I’ve always had a thing for guys with freckles, brown hair, blue eyes. It wasn’t a phase. I married a guy with freckles, brown hair and blue eyes.
But back in grade school, Colin Benner (not his real name) had all three, a fact that was not lost on me. I nursed a crush on him in secret from second until fifth grade.
One afternoon in the Spring, Natasha Brown (also not her real name) came over to my house to play. She and I lay on the large green hill in our front yard, inhaling the eucalyptus air and telling secrets. I don’t think she asked me right away, but soon enough she said,
“Jonalyn, who do you like?” she asked. I sat up, very serious and looked into her blue eyes, round as buttons, full of interest and attention.
“You cannot tell anyone!” I said. “Do you promise? You won’t tell anyone, especially him?”
“Oh, of course not, I would’t do that.” She was sitting up now, too. “I promise!”
“Okay.” And I reluctantly told her.
The shock of disclosing my crush left me feel exposed. I can’t remember anything else we said. I know I felt both closer to Natasha and more at her mercy, sort of like she held a power over me that could make us better friends.
The very next day, during P.E. our class ran the mile. I noticed that while I was pushing myself ahead to get my best time, Natasha had paired up with Colin for the entire run. That bothered me, more and more as I noticed Natasha never once looked at me as we passed each other. Those two ran side by side, preoccupied with talking. I began to pray Natasha would remember her promise.
During dismissal, where we all stood in the box marked for fourth grade waiting for our parents, I hoped for the miracle of my mother arriving on time, even early.
Waiting an interminable amount of time, I watched Colin walk out and instead of standing with his tribe of guys, he walked up to me. Perhaps you will remember how in fourth grade you can crush on a guy for years without ever having talked with him. As he approached me I began to tremble.
Colin asked, not unkindly, but with chutzpah that undid all my composure,
“Jonalyn, do you have a crush on me?” No prefatory remarks, no “Hey, how did you do on your mile?”
Straight for the heart.
I was horrified, embarrassed, disgusted all at once. All my anger surged at Natasha. How could she? How could she totally sucker me in and then lie to me?
I remember responding with one inadequate word, “NOOOO!” my face beet red, my emphatic answer betrayed by my own blush.
My mother mercifully appeared at that moment to take me home. I fled into the safety of our Volvo and must have looked so wretched that my mother inquired into my day. I started to sob and told her the whole story. That was the one and only time I recall my mother driving through the dairy and treating me to an entire candy bar, of my choice. The Butterfinger I devoured soothed my tears, but it could not undo the mark Natasha Brown had left on me.
I never talked with Natasha again. She never apologized, and never invited me to play.
I returned the favor.
I vowed that day, a promise I kept for more than ten years, that I would never trust another person with my secrets, especially where cute boys were concerned. No matter how much I was teased and prodded into the wee hours of slumber parties, I never told.
My fourth grade vow molded my friendships, even where trustworthy friends came into my life.
We get betrayed usually during formative friendship years by girls we thought were our friends. I’d imagine you have a hamper of stories where girls have hurt you, laughed at you, made fun (subtly, of course) of you.
My solution was to cut my friend off as unsafe. I also learned to hunt for safe friends, ones I could take baby steps to share my feelings and then watch like a hawk to see if they kept my secrets safely hidden. Natasha made me very aware of gossipy friends and helped form what I want in my target friendships - those in my inner ring of privilege. In some ways she helped me choose better.
Can you think back to grade school and the vows you made? Do you have any stories of hurting or being hurt? What do you think your childhood friendships taught you about friendship?