'You have a good memory,' Spud told me on the phone last night because I could remember the date I received his first email. The start of a beautiful new relationship.
I remember things vividly and it's not always a good thing. There are some things I wish I could forget, but they remain imprinted on my mind. I will carry them with me always. My burden. But there are other memories that I shall cherish for always.
I was twelve years old and had just begun high school. As much as I'd hoped against it, break times were proving to be as lonely as they had been at primary school. The difference was I had friends here. But my very best friend was often away from school, and Dearest Friend was, at that time, best friends with the-girl-who-thought-she-was-a-notch-above-everyone-else. She would accompany Dearest Friend to the disabled toilet and they would stay in there, sometimes for the whole lunch hour, often forgetting that I was waiting outside. Darling Girl was yet to join our school.
In the end books became my only desired companions. I would sit outside on the grass with my library book, leaving the playground and my loneliness behind as I was transported into another world. At that time I was reading The Animals of Farthing Wood series by Colin Dann. I had watched and adored the televised cartoon adaption as a little girl, and was delighted to discover the paperbacks in my new school library.
Suddenly, a voice brought me back down to earth with a start. I was confronted by the kind, smiling face of a girl and she sat down beside me, her three friends loitering nearby. We started chatting, and I felt both thrilled and humbled that this complete stranger was giving me the time of day, which was more than I could say about my own friends. I think I spent more than one lunchtime in her company, and on one occasion, towards the end of September, she invited me to her birthday party the following month. She had gotten to know Dearest Friend by that stage and invited her along too. I was relieved as I didn't have the confidence to attend the party alone.
Dearest Friend and I arranged to meet at the party, but when my father dropped me off she wasn't there. I walked tentatively into the dim hall, hordes of children illuminated by coloured disco lights. The music was so loud it seemed to bounce off the walls and around my head. I wanted to make a quick exit, but I knew my father had already gone and wouldn't be back until 10. That was two and a half hours away.
I backed away to one side of the room and scanned the crowd of children for the birthday girl. I couldn't see her so I laid her card and present on the food table, suddenly feeling sick with dread. I don't know how long I lingered there when three familiar figures emerged from the body of people. I immediately recognised them as girls from my tutor group, Ellen, Hannah and Natasha. 'Kess,' they called, spotting me and waving, gesturing that I should come over and join their group. My heart started thudding as I walked across the room. Ellen and Natasha approached me too, each of them taking me by the arm and steering me over.
I danced with their little group for the remainder of the night. Midway through the night I was spotted by a girl who I remember being pretty two-faced at primary school (but mostly just horrid to me), and she invited me to dance with her cronies. I refused adamantly, not willing to have them laugh at my awful dancing when Ellen, Hannah and Natasha had accepted me just as I was.
10 o'clock soon came around and I looked up to see my father waiting in the doorway. I was relieved to go home, even though the party hadn't been as bad as I'd initially anticipated. I saw the birthday girl a few times after the party, but after that we drifted. The weather started to go downhill and I opted to remain inside. By the time the summer months came round again we had forgotten each other. We were in different tutor groups and so never had any lessons together. We were also at opposite ends of the social sphere.
The-girl-who-thought-she-was-a-notch-above-everyone-else began to drift from Dearest Friend when Darling Girl joined the school and our friendship group, so I was no longer forced to linger outside the disabled toilet for the whole lunch hour.
I was still friendly with Ellen, Hannah and Natasha, but we never became real 'friends'. I'm not sure if I ever thanked them for including me, but I hope they know how much their small act of kindness meant to me. I hope they know how grateful I am to them, all these years later. That those few hours of inclusion is a memory I'll always treasure.