coasters with me. I was the ball of fire, and my best friend, she was along for the ride.

Her mother told me that she knew her daughter was always the boring one and that’s when it hit me. That’s why we worked so well together. I had all the energy; I was the wild child. She was pulled into my plans, either reluctantly or willingly, but I gave her a taste of that spark, that electricity that came so naturally to me.

Her mother said she’s now married to a man who has that spark, that electricity, that he’s a live wire, and my childhood best friend is the same girl she always was. That got me thinking, I’ve been looking at this sad picture of my mom and me that we took when I was in eighth grade. My smile is forced, and I’m pretty sure we had played hooky that day to help me cope with what turned out to be the beginning stages of my bipolar leaking through. My smile looks so pained, and I think how much I’ve gone through. I tease people that it’s like I’ve lived through every horrible plot twist of those Lifetime movies. So many things I’ve lived through, I’ve survived because of my humor and my hope for a better tomorrow. I think about that girl at eleven realizing her grandpa was dead and there was no bringing him back, or realizing her friends wanted nothing to do with her. She was devastated, she thought her entire world crumbled.

I think of the girl who started high school, resilient and hopeful for new beginnings. I think of the girl who had to transfer schools in twelfth grade because of a learning disability and on and on and on. I haven’t changed all that much. My smile’s still in tact. I still have this attitude of a pessimistic optimist. I’ve said since I was fifteen: the world’s going to Hell, but at least, I’ll have a smile on my face while it’s going down.

I refuse to give up. I refuse to grow cynical or dark. I went through that phase, where I thought it was cool to not care and to be cynical. I played at being the rebel, but now, I fit my own skin. I’ve owned who I am. I’m not at the top of the hill, resting easy, but I am proud of the climb and how far I have come.

I don’t have traditional success, but I have a family and friends who love me, I have a boyfriend who cares about my happiness and ensures that everything he does betters us. He picks me up when I’m down and he makes me laugh harder than anyone I’ve known. He’s my soulmate, and sure, he may just be along for the ride some days, and maybe my electricity is more than just a little frightening to him some days, but damn if he doesn’t love me with all he’s got. When I saw my childhood best friend’s mother, I realized, yes, I have changed and grown, my life has taken more twists and turns than I ever expected when promising Best Friends Forever to the girl who had a rope of red hair and freckles spread across her face like a smile, but I’m still here, and I’m still me after all these years.

-L.G.

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