It was the first day of kindergarten. I had this awesome lunchbox that I had decorated with glued on rhinestones. I had my brand new blue folder, my sparkly silver pencil, and my cute little bangle bracelets. And there she was. Same lunchbox, also decorated with rhinestones. Brand new blue folder, sparkly silver pencil, cute little bangle bracelets.
‘Oooh, how cute, they are twins!’ someone squeed, and pushed us into seats next to each other.
She ended up with my lunchbox, and I ended up with hers. The teacher didn’t believe us. She picked up my pencil by mistake and chewed on the eraser. I mistakenly doodled on her new blue folder.
It was on.
We were the two smartest kids in the class. We were both musically inclined in a school with a small and underfunded music program. There couldn’t be two soloists. There was only one prize for best in class, only one science fair project could be sent on from each room, only one grand prize for writing, only one class president.
You could say we hated each other. We were both smart, competitive, arrogant, and stubborn. Teachers insisted on putting us on the same team, but we both wanted to lead and refused to compromise with each other. Switching classes wasn’t an option, we were both on the gifted and talented track and there simply weren’t extra classes. Neither of us was willing to settle for second-rate, so we resigned ourselves to starring daggers at each other across the table and playing brutally competitive games of tether-ball at recess.
And day by day, week by week, year by year, we continued in our mutual hatred, choosing followers from among the less competitive students and creating some truly spectacular projects. I could never slack off, for if I did, she’d win, and I could not allow that to happen. Straight As seemed an appropriate consequence for putting slugs in her desk when the teacher wasn’t looking. She didn’t turn me in, just as I didn’t turn her in when she glued my pencil box shut. It was between us, and getting the teacher involved was cheating. If she was more clever than I one day, I took my lumps and plotted my vengeance.
And then, Junior High.
Different teachers, different administrators, different aids, different coaches, all strangers. And suddenly, our mutual hatred was something more.
You see, she was one race, and I was another race. And in the eyes of the powers that be, our hatred wasn’t two bratty kids in competition with each other. No, no, it had to be something more. And suddenly we had unfair advantages. She was the privileged majority, and her success was taken for granted even when she slacked off. I was the minority, and could slack off and still win the token prize. For a while, neither of us understood what had changed.
But we didn’t like it, not one bit. Other people kept poking their noses into our business.
If we expressed dislike of each other, we were shamed for it, for the teachers assumed it had to be racially based. We internalized some of this, and it came to a head one day. We had one of our usual spats, and the racial slurs came out on both sides. The administrators were aghast in their satisfaction of the racial enmity.
She was suspended for three days. I got detention. Our mutual antagonism involved years of unspoken communication, and a nod in the principal’s office was all that passed between us. We met in the park, had a chat, and said essentially ‘fuck this shit’. We walked to school together the next day. She was told to leave. I picked up my backpack and we left the school together. I’m sure the truant officers searched for us, but we knew enough to avoid the usual hang-outs. We sat in an abandoned house, backs to each other, and read until school was out. Then we both showed up for detention together.
The principal came in to lecture us. He informed us he’d called our parents. We smiled. We both served detention, and the matter was never spoken of again. We never used racial slurs against each other again, either. No, we were a tad bit more creative.
In Hollywood, this would be where past differences were put aside, and we’d skip off holding hands and do each others hair. This isn’t Hollywood. We still competed, still argued, and still hated each other. We no longer had a lot in common, and took very different paths. Many, many times people accused us of hating each other for spurious reasons such as race or religion. That was when we’d share a smile, and a roll of our eyes. We knew better. Neither of us ran for student body in high school. By mutual, unspoken decision, we both turned our backs on front line politics. She organized the prom and school fundraisers/activities. I wrote the speeches for both sides of the student body president debate and ran the school paper.
The end of High School took us in different directions. Neither of us made our high school reunion.
I think about her sometimes, especially these days. More and more, people aren’t allowed to disagree on the issues, not even when it is just one issue. Yes, some people are bigots. Others just honestly disagree.
College was harder, without her there. There were other students, but the competition wasn’t there for me anymore. For better or worse, we drove each other to do our best and kept each other from taking the easy routes. We kept each other honest.
Sarah, where ever you may be these days, I wish you all the best. I wouldn’t be who I am without you, and in a way, you were one of the best friends I ever had.
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