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first person

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Illustration by Kumé Pather

There is a small copse of trees near my bedroom window. The trees are young and have grown in a “ring around the rosie” circle on a little wee hillock on which delightful pink trilliums grow in the late springtime. I found this hillock recently during my annual spring cleanup. It is very sweet; a raised little hill, tiny really, with five young trees growing proudly around their clumps of trilliums that dance in the breeze.

My little hillock reminds me of my childhood friends (of which there are many). In particular, it reminds me of my best friends (of which there are few). I really had only two serious best friends when I was a child. Sometimes I had a “best friend” for a short period of time and replaced that friend with another “best friend” for another short period of time.

All my friends were important to me and I imagine them as little islands in a clear blue lake that I swim to and play with for a while and then swim to the next one. I graduated from friend to friend and island to island until I grew up and met my life partner who is now my best friend and husband. I don’t really have a best friend any more. I do have a lovely circle of dear women friends who are all as important to me as a best friend only I don’t call them that. Sometimes I call them “sister friends.” They are that close. And that important.

The word best friend is an important one. It signifies a kind of permanence that will echo through the years with a sort of solidity that is impermeable. The memory of a best friend lasts even if the friendship does not. It is special.

Anne of Green Gables had a best friend (whom she called bosom friend) in Diana. I met my own Anne of Green Gables best friend when I was 14. She sat a few rows over and behind me in our Grade 9 English classroom. Her seat was near the large windows that I spent my time looking out of and daydreaming. I can still see her there with her carrot and strawberry-coloured hair and tiny frame. Marianne was tallish (compared to me) and thin and had bright twinkling eyes and a heart-warming smile and an openness that I found inviting.

We both weren’t ready for this high school thing. We weren’t ready to be cheerleaders and student-council leaders and basketball team players and flirty girls who knew how to get asked out by boys. We just didn’t care.

Marianne asked me over to her house after school. We slammed our lockers shut and bounced out of our old brick school on a crisp fall morning and headed up the main street of our little town with a stop at the Fine Cake Shop for some inexpensive baked goods to satisfy our never-ending 14-year-old hunger. This bakery was famous for a few things: date turnovers, figure-eight doughnuts, exquisite mille feuille and diminutive petite fours. The petite fours came in pink, yellow, violet and turquoise and included a great gob of whipped cream like frosting under a tasty coating of sticky icing. They were mouth-wateringly delicious and featured a tiny candy-flower decoration on top. Marianne and I each bought two and popped those petite fours one at a time into our mouths – whole! We started laughing hysterically with mouths full of cake and icing.

The laughter never stopped. We laughed through elegant 14-year-old candlelit dinners (and full on food fights that we cleaned up so no one ever knew), we laughed while playing hide and seek in the dark, while sitting on roofs, on buses, during our first ever visit to the Toronto Eaton Centre, while on sleepovers, during yoga classes, at dance and theatre classes, and during French classes (when we really weren’t supposed to, but could not stop). We laughed while doing never-ending handstands and baking instant Pillsbury chocolate chip cookies and eating navel oranges.

We were silly. Hardcore silly. We sucked all the childhood juices out of our young lives until there was no more childhood to suck up. And then we were ready to move on.

And we did.

Marianne went in one direction. I went in another. In our late 20s, we met up for one lovely lunch and catch-up session after I bumped into Marianne (who was looking all willowy and elegant and grown up) in Toronto. We became Facebook friends and glimpsed little fragments of each other’s lives without ever talking.

I saw her adorable sheep dog/poodle, Hudson. She saw my rambunctious Airedale, Scout.

I recently felt a nostalgic longing to call Marianne and so I did. Out of the blue. We chatted and reminisced about old times and caught up with news about our offspring and parents, but she didn’t tell me her biggest news as we had so many other things to talk about.

A few days later, she posted a story on Facebook that she warned would sound sad, but really wasn’t. Marianne is living with metastasized stage four breast cancer and is in the palliative stage of her care. She was feeling quite normal as long as her pain was managed properly and although she’s a little stiff and sore sometimes, she was planning a “kick ass” trip out West with her son in the summer. She was positive and sweet and full of that lovely energy that I picked up on in our Grade 9 English class. She is celebrating life. And wants us to do the same.



I called up Marianne after I read her post and we talked like two schoolchildren even though it is 46 years later and our conversation was often about things that are difficult to talk about. She told me her story. The two words that kept floating through my consciousness and along the surface of my brain while we were chatting were these: B E S T F R I E N D.

Marianne will be a best friend forever.

I am so thankful for her inspiring philosophy of life. It reminds me of when we were two silly girls leaping and jumping into the unknown of our new lives with pure abandon and glee and hope and love.

When I look out from my bedroom window, I can see the little hillock with young trees growing on it in a circle of green. The green is achingly beautiful right now. I think of those trees like they are my childhood friends and see Marianne there, strong and tall and blooming with love and grace.

And I am thankful.

Michele Karch-Ackerman lives in Buckthorn, Ont.

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