I saw you watching the girls in the pretty dresses, the girls who were loved by their mothers, the girls who were given treats after school. I saw you watching the girls who were popular with the boys, who believed themselves to be top of the heap. I saw your mother collect you from school, always somehow angry with you. I knew you weren’t really loved, not like we were. I saw how you wore secondhand clothes most of the time because they didn’t look right on you, they looked like they had belonged to someone else, not yours. They just didn’t suit you. I saw your nearly black, long straight hair, until your mother made you cut it all off. That made you look more like a pixie. You were very unusual looking, tall, skinny, beautiful, though it was heavily disguised.
One day when we were both alone in the cloakroom, I plucked up the courage to talk to you. You were nice. I decided you could be my secret friend. You seemed to like that idea too, it gave us both one up on the classroom controller, the queen bee, the girl who must be obeyed, and who decreed who was in and who was out.
I offered to walk home with you from school, but only after we got far enough away, so no one would see me talking to you. You really were the school class outcast, the avoided one. Perhaps your loneliness and desperation showed, and people shied away, used you to make themselves feel better. I wasn’t like that, not really, but if I stepped out of line, I would get it too, the being sent to Coventry I mean. You read an awful lot of books though and watched us all.
Your mother eventually allowed you to walk home alone, after you asked her to. I would see you shudder when you had to go and meet her after school. She never smiled at you, just the other mothers, being all friendly with them. But once you were given a little more freedom, we would meet just past the library, when almost everyone had walked a different way. We both lived on the outskirts of the village, a long walk up a long road, until we went left and right into our own estates. Those modern Wates build estates built around all the villages to house so many more people, but destroying farmland, extending communities beyond a community can hold together.
I don’t know if you were envious, wanting their accolades, or just watching to see how you might emulate them. But slowly I got to know you, on those long uphill walks. Then we made plans to see each other at weekends. You came to my house and fed my rabbits with spinach my mother was growing.
I didn’t come to your house very often. Your mum wasn’t very nice. My mum made us cakes to eat at the bottom of the garden where we sat and watched the trains passing. They would whistle past us, going into the village station just down the line. You made up such amazing stories of all the people on the trains who would be looking out at us. You had already read the railway children, ahead of me in reading at school. At school where I had to pretend I wasn’t friends with you in case she got wind of it. She who was our master, the one to be obeyed. The one who got the pick of the boys and who had decided I was her best friends. I didn’t get a say in it. There I could see your loneliness, but somehow you didn’t seem to be upset about it. You were just watching us all the time, and it made me sad that I
couldn’t just call you over and let you join in. After all you had such long legs, great for French skipping which was our current craze. Then you did. You made your own elastic chain and when ours broke you suggested we could play with yours – with you. So we did. And suddenly you were ok, still on the outer edges, but ok after all. We still kept our weekends secret though, do you remember that?
I often think of you, of how I envied your ability to watch people and find a way to fit in, even I it took you forever, well nearly a whole term after you first came to our school. I guess it was such good training for you though. We lost touch fifty years ago, but I see your name on bestseller lists, honoured for your close observation skills, your detailed descriptions of how people behave and interact. I still envy you your life.
I am a memoirist and poet, and a mindfulness teacher for the Thich Nhat Hanh Plum Village organisation. I currently live on the beautiful Isle of Wight UK with my husband, also a writer and musician. I love my writing as a refuge from my complex trauma with PTSD and ADHD challenges in life. I have written memoirs about all these topics, to help and support others who experience similar traumas, especially No Visible Injuries. Life is good in spite of the challenges and I am profoundly grateful for all I have in my life.