Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Summer of 15

No, not the summer of 2015; the summer I was 15. Yeah, that's ancient history. But it was a pivotal time in my life.

Our neighborhood abutted other neighborhoods. Some social mixing between kids in different neighborhoods was common, but certain conventions had to be followed. Two backyards provided a portal between our neighborhood and one of the adjacent neighborhoods. If kids from these two neighborhoods mixed, the crossover usually occurred through these two backyards.

There was a fence between these two yards, but it had a gate that was deliberately built for easy access. The two families that owned the yards allowed children from both neighborhoods to pass through and play in their yards. It was like a dimensional portal.

One of the yards was large, fenced, and heavily landscaped, making it seem very private. The family had stocked it with various playground equipment that was very inviting to neighborhood children. I first saw her in that yard jumping on the giant inner tube.

Actually I had known her for most of my life. For years we had attended the same LDS ward until the ward had been split. But there were so many kids in the old ward that I only bothered to pay attention to those to whom I had a particular connection.

Besides, she was younger than me, although, I wasn't really sure how much younger. I'm not sure we had ever even talked to each other before. I had always seen her as a rough edged kid that was brash, kind of mouthy, and tomboyish. But that day I saw her for the first time as a blossoming young lady. It was almost like I had never seen her before.

As a side note, I could never see the girls in my own ward in anything but a sisterly light. I still recall how shocked I was when I realized that the "cute girl" a friend at school was talking about was one of the girls in my ward. "Her, cute?!" I thought. It took me looking through my friend's eyes to realize that some of the girls I had grown up with my whole life were quite cute. But they were still like sisters to me.

I had gone over to the portal yard to collect my younger brother for dinner. Of course, I hung out for a few minutes before heading home with him. But after dinner I returned with him and found her there. We jumped on the inner tube and chatted until twilight set in.

The next evening I gravitated back to the portal yard. And so did she. At first we only hung out together when other neighborhood kids were around. But eventually we started finding ourselves alone in the portal yard. Sometimes we jumped on the inner tube. Sometimes we sat on the grass. Sometimes we swung on the swings.

And we talked. And talked. About all kinds of things. I found that I could freely talk with her about almost anything. During our discussions I realized that she harbored a beauty, a depth, an intellect, and a pleasant personality that I had never previously noticed. I thought her quite intelligent, although, she told me that she had always struggled in school. She was two grades behind me but she was less than a year younger than me. (I was one of the youngest in my class. She was among the oldest in hers.)

During all of these liaisons we never touched each other. We just talked. It didn't bother me that she was interested in another guy. Somehow we developed a friendship that didn't directly approach anything romantic. We could even talk about each others' romantic interests.

We kept gravitating to the portal yard evening after evening. The long hours of summer sunlight gave us ample opportunity to spend time together before heading home in the dusk each evening.

Then about three weeks after it began it was suddenly over. I don't remember exactly how or why. But it was probably related to school starting. I remember the first time she showed up dressed in school clothes instead of summer play clothes. Her outfit seemed to fit with a rougher crowd than I ran with.

I can't remember if there was some mutual agreement or if our visits just kind of slowed to a stop. But after the first week of school we never found ourselves together in the portal yard again. That yard was indeed a special portal, because we were never able to interact in other venues.

Our paths seldom crossed after that. I saw her from time to time at school and at community events. But she was in her element — as I said, a rougher crowd than I hung with — and I was in mine. When we saw each other it was like we'd never known each other, almost like we were different people than we had been. Those social barriers hadn't existed in the privacy of the portal yard.

Since we operated in such different social circles I eventually lost track of her. I have no idea how her life has turned out. Nor am I sure I would even recognize her nowadays. We tend to keep internal images of the way people were back when we knew them. Then we are shocked to discover that they have aged and changed just like we have.

Those brief summer weeks taught me that I could have a friend that was a girl but that wasn't a girlfriend, and that there can be value to having friends from different social circles. And though our friendship ended as rapidly as it had begun, it made a significant impact on my understanding of life. And for that I am grateful.

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