I got by, with a little help from my friend

My best friend from childhood? Her name was Jane.

We met at kindergarten, although we probably weren’t even friends there, since I was a timid and anxious child, while she was brazen and fearless. At kinder, she once stapled her own thumb and didn’t cry. (I don’t actually recall the incident, I can only recall being told about it later – probably at the time I fainted).

Kinder photo

After kinder, we went to the small, local Catholic primary school together. (The other girls all went to the state school and became sworn enemies from that time until high school.) After a shaky start in prep – basically a tumultuous year of fighting between the 3 prep girls –  Jane and I eventually became “best buddies”. We were both academically smart, and usually rivalled one another for the top grades, but I guess what cemented the friendship was a shared a sense of humour.

Over the next few years we spent a lot of time at each other’s houses, and a lot of time laughing! While everyone likes to think they have a “quirky” sense of humour, it was clear that ours was a little left-of-field for some of our peers, since it was inadvertently the catalyst for a huge fight when we were in grade 5. For some reason – I guess just because we thought it would be funny – we wrote out the lyrics to a nonsensical song we’d that was in our “Let’s Sing” song books at school, and put them into the letterbox of another girl in our grade. It went something like: “Flea. Flea fly. Flea fly flo. Vista. Coomala, coomala, coomala vista…” (I think we actually showed a sophisticated sense of delight in lyrics and rhythms and just enjoyed the jivey, jazzy, “beat” or “scat” feel of those crazy lyrics.)

Somehow, what we thought was absurd and halarious, was interpreted by our imaginative schoolmate as a declaration of hostility. To our complete astonishment, we arrived at school the next day to discover that none of the grade 5 OR grade 6 girls (probably about 15 girls in total!) were talking to us! I recall feeling dismayed as I walked the gauntlet – or, up the side of the Catholic Church towards the tennis courts – with grade 5 and 6 girls standing around in small groups looking at me but no-one speaking. (I’m not sure where Jane was, maybe she had gone home for lunch.)

Primary school can be a perplexing time.

I hold Jane responsible for my love of music, so that is something I’ll always be grateful to her for. (Well actually my parents probably passed on a love of music, but she adeptly facilitated my gaining access to music that I was actually able to love, rather than Slim Dusty’s Greatest Hits, which didn’t appeal at the time.) I’d go to her house to watch Countdown! because I wasn’t allowed to watch it at home. With her, I attended my first rock concert – The Divinyls – at the tender age of 15. When her family moved to Melbourne in year 10, I began spending a lot of time in Melbourne, at all the appropriate places (any pubs and nightclubs that accepted V-line student concession cards for ID.)

When you spend many, many days and evenings with the same person from kindergarten right through to the end of your high school years, there are a lot of funny memories. Perhaps it’s particularly a teenage girl thing, but you end up developing an intimate shorthand so that you only need to give the other person a pointed look and you can both crack up laughing, at something that someone else may not find funny at all.

Once, at the National Gallery in our mid-teens, it occurred to our juvenile senses of humour, how halarious it would be to hijack a wheelchair and wheel one girl around as if she was unable to walk. We did so, crying with laughter the entire time. Another time, we somehow ended up being the only two passengers left, at night, on a suburban train, that shunted into a railyard and switched off all its lights. Luckily we were able to open the doors and exit the train, despite being doubled over with laughter. And once, we both glanced out the window of the school bus just as a small sports car took a corner too fast, causing the door to swing open. We cried with laughter the whole half-hour journey home.

Train at night

Being shunted into a railyard at night – just like being in your very own Famous Five adventure!

I will always be grateful to Jane for making it possible for me, when I finished year 12, to achieve my life’s goal: to get the hell out of my home town and move to Melbourne. She convinced her parents that I could board with her family. I think she understood my need to get out of the country town we’d grown up in, and she knew that I couldn’t afford to any other way. She probably also knew it would be good for me to go.

For my first year in Melbourne, I paid board to her mum, and lived with her and her family, out in the south eastern suburbs. They were generous to give me that opportunity for an affordable transition. 12 months later I was renting in the inner suburbs and I guess I’ve never looked back.

Despite that great act of generosity, by the time we got into our mid-twenties, we reached the anti-climax that many friendships fade out on: we simply drifted apart. By that time, we had few friends in common – hers were all studying commerce or law, mine were all at art school –  so we got together less and less, socialising instead in our circles of separate friends. Then there came a time when I noticed that it was always me who called to suggest a get together, so I thought I’d wait for her to call next time, just to see how long it took.

In my mid-twenties I thought I was being very mature by deciding that I wasn’t going to be the one trying to continue a friendship where the other person had so little interest. At that time, when socialising was a full time occupation, it seemed quite clear to me that if 6 whole months could go by without contact, then you are not really friends. (Funnily enough, now that I’m about twenty years older, 6 months is nothing, and I have a number of friends with whom I only catch up once or twice in a year – we’re all busy! But in your twenties, I think it’s still true that someone you don’t make contact with for 6 months is not a close friend.)

We’ve bumped into one another since, and had friendly chats, and I wish her well. Like siblings, we have a shared history and knowledge of each other’s family life when we were kids, and that’s a connection that can’t be taken away. I will always be grateful to her, and also to her family, for the role they had in my life. But as often happens, our personal lives have moved on in separate directions.

Still, she was a big part of my childhood, and we had some great times.

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