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When I was a kid my mother used to send me to school, the first day of every year, with all of my required materials, the notebooks, the pencils, the little geometry kits, in a large black garbage bag.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because she’s very practical; maybe because she’s a little lacking in imagination or maybe she just didn’t have time to think about the way a little girl would feel on the first day of school.

But I remember feeling sweaty and confused; I was never sure if the girl who was my best friend last year was still my friend.  We lived in an old neighbourhood.  The houses were tiny, but they had big lots.   We had an incredible view of the mountains.  There was a huge Maple tree with a tire swing in the back yard and a vegetable garden and a grape vine which produced sour green grapes and legions of snails every year.

The other girls lived in subdivisions.  One subdivision, across the highway, was a bit older and run down.  The houses were all two level with a garage and a big front room window.  The lots were small.  The other, was closer to where I lived and closer to the school.  It was brand new.  The houses were brown and other elegant shades; green or taupe.  There were dark green shrubberies growing in pools of bark mulch.

We didn’t see each other during the summer.  Kids didn’t really use the phone back then.  You’d just go outside and play with the kids who lived near by; the kids hanging out on the street.  My street had a random, rag-tag bunch.  There was Michelle and her older sister Faye right next door, both of them older by a couple of years.  There was Danny, the boy who’s mom was renting the house across the street for a few years.  Danny and Michelle had sex for the first time right in front of me; under the picnic table which we had draped in blankets like a tent.  I could see between their legs; she kept telling me to help push “it” in.  Luckily for me, the ice cream man came by playing his ice cream man music right before it was my turn.  I scrambled out from the tent, away from Danny, and ran breathlessly through the summer light and shade to the safety of the street and a chocolate ice cream.

We never had sex, but Danny did ask me to marry him (the only man who ever has) right in his mom’s front yard.  He told me he was going to buy me a station wagon.  For a couple of years, every time we saw each other, we knew, and we were serious, that we would be a married couple.  Mr. and Mrs. Danny Smith.  It felt very grown up, but I’m glad he moved away.  I’m glad we lost touch.

There was Eugene and Arlene, the brother and sister, who lived around the corner and who would sometimes have lemonade sales or ice cream cone sales in their front yard.  No one really liked them much.  Eugene who was older than me, was always very ruddy and snotty, and his mom had long armpit hair, a beautiful auburn colour, that spilled out of her sleeveless tank tops and hung down to her rib cage, no kidding.  Their ice cream was always gritty, like it was freezer burnt, and they were just trying to get rid of it by foisting it on the neighbours for 5 or 10 cents a scoop.  They were generally considered to be quite gross, but we always bought their ice cream.

And there was Rhonda, my best friend for years.  She didn’t live in either of the subdivisions.  She lived in a nice house over by the highway, near the Tulista ball park, on the other side of the school.  It was pretty far.  Her dad was a cop.  Her mom was tiny and would always make Rhonda peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch.  They didn’t get along very well; the mom and dad.  I think I saw him once; he was tall with big curly hair. Rhonda told me that her dad thought her mom had a skinny ass.

At school it was like Rhonda and I didn’t even know each other.  We were in different classes.  They divided us up after grade 3 into two seperate groups for some reason.  It was pretty rare that there was any cross over.  We didn’t even socialize during the lunch break or at recess, but our summer time relationship was incredibly intimate.  We used to dance for hours in her basement.  She had a record player and a collection of 45’s.  Our favourite was Return to Sender.  Elvis.

She wanted me to whip her once.  She brought a bunch of branches and then laid down on the cement, we were standing in the street, and asked me to beat her with these branches.  I just remember standing there looking at her, feeling horrified and incapable.  I couldn’t do it.  It was so confusing.  I thought I might puke.