Reading very quickly became my favorite thing. By sixth grade, I was reading at twelfth grade level. I often spent recess or other free time in the school library. I was reading from one side to the other of the shelves in our small library. When I got through fiction, I read biography and history. Best of all, I found mythology.
Once I found mythology, I looked for stories everywhere. Meanwhile, I experienced all the common childhood illnesses, including measles, mumps and chicken pox. I usually had bronchitis at least once each winter. I had walking pneumonia and a couple concussions. I didn’t break any bones, but I stepped on bees, sprained ankles and tumbled off bikes. Reading saved me during all the down time. I loved ordering Scholastic books at school and visiting the library.
After my open heart surgery at age three, I was followed pretty closely until released at age six. Because of the heart issues, my baby teeth needed dental work. My body was not my friend. I didn’t like failing and I didn’t like sports. I was competitive and felt that I couldn’t compete. Instead, I found solitary activities. I collected frogs from the garden and released them again. I rode my bike up and down hills in nearby grassy lots. I took books and snacks to make nests in tall summer grass. I liked badminton, swings and climbing trees.
I especially liked reading books and having them turn into movies in my head and feeling like I was living them. I had adventures and experiences. I was competitive intellectually and academically. I could plot and I could plan. All this was so good in so many ways, but helped set up the disconnect between ME and my body which was always disappointing or failing me.
I’m feeling light-hearted today. I and two friends from childhood have maintained our relationships for more than fifty years. One lives relatively close. We keep in touch but visit infrequently.
The other is steadfast. She’s one of the few people that I don’t censor myself with (much). We see one another’s strengths and one another’s weaknesses and all that’s in-between. We make time for one another: visiting, planning events, taking trips together, and we don’t judge.
When she lived near the ocean on the Oregon coast, I had “my own” bedroom. When she needs tech support or employment advice, I’m available. Discouragement and venting stays in the friendship vault. Late in our lives, my mom is her second mom.
We choose our friends and, with luck and some work, they form the family that lasts. As my birth family grows smaller and more contentious, I value old friends all the more.
Living big, taking chances, trying new things is hard when staying small and quiet is a comfortable habit. Watching and evaluating feels much safer.
Few children lived near me growing up and few who did were girls. My parents were also very protective for the times. I skipped kindergarten and was my teacher’s favorite in first grade. Fortunately, I found a best friend and a couple of casual friends who saw me through grade school. I read voraciously, rode my bike, played with my younger sister and spent a lot of time with family. My grandpa retired young for health reasons, so I had three adults doting on me even before my dad got home from work and made it four.
The transition from grade school to junior high school (7th to 9th grades) was traumatic. My best friend’s parents divorced and I felt very isolated without her. For a long time, at home after school, I could actually replay the day to myself like a movie that happened to someone else while I watched from above.
Eventually, two of my casual friends stepped forward and were company at school, but I remained contained by family at home. I was quiet and studious during the school day. I got excellent grades and was rewarded for it with a boost to my allowance. At home, I was talkative and energetic (when not reading), but I found joining in difficult in class.
Things might have continued in the same way right through high school, but I realized part of my unhappiness was within my control. In my junior year, I decided to make changes. I joined the National Honor Society and the pep club. I attended football games, both home and away. I was a student aide in a couple classes. I got my driver’s license the following summer and it all helped.
Mt Saint Helens erupted shortly before the end of my senior year. I graduated in the top 10% of my class and left for college at the end of the summer.
My small life was getting bigger. I broke ground for my sister by fighting for my independence at home. I still felt as though something was missing, but I also had hope.