The road to a friend’s house is never long.
(Linking up with Lisa Jo today for Five Minute Friday. I thought through this piece for a while before I wrote it. Perhaps I’m a bit nostalgic since my 42nd birthday is in just two weeks. This story begins exactly 32 years ago.)
The summer I was to turn 10, my family moved. Again.
This time we shook off the dust of a tiny town nestled in the rolling Palouse Hills and headed to the biggest, little city in Eastern Washington: Spokane.
Only we didn’t move into Spokane, exactly. My parents bought a house in lake community west of town and thirty odd years later, this neighborhood has yet to be completed. Households still pitch in to pay for the dusty roads to be coated with brown oil, there are no sidewalks and the hill (that was unparalleled for sledding) is still rutted and splattered with rocks that could rip out your undercarriage if you were silly enough to drive down it in a car.
In the summer of 1980, this split level house, all two-bedroom-one-bath-unfinished-basement and 1200 square feet of it, would become home.
We had been living in a camping trailer for the past six months in my brother’s driveway during the winter in the Northwest! Moving to a lakeside community, no matter how hokey, sounded like paradise to me.
And, we could stretch our legs and sleep in our real beds and unpack. Mom could unpack her china and set up her bedroom again. I could unpack all my things again, not just the few treasures I had managed to keep in a box with me. And my dad could unpack his tools and transform that basement into a third bedroom and a second bathroom and an office with shelves for his Bible study books.
The house smelled of fresh paint. Through the windows came the damp, cool scent of the lake and the fresh-smelling field-flower laced farmland that backed our property that lay open for dairy cows to graze and magpies to bother them.
It was mid-June and school had just let out. I’d spotted a kid here and there, but had no idea who lived where and what kid might be nice, or nasty or become my friend. Eventually, they talked to me. First, a boy who made me a little uncomfortable, but seemed nice enough, then some girls all too old to want to be my friend. One afternoon I was out petting our collie, Sandy, and I noticed a girl, just taller than me, with big, blue eyes and the deepest dimples I’d ever seen.
“Is that your dog?”
“Yeah, his name’s Sandy.”
“Can I pet him? He looks just like Lassie.”
It wasn’t an earth-shattering moment, but as the weeks passed that summer, I realized that I had met a real friend. A pretty girl with a sweet soul, a year older than I (yet she never made me feel like a baby) who lived just on the other end of the path.
“The Path” ribboned between our houses through the empty lots that hadn’t yet had houses built on them.
It ran just east along the length of two houses and their fenced yards, a stretch of about 250 feet. On the one side was cedar fencing, on the other, a vast and wild growth of wild grasses and weeds. At the end of the trail was my destination: my friend’s house. One could take the actual road up and around from my street to hers, but we were kids and we wore that path well.
I grew to know that pathway by heart and ran its course between our houses in the morning, noon and night. It was cool and wet, weeds slapping my canvas sneakers with dewy leaves in the morning. It was dry and fragrant in the afternoons when we’d walk languidly carrying wet towels that reeked of lake weeds listening to the quiet of our own breathing and the buzz of bees that made the field vibrate and shimmer. Sometimes, I’d get to sleep over and we’d make plans to bake cake and homemade frosting (always failed, but we ate the runny chocolate goo on Saltines), build a city in the basement for the Barbie dolls or set up badminton.
We teetered along the edge of adolescence together, trying to fit into training bras while playing with stuffed animals and listening to pop music on a.m. radio. Sometimes she’d cry because her mom was raging mad. I never knew what to say about that. I didn’t understand the hurt that woman had suffered or how difficult it would be to raise two teenage girls singlehandedly.
Once, I ran the path in winter boots that crunched through frozen snow, the clear, night air cutting like blades in my nostrils and lungs, the dark sky silently bereft of its summer inhabitants and sparkling with cold and tiny stars. We dragged out every blanket in the house onto her deck and watched the flaming tendrils of the aurora borealis reach as far south as the 49th parallel. The ice-blue flickers and amber flash tore up from the horizon like some ancient, Nordic campfire that Thor was stoking with his giant sword. Her mom made us cocoa and let us sleep on the carpet in the living room.
That path was my lifeline, my inroad to acceptance and friendship. It was the internet that connected two girls who needed each other during a summer season of life. We eventually got older and went to different high schools. We drove cars and got jobs and wanted boyfriends.
We grew up, grew apart and weeds grew into the once hard-packed soil and the dips and curves and crevices I once knew well became obscured by a blanket of thistle, goldenrod and bachelor buttons.
But I remember the damp dusk air and the gnats, the indigo Eastern sky and the song of crickets and whistles of birds I couldn’t see.
And I remember my friend’s white house waiting for me at the end of the path.