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A Superhero and A Sidekick
My best friend, Marie, was a wild, passionate, and cool preschooler. She had curly black hair that fell every which way around her serious little face. She had ideas about the way the world worked, and was determined to see them come true. Most of the other kids just saw her as bossy, but I saw something else. I saw her “bossiness” as leadership. She seemed to know an interesting path in the world, and all she needed was a follower. So I became that follower, and her friend.
There were other followers too. But none of them really understood Marie like I did. No one really knew how great Marie’s jokes were, how cool the world looked through her eyes. No one really saw Marie’s light like I did, and I wanted to be just like her.
But Marie, like all superheroes, had her kryptonite. Hers was jealousy.
Our preschool was Montessori and Spanish-immersion, so basically it was a bunch of children of hippies, ages three to five, running around in a chaotic fury, pouring things from bottles into glasses, tying pieces of canvass together, and transferring beads from dish to dish, overseen by strict Spanish-speaking women who had recently immigrated to the US and barely spoke a word of English. At five years old, I was a veteran. I knew how to get the good juice boxes at snack time, which beads were best for scooping, and I could pour water from the bottle to the glass without spilling a drop. So when a new girl arrived one day, I knew that I was the right person to show her the ropes.
This girl, Hope, was small and pale with wavy white-blond hair and blue eyes as deep as an ocean. When her mother left and she was faced with the chaos of our classroom, her eyes widened with fear and uncertainty and tears began to fall gently down her cheeks. I knew that this little three-year-old girl needed help from an older and wiser girl like me, so I went over to her and began to talk to her. I thought it was my job to take care of the little girl. I thought that’s what nice older girls did.
But Marie didn’t see it that way. Maybe she was afraid that once Hope knew the ropes she would kick Marie off her throne, or maybe Marie was just afraid of losing her best friend. Either way, that day at recess Marie got a very serious look on her face and decreed to her followers: “No one can be friends with anyone who is not part of our club. You can’t even talk to them,” she said, staring pointedly at me.
But I talked to Hope anyway. Actually, I did more than talk to her. I played with her, ate my snack with her, and even laid my mat next to her at naptime. Every time she saw us Marie gave me a dirty look. I knew that I was making her mad, but I also knew that she wasn’t the boss of my life, and that as much as I loved being her sidekick, I also had to be a superhero of my own.
The next day at recess Marie came up to me, her face red with anger, her untamed hair flying in all directions and her eyes squinting at me, in frustration or maybe just because the glasses she refused to wear were still sitting in her jacket pocket. “You are out of the club,” she said and stormed off.
I spent recess that day holed up in the yellow plastic tube in the middle of the playground, looking out of the tiny window up at Queen Marie in her throne on the top of the jungle gym, and missing my best friend.
In the two years since we’d met, Marie and I had been inseparable. Marie’s phone number was the first one I memorized, and I knew how to call her house before I knew how to call my own. I went to her house almost every day, and the days I wasn’t at her place she was at mine. But was our friendship really worth it if I didn’t get a chance to be myself too?
While I was thinking about all of this, there was a knock on the side of the yellow tube, and a serious face with squinty eyes and wild hair appeared in the opening.
“It’s pretty cozy in here,” Marie said, climbing in next to me. I just nodded.
Sometimes I wonder whether I should have just pushed her out of the tube. I wonder whether I should have just said “Yeah it is cozy, but this tube’s only big enough for one, and I have a new best friend now, thank you very much.” Sometimes I wonder if our relationship was doomed from the start. If maybe being her friend because I idolized her was a bad move on my part and I should have picked someone who I saw as an equal. I wonder if maybe I would just be better off without her.
But our relationship isn’t about me, and it isn’t about her. It’s about us. I realize now, looking back on that day, that it wasn’t just me who needed Marie, but it was also Marie who needed me. We idolized each other. Marie had plenty of followers, but it was my house she went to, my number she called, and me she went looking for in that yellow tube after having kicked me out of the club.
Maybe that’s what a relationship is—a give and take between leader and follower, and deciding when to lead and when to follow. That day in preschool I decided that following Marie was not as important to me as compromising my identity, and that day Marie decided that maintaining her status as leader was not as important losing her best friend.
Being friends with someone as stubborn and bossy as Marie was the hardest part of preschool. As much as I wish we had figured it all out that day in the yellow tube—set out ground rules, decided on a list of things we could do and things we couldn’t—we didn’t, and I’m not sure we truly could have. Throughout preschool I spent many recesses in the yellow tube, sometimes with Marie, but more often without her. But no matter how hurt I was, in the end I never gave up on our friendship.
Marie is still my best friend. She is still the person I call, she is still the person I ask for advice, and she is still my hero. But sometimes I still feel stuck in that yellow tube, wishing that Marie could just see things my way, feeling like our friendship is over forever, and no matter how many times I’ve been there, every time I climb in that now metaphorical tube, it hurts like Hell. I want to say that when Marie inevitably climbs back into the tube I welcome her with open arms—that I love her and I forgive her—but if I said that I would be lying. Most of the time I imagine pushing her out of the tube, and hoping that foot of air between the ground and the floor of the tube suddenly becomes a dozen feet and that I never see her again, because as much as losing her for a short time hurts, if I lost her forever I wouldn’t have to ever go through that pain again.
Marie is still my best friend. Maybe because I’m so used to having her around that I wouldn’t recognize my life without her. Maybe because I need her. Maybe because she needs me. Or maybe because I have some lingering hope, down deep in the pit of my stomach, that a best friend like Marie, despite the pain, is somehow worth it.