Not too long ago friends of mine were posting lamentations on Facebook, sorrow filled posts about the loss of a landmark in their lives …. Alexander Junior High School. Sure, I know they changed the name some time after we left there to Alexander Middle School, but it will always be Alexander Junior High to me, the site of some of the worst years of my life. One of my friends said she’d gone by to collect bricks from the old buildings to remember it by. I don’t need the bricks, I have the scars in my heart as remembrance.
The first small heartbreak in my life came in second grade, when my best friend and next door neighbor, LuAnne, told me her parents were divorcing and she was moving with her mama and three siblings back to her mom’s hometown of Angier, NC. We hadn’t gone a day of our lives that I could remember without hanging out in our adjoining yards, catching lightning bugs, playing tag, swimming in our backyard pool, riding bikes, skating, playing basketball, and spending the night at each others’ houses on summer nights and school year weekends. I didn’t know how I would continue on without those four kids who were like brothers and sisters to me.
Little did I know, God already had a plan in motion. Not long after I got the tragic news about the Honeycutts moving, two new girls showed up at my babysitters. Angie was my age and her little sister, Carol, was four or five years younger. Angie and I were best friends before the paint dried on the new name on the mailbox next door. She only lived about a mile from me and our parents burned up the road taking us back and forth to each others’ houses. We were dropped off at the babysitter’s house every morning and walked to Long Creek Elementary School together from there. At day’s end, we crossed the street and stopped in at Puckett’s Store for soft drinks and snacks before walking the three-quarters of a mile to the babysitter’s, where we played outside in warm weather and fought with the babysitter’s two sons and my brother over whether we were going to watch Gilligan’s Island or Batman on cold afternoons.
Over the next five years Angie and I were like sisters. We spent countless hours together skating on our concrete driveway, riding bikes through my neighborhood, Westminster Park, playing on the swings and monkey bars at Long Creek Elementary School, cheerleading at Mustang football games, swimming at my house, exploring the woods behind her house in Forest Acres, and going on each other’s family vacations. Though we had other close girlfriends, like Charlene, Meg, and Jerri, we were each other’s person.
And then Junior High happened ….
Suddenly, I was not just friends with Jerri and Meg and Charlene …. there was John, and Ernie, and Scott, and Mike, and Chet, and Greg, and David. I was the only one of our group of girls who had grown up with a brother and maybe that was the reason that I instantly became friends with all of those boys. Angie would later tell me that I thought more like a guy, and, who knows, maybe she was right. Anyway, the guys became instant friends and seemed to see me as someone they could talk to, confide in. I was also often asked to be the go between when they were too shy to tell my girlfriends that they liked them.
The guys trusted me to keep their secrets, too. That was something I had always been good at, but wasn’t a quality that was shared or appreciated by most of my female friends. Sometimes the girls got mad at me because I would not repeat what the guys had told me. Instead of appreciating and respecting my loyalty to a friend, they saw it as a betrayal to them. They misconstrued my friendships with the boys, especially ones they were interested in, as interference in their budding relationships.
Everyone who’s been a young teenager has had experience with Mean Girls. Eighth grade would be my introduction to the species. Julie had always been on the fringes of our group of close friends and she took the opportunity to mine the fissure that was developing in my relationships with Angie and Charlene and to insert herself in that space. A few whispered lies later, Angie and Charlene were no longer speaking to me. But that wasn’t enough. Julie, who was a much bigger girl than me, began to follow me through the halls and intimidate me, to threaten me physically in person and in letters she’d slip in my locker.
I thanked God for the boys who’d befriended me and for Jerri, who’d never stopped being my friend. I also thanked Him for Jonna and Marianne, new friends. But the hurt of losing Angie, who had been so close that I considered her family my second family, was soul crushing. I didn’t think I could ever let someone in like that again. I spent a lot of time alone, feeling like there must be something wrong with me for Angie and Charlene to want nothing to do with me anymore. I thought many times over the next two years that I could not go on.
The day of my ninth grade graduation was blissful for me. I never wanted to see the halls of John McKnitt Alexander Junior High School again. Goodbye and good riddance.
I had made up my mind that North Mecklenburg High School was going to be a new start. The first class on the first day, I met Terri and Leslie in Driver’s Ed. We joined my friend, Jonna and their friend, Robin Stone at the lunchroom table and a new girl squad was formed. I didn’t share a single class with Angie, Charlene, or, thank God, Julie, I was able to move on without the scab being torn off too often. I wasn’t the same girl. I was more reserved, quieter, less trusting of the girls in my life. My friendships with the guys were stronger than ever.
And then summer came …. along with a very unexpected phone call. Angie was on the line. Charlene was with her. And they wanted to come talk to me. Hmmmm ….. oooookay. I had no idea where this was going, but curiosity won out and I agreed to see them after almost three years of estrangement. When they arrived at my house, we sat around the pool in my backyard, everyone tense at first. Angie spoke up. She said, “We just wanted to tell you how sorry we are about what we did to you.” She went on to explain that Julie had tried the same tactic to come between them. This time, they had gotten together, compared notes, and realized that Julie was lying to each of them about what the other had done and said. They had come to the realization then that the same thing had happened with me. They were embarrassed and sorry that they had frozen me out based on false accusations made by Julie. I accepted their apologies and agreed to try to put the hurt feelings behind us.
That summer we tried a few times to hang out. One particular Saturday night, with not much happening at Eastland Mall, we decided to head over to Putt-Putt. As soon as we got there, Charlene spoke to two cute guys. I finished a game of Omega Race and came over to join them. She introduced me to Mike Phillips and his friend, Darryl Holder. I thought they were cute and nice guys, but didn’t think much more about it. We hung out a while, and headed home for my 11:30 curfew like any weekend night.
Things, however, were not the same. We were friendly, but no longer really close friends. I moved on, at least feeling a little better about myself. Opening up a little more, I became closer to Terri and let myself love her family like I had Angie’s family. I once again felt like I had a second home. I had my license then and we were constantly on the road in my 1976 Granada between Huntersville and the Meck Neck where Terri lived. Blasting AC/DC, we traveled from North Mecklenburg High School football games, to Godfather’s, to Eastland Mall, to Putt-Putt every weekend.
And then fate stepped in. At one of those Friday night football games (October 23rd, 1981), my ex-boyfriend who I’d recently broken up with and who now went to a different high school, showed up with two girls I didn’t know. Terri and I spotted Mike and Darryl, the guys from that night at Putt-Putt, in the stands. Darryl and Terri had grown up down the block from each other. We went up and asked them if they wanted to help me make someone jealous. They were game and walked with me, one on each arm, to the opposing side of the field. Mission accomplished, we went back to the stands and sat together. After the game, we all went to Godfather’s together.
If you know me, you know the rest of that story.
Thirty-eight years later, Darryl and I are still together. I see God’s hand all over this story. If all of the things that happened had not happened, in exactly the way they did, I don’t think I would even have ever met him. I would not have been the person I was when we met. I wouldn’t have been looking for the things I was looking for in my person. And I would not have found him.
Who knew that Julie was actually doing me a big favor when she broke my heart? Years passed before I was able to look at it that way, though, before I was able to truly forgive and to see the blessing that came out of the pain.
I’ve got to say, there is something therapeutic about driving past and seeing a clean slate on the site where my whole life changed.