I was twelve. I was scared about starting at the large inner city high school, but I was excited as well.
Every day I caught the dusty, smoke-belching bus to school. I knew none of the other kids on the bus, but they seemed to know each other. There was Desiree, of the tanned skin and trendy feathered haircut (yes, yes, we're talking back when Farrah Fawcett hair was oh-so-cool!). Desiree had a husky voice and a knowing laugh and I was way too frightened of her to attempt conversation with this high school diva. There was the tall, tall Year 12 boy who was a swimmer and sat at the back with his friends. He would smile at me as he made his long-limbed way down the aisle and I would almost pass out from the thrill. Then there was a petite dark-haired girl in my grade, with the longest, thickest plait I'd ever seen. Her hair may have been old-fashioned, but she chatted breezily with everyone and was obviously popular.
One day, the gods of fortune smiled upon me, and this pint-sized girl, 'Chooky', sat beside me. I managed to convince her that, although I had a nasty haircut and no bus-friends, I was worth getting to know. We became best friends. We have remained friends, despite never being in the same class (well, apart from one geography class, during which I distinguished myself by having a confiscated letter to Chooky read out to the class by the stern elderly teacher .... "Dear Poo-Head, This class is making me fall asleep zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...hey, do you still like Michael? I think he likes you, anyway..."), not attending the same university, and working different jobs.
Chooky has had an incredibly tough life. Her father left when she was three, and has shown minimal enthusiasm for his role in Chooky's life ever since. Chooky's mother was a frightening woman who was in and out of psychiatric hospitals during Chooky's childhood, and rarely had a kind word to say to my lovely friend. And yet, Chooky is a phenomenal woman - a loving and loyal friend, a sought-after manager with a large company, partner to Goodguy. I don't know how she has done it, but she fills me with awe. My Chooky is an inspiration and a wonder.
This weekend just passed, Chooky whisked me away on a 'girls weekend'. It was my surprise birthday present from Chooky. And what an elaborate gift it was. We flew (yes, flew in a plane!) to a tropical locale. We stayed in a fancy hotel. We ate lazy lunches and drank a mango daiquiri while sitting by the pool. It was the most luxurious weekend I've ever had.
And yet.... the best part of the weekend was simply talking with Chooky. We caught up on news, we teased each other. We also reminisced about the beginnings of our friendship, and spoke about what we mean to each other now. Chooky told me that she believes she would not be the same happy person she is now were it not for her friendship with me. It brings tears to my eyes here and now just to write these words. It is the greatest compliment to me to be credited in such a way, whether true or not. I told Chooky that I consider her part of my family, and I do. Chooky is my lifelong friend and my soul sister.
She may be a dear friend, but she didn't love me enough to let me photograph her in her stripey pyjama pants. Humph.
You can't see her face, but you don't need to see it to know she is beautiful.