Cathy Atchison, who lived across the lane from me, was my best friend through elementary school. She was one grade behind me, so when I started junior high, it created a strange sort of separation. We were still friends, though, and still lived across the lane from each other.
The next year my family moved to another city, not far. Cathy and I lost touch in that brutal way of kids, in other words, we just never saw or spoke to each other again. I didn’t miss her at the time because I was dealing with a whole new experience, getting used to a new house, getting ready to start a new school.
The school years passed and I didn’t give Cathy much thought. When I was in my twenties, though, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia for all-things-childhood. I was living out of the city by then, but while talking to my mother, I found out that Cathy was working at the very bank where Mum banked. Mum mentioned me next time she saw Cathy, who said she hoped I’d stop by for a visit, and I fully planned to do just that, but never did get around to it.
I can barely remember what she looked like, this old best friend, which seems strange until I realize I can barely remember what I looked like either. There weren’t a lot of pictures taken in those days, at least not by my family. I only remember that Cathy and I were very silly together, had lots of fun together, and that we ‘clicked’. We were kids during that notorious era when kids were out and about all day without supervision, and in those unsupervised hours we sure did have some adventures, and we managed to get into occasional bits of trouble, too. Not in trouble with parents, because they were off doing their own thing, just in trouble in general, then out again through the use of our wits.
In the earlier years we played a game that we dubbed the ‘Daily Speciality’, a pretend game. We would choose what we were going to be that day, then that’s what we were. Sometimes princess and pauper, sometimes pirates, sometimes . . . well, lots of different things. We completely immersed ourselves in the roles and were basically ‘gone’ all day.
We rode our bikes a lot, standard fare for the era. And we walked or rode our bikes to and from school together, almost always. One day after school, after buying sodas at the corner store, we were goofing off about something. I ran ahead, and Cathy threw her pop bottle at me, not intending to hit me but nevertheless very much succeeding in doing just that. It broke against my leg, and there I was, with blood everywhere and glass in my leg.
And in classic style for the times, we just walked (I limped) to the nearest place where there would be an adult, which happened to be city hall. The receptionist took a look, then drove us to a local doctor who removed the glass and stitched me up. No parents were involved, everybody just did what needed to be done. After I was stitched up, the woman asked where I lived, then drove me home where I promptly got in trouble from my parents for not being ‘more careful’. Apparently you can be ‘more careful’ when dodging a pop bottle thrown at you.
As we grew older, our horizons expanded. Kids played in the woods all the time in those heady unsupervised days, and we were no exception. One day there was a man deep in the woods where we were walking. He saw us and started to chase us. We ran so fast to get away, and at one point Cathy fell and I had to run back and pull her back up. The man was still coming at us, and was closer, too, but terror made us very fast. We made it out, ran back to tell my mother, who was at work nearby. She told us to be ‘more careful’ next time we were wandering in those woods. Did I mention, times were different then.
It’s funny that Cathy’s and my friendship was as good as it was yet I couldn’t tell you what her favourite things were, or whether she was even happy. I remember one of her brother’s names but not the other. Her mother, a single mum (unusual at that time), worked at a bakery, so we would wander down sometimes and get a treat. Since both our mothers worked, we had two empty houses in which to create mischief, although the mischief was fairly minor. The worst mischief I think, and it wasn’t at home, was the day we met and taught a much-younger boy a few choice bad words to repeat at home. I wonder if he ever did? And what happened to him for it?
Wait, there was also the time we stalked some teachers who were enjoying a teacher gathering in a restaurant. We stumbled upon them while out exploring our ever-widening world, and did the only logical thing one can do in such a situation: we stood outside and made faces and laughed at them. For some reason we were surprised that they recognized us and complained to our parents about it.
So anyway, years and years and years later, I’m on Facebook. And also on Facebook is one of those ‘do you remember when’ sites for the city where I grew up. The site, a great place to remember old times and (I hoped with fingers crossed) to find old friends. I posted asking about Cathy, and someone contacted me, turns out her brother was best friends with Cathy’s brother.
And of course then I found out that Cathy hadn’t stayed a little kid (why does the brain do that to us, why do people stay the same in our minds even years later, when we don’t see them?). She grew up (of course she did), got married (and I wasn’t there for her big moment), had three children (and I have no idea who they are), and grandkids, too. She had some serious troubles in life, too, and I wasn’t there to be by her side, as friends do. And then she died.
We don’t picture people from our past ever aging, yet we also can’t picture them not continuing on. It’s a paradox of sorts, and it’s a strange thing to go from ‘one-day-maybe-we’ll-reconnect’ to ‘it-will-never-happen’. Does it matter, should it matter? I think it does. People come and go in your life as you travel through, and many are forgotten but some, like childhood best friends, deserve something better than a strange disconnected sense of sadness years after their death. I have no picture of the two of us. All that I have of Cathy are the memories and a scar from that pop bottle thrown so long ago.
So that is my New Year’s message for you. If you can, find those forgotten friends in 2013. They’ve been living their lives without you while you’ve been living your life without them, and maybe it’s time to change that.