When I was eight we had already moved about six times, (this time to La Canada), so I didn’t have alot of friends. That made my sister my best friend, which was a problem because she was also my worst enemy; mainly because we were only eleven months and twenty three days apart – and she was older. There was a rumor in my family that Regina had a twin, but she kicked her out in utero, causing a partial miscarriage, me, and I came back less than a year later to haunt her. That was us in a nutshell. Can’t live with her, can’t live without her.
At St. Bede’s in second grade I was the shy, quiet girl, and Regina was the loud third grader; everyone in the school knew her name – and they knew I was her sister. So I did my best to be the absolute opposite of her – unnoticed. There were fifteen boys and sixteen girls in my class and like all second grade classes the cliques formed fast and I was not in any of them. I was the observer, the terminal “new girl”. But this one day I broke into the inner circle of the inner circle of the second grade girls.; Kathleen McDonald asked me to come over to her house and play. It was a big deal – everyone wanted to go to Kathleen’s house. Of course I said yes – to Saturday – twelve o’clock – I had a friend.
My mom turned onto Linda Vista Avenue curving above the Rose Bowl where we watched fireworks on the fourth of July. The air was warm and the speed of the car added to the excitement growing in my belly. We turned right and moved up the hill, curving along the narrow streets “where all the doctors and lawyers lived”. Her house was a huge rust colored stucco castle with trees all around. It was majestic. We knocked on the large brown oversized door and the maid showed me in as I turned to wave goodbye to my mom. The entrance hall was enormous, high ceilings with a large chandelier, and further down the hall huge windows overlooking the entire valley. The maid mumbled something I didn’t understand, clapped her hands sharply and led me down another hall to some huge brown double doors.
“Miss Kath-a-leen,” she yelled as she opened the door. “Patri-ci-a para tu.” She swept me into the room and closed the door.
Kathleen’s room was enormous. You could fit our entire living room and family room and even maybe my bedroom into it. Against one wall on the far side of the room was a huge double bed high off the ground with four posts and a beautiful pink and green patterned bedspread. It looked lovely against the deep wooden walls. Alongside the entire left wall were a series of four large windows, which also looked over the sloping valley and neighborhood. The wooden floors were vast, dolls neatly lined on shelves next to the very large dollhouse.
“What do you want to do?” Kathleen asked. I saw a jump rope coiled in a basket and picked it up. The girls always played jump rope at school. I was good at jump rope.
“Want to jump rope?” I offered.
“There are only two of us,” Kathleen laughed.
“Tie one end on the door?” I said as I rushed to do it. “See?” I started twirling the other end as Kathleen entered perfectly in tempo, jumping over the rope. She made it look effortless. We took turns for what seemed like hours, evolving into a “jump rope championship”, squealing with laughter at each other’s “fails”.
“You’re really good at this,” Kathleen said.
“I know,” I said. “We play all the time at my house.”
“I’ll get you this time,” Kathleen challenged and leaning on the windowsill laughing, as I bent over to pick up the rope.
“Betcha won’t!” I laughed turning back and lifting the rope to begin twirling. Kathleen was gone. “Kathleen? Where are you?” I looked around the room, confused. There, now gone. In slow motion, I realized the screen was off the huge window above the window seat where she had been laughing just a moment before. I ran to the window and looked the three stories to the ground. Kathleen’s body laid limply on the sloping hillside, absolutely still.
“Kathleen,” I called. No answer. I didn’t know how to get down to her. I didn’t know what to do. So I ran to the door, pulling it open and screamed for help.
The maid ran frantically toward me, “Miss Kath-a-leen?” I pulled her to the window and pointed to the ground. She gasped and started speaking in Spanish, very quickly, I didn’t understand a word. We ran out of the room to the kitchen and dialed the phone – more Spanish, pointing at me, then to the room, them motioning to the ground. She was scared. I was scared too. As the phone clicked back into the receiver, she pulled my sleeve, dragging me through a maze of hallways and stairs until at last we were on the bottom floor, opening the back door and rushing outside to the hillside where Kathleen laid. Kathleen’s arms started moving, and I could hear her groan as we got closer. We knelt for what seemed like forever, me holding Kathleen’s hand as she tried to focus, and the maid rocking back and forth. I could hear the ambulance approaching.
There was so much confusion, the maid not speaking English, the ambulance attendants helping Kathleen. Someone called my mother, who arrived at about the same time that Kathleen’s father arrived. He looked so angry, he glared at me and spoke something to the maid. He spoke shortly to my mom, jumped into his car to follow the ambulance, and we all pulled out of the driveway in an odd procession.
The ride home seemed to last forever, as I sobbed, wanting to tell my mom what happened, confused, sad, sorrowful. But the sobs wouldn’t let the words come. “It must have been my fault,” my little eight year old mind thought I as tried to sort it all out.
“She’s going to be ok,” my mom offered quietly. “What happened?”
“We were jumping rope and she just fell out the window.” I sobbed again. My mom was quiet as we finally pulled in our driveway. As I got out of our car I heard horse clops, and looking up I saw my sister, atop a beautiful horse, looking like a dream. She didn’t own a horse, but she loved them, wanted to be one in fact. I was sure she willed this one into existence.
Regina’s face softened as she read me, absorbing my sorrow. “Hey, you wanna ride?” It was my sister, trying to make me ok by offering me her prized possession. See? I told you she was my best friend. I buried my face in the horses mane, reaching my hand up toward the horn on the saddle and Reg held it. We stood like that for a long time.
I somehow got to sleep that night. My mom called the next day to see how Kathleen was. Her father said she had suffered a concussion, a broken knee cap and a sprained back. I made her a crepe paper flower and put it in a red brick planter vase, the color of Kathleen’s house. We drove to the house and I knocked again on the huge brown wooden door. Kathleen’s dad answered and I held up the potted flower.
“Kathleen can’t have visitors,” he said brusquely and asked to talk to my mom alone. I went back to the car and sat as they talked. He was angry, his arms moving dramatically. My mother’s face remained controlled. They parted and she returned hesitantly to the car.
“What did he say?” I asked.
It was quiet for a minute. “How did Kathleen fall out the window?” She asked.
“I don’t know. I think she just leaned back. I was picking up the rope and when I turned around she was gone.” My mom nodded slowly. “What mom?”
“Dr. McDermott doesn’t want you girls to play together anymore.” My mom looked angry.
“Why?” Silence. He thought I pushed her, I thought.
“It doesn’t matter. I agree. I don’t think you should play together either.” She looked into my eyes, I could read the story. I felt desolate.
The next few weeks at school were horrible. My stomach was in knots because I wanted to ask Kathleen if she was ok, but I wasn’t supposed to talk to her. She didn’t seem to mind. She had become the center of attention, first with her wheelchair, with all the girls fighting over who would push it. Then her crutches, using just the right amount of helplessness. She was basking in the attention, with everyone signing her cast: except me. I was in the back of the room again, alone, and observing.
The beginning and ending of a friendship in one day. It would be quite some time before I tried that again.