My best friend, Susie, from my Kindergarten class, died before the end of the school year. I keep a photo of her in my scrapbook, in the first part where the pages are still neatly arranged. After about twenty pages the neatness ends and the rest of the scraps are thrown in. I forgot about the scrapbook after that, or maybe couldn’t save the scraps of my years beyond that. Now the scraps are kept everywhere besides in a book. I’m glad the photo of Susie and me is there. Susie left a mark on me. I liked being together, bouncing and playing. In the photo, Susie and I are sitting on the back trunk of a car. Her straight blonde hair is cut in a short bob with bangs, as is mine. We’re both kind of squinting into the sun and smiling. My feet hang off the edge of the car. Susie’s do not. She was a petite girl, and me— not so much. I’m visiting at her house the day the photo was taken. Both of us live far from our Christian school, so we have a long bus ride which is probably why we became friends.
Susie died the day after the picture was taken. One day we were playing and the next she was gone. “Got hit by a car,” I’m told by the grown-ups. “She ran down the driveway and into the street.” She has black and white Oxford shoes on in the photo, her legs straight out in front of her. It looks as if someone plopped the two of us on the car just for the photo shoot. Funny that she’s sitting on top of a car and was hit by a car when she died. I stare at that photo whenever I open the book. What did we play together that day? Who took our picture? What did I understand of death? Did someone try and explain it to me? What can you tell a five-year-old about death? Or anyone, for that matter. Was there blood at the site? Suzy’s blood? I didn’t go to any funeral.
She was my friend. I think she was sweet, Susie the darling. We hadn’t changed yet, hadn’t walked over the line into knowing that we are watched, expected to behave and act in certain ways. Although there are no real misfits in Kindergarten, at least not in our school, I like to think that Susie would have grown into a misfit with me, one of those who didn’t really fit in at our Christian school, just a little too poor, a little too ugly, a little too quiet, and a little too bookish/nerdy. Or maybe Susie would have grown up to be a beautiful woman, making it into the popular crowd?
I had a second friend named Suzy when I was in fourth or fifth grade. I don’t have a photo of her. This Suzy was my next-door neighbor. She didn’t go to my Christian School. She was darker than Susie, a “tomboy”. There was a bit of the unknown about this Suzy—Suzy the daring. I don’t know what my dad thought of her or her family. Did he want to keep our family separate from them? They were not Christian, not separatists like we were. Suzy and I climbed the tree in our backyard, next to the big lilac bush. We made our seats in the crook of branches and told stories. We wanted to be writers when we grew up—storytellers. We were about twelve years old, beginning to inhabit our bodies in a new way. We did some exploring of our bodies together. I loved Suzy. I wish she could have stuck around longer. She and her family moved away after a couple years. We went through a lot of neighbors in that house.
Both my friends left, both the “darling” and the “daring”. I’m the one who stayed, on the earth, in the school, and in the big, green house on West River Drive, on the “other” side of the Grand River, a little like the “other side of the tracks.” I’m the one who stayed and tried to figure out who am I? What is my place, somewhere in the space between my friends, between Darling and Daring, the both/and. Thanks for being my friend, the two Sus/zes.