Friday, September 10, 2004


Note: This story inspired by a painful true-life incident that I witnessed as a stranger while I was walking my dog this morning. It sent me straight back into the skin and mind of my own 12 year old self the first day of middle school. Oh, thank goodness that's over.

While Julie's mom was still pulling to a stop, Julie was already opening the car door. As she ran up the steps to Desiree's door, Desiree stepped out and Julie stopped dead in her tracks. Desiree was wearing a new multi-layered stretchy purple shirt, and new black cargo pants. She even had on new 2" platform flip-flops. She must have seen something in Julie's face. "Oh. I'll go change," she said and turned back into her house.

Julie, her long white t-shirt from horse camp hanging nearly halfway down her legs, which were dressed in old jeans and standing in sneakers, bit her lip and looked back at her mom who smiled at her and made a questioning gesture. "Oblivious," Julie thought.

"She'll be right out!" Julie called to her mom, just as Desiree re-emerged, her mom pushing her from behind.

"Hi Mary," Desiree's mom called to Julie's, who waved back. "There's no time, Desiree," she said turning to Desiree.

"But Mom."

"Nope, go on." She looked at Julie. "Hi, Julie. Are you as excited as Desiree?"


"Yes, Mrs. Westly."

"Well, have a great first day, both of you! It's so exciting! You're growing up!" Mrs. Westly said as she returned inside.

Desiree smiled at Julie. Julie tried to smile back.

"Come on, girls!" Julie's mom called.

They turned and ran to the car.

"First day of middle school!" Julie's mom exclaimed as she pulled away from the curb.

Desiree and Julie looked at each other and giggled.

"You look so grown up, Desiree," Julie's mom said.



"Just ---" Julie wasn't sure. "Just drive."

Julie's mom sighed and turned on the radio, muttering. "Yes'm. Righ' 'way, ma'am."

Julie rolled her eyes and looked back at Desiree. They giggled together. Then they fell silent, listening to the radio, watching the streets whiz by.

"I'm sorry," Desiree whispered. "I forgot."

Julie looked away for minute. It's true that they hadn't mentioned it since the last night of horse camp three weeks ago -- not even last night when they'd compared class schedules and who they'd heard would be coming from their old school to this one. But Julie hadn't needed reminding.

That last night of camp, they'd been the last to fall asleep, huddled in Julie's bunk, whispering late into the night, not even as loud as crickets or the wind in the trees overhead -- a special whispering just between the two of them that they'd been practicing at sleepovers for years. They promised each other they wouldn't ever be like the other older girls at horse camp, more concerned about how they looked and what they wore than they were about anything else -- even more than the horses, or playing in the grass bare-footed, or swimming, or being nice to a new kid, or holding hands with your best friend. Desiree and Julie swore fervently to each other to just be themselves, together, best friends, all their lives. It was Julie's idea that they'd both wear their camp shirts the first day of school. But Desiree had agreed.

Julie looked back at Desiree. For one angry minute, she considered accusing Desiree of lying, of betrayal. But Desiree looked great. Like an older kid. Like a teenager. Something deep and silent in Julie relented, surrendered.

Julie shrugged and smiled a little. She said softly, "You look nice."

Desiree's lips stretched across her perfect teeth in a big open smile. "Thanks, Julie. So do you. I know I should have worn my camp shirt, especially now. You look great."

Julie smiled and knew it was a lie.

When Julie's mom pulled up to the school, Desiree and Julie made their quick and nervous goodbyes to her, and then the two of them walked up to the bustle together, searching the crowd for familiar friends. Almost immediately, they were surrounded by old friends, but before Julie knew it, she was standing on the outside of a circle of girls clustered around Desiree, comparing their shoes and bags and shirts to each other's and to the eighth graders.' She fell into step with some of the "other" girls, the younger-though-they-were-all-the-same-age girls.

Julie knew, then, that nothing ever would be exactly the same again with Desiree. They'd stay friends. But Julie would always have this tiny tight knot of scar tissue, the beginning of the changes that would cause their paths to diverge. Even years later she would still sometimes find herself wondering whether Desiree had really just forgotten, or whether she had just been too scared to admit to Julie that she couldn't keep their promise to each other. Julie sometimes wondered if it was even a promise that could have been kept --- if it would have been her to break it first, if Desiree hadn't. On the much rarer occasions years later when Desiree would remember that day, she'd wonder most of the same things, but it would never occur to her that it might have been Julie if it hadn't been her.