I have a friend I met when we were nine. This picture of Mary Pickford reminds me of her, the solid gaze, the bold spirit, and the curls. She’s the only person I’ve ever known whose hair fell into perfect ringlets. Recently, she called out of the blue and we were chattering instantly as if almost thirty years hadn’t passed since we last talked, but merely a couple of hours. I was worried about some health issue, she instantly set me at ease. She bossed me around, I made her laugh. Some old patterns are beautiful.
We met on a school bus. She was seated near the front wearing a jacket and a pair of furry pants with a huge kind of appaloosa spotted print and I was climbing the stairs looking for a seat and she declared, “Come! Sit next to me!” So, I did.
Later, in class, I poked her in the back and said, “You have to come to dinner at my house, now. That’s what friends do.” That night at home she told her mother, “I have a friend,” and soon we were inseparable. She lived in a sprawling Tudor with slate floors and diamond mullioned windows and a living room with groin arches in the ceiling. There was a stereo built into a nook and we would drop the needle on “Swan Lake” and twirl across a space that felt like an auditorium until we got giddy and collapsed on the floor.
Her mother was an early computer scientist, her father a chemist. We always ate dinner in the kitchen. We were expected to eat everything on our plates and left to our own devices would slip what we couldn’t manage to a succession of huge dogs, Great Danes and St. Bernards. Dogs who were probably twice our weight and endured us pulling and hugging and sometimes prying open their jaws and squirting Binaca on their tongues because we found their doggy breath just too overwhelming. Can a dog achieve sainthood? They certainly deserved it.
Mom introduced us to lobster and Dad would sprinkle unidentified powders on our food and tell us he was “experimenting”. I don’t know what kind of doses of vitamin C or papaya enzyme we received but, we turned out just fine.
I remember at one point a hamster died after developing a suspicious swelling and her mother instructing us through the dissection we preformed. The little creature had a tumor the size of dime. We folded it back together and wrapped it in cotton gauze and placed it in a shoebox for burial. We’d used up all the rubbing alcohol doing the exploratory surgery (I guess it really should be called an autopsy) and so Mom, vigilant about sanitary conditions, had us stretch our hands over the sink while she poured the entire contents of a bottle of vodka over them. Then, we put on Sunday dresses and gave the hamster a nice send off in the garden.
Looking back it’s no wonder my friend went into medicine – a friend to mend, and a friend to mold, and a friend forever.