We were walking home from school, Tracy and I, along the Maryland highway, really just a four lane road. It was faster to walk than take the bus because the bus went all the way through town first, and we lived in the other direction. Some girls drove by and screamed out the window at us. What did they scream? I don't remember, in fact so much of this memory is like a dream in how parts of it are so intense and others strung together by cobwebs of logic. I remember that my bookbag had colorful dancers' feet painted on it and ketchup stains on the bottom (from my habit of collecting ketchup packets for their satisfying spray when they burst, but then I'd forget and leave them in the bottom of my bag and ketchup would ooze through my bag and over my books), but I don't remember what those girls yelled. I yelled back "shut your mouth" and the car screeched around across the median and back towards us.
And we ran. Tracy threw her books down and ran unencumbered; that girl could run like the wind. Sometimes I can't imagine how we were friends. I know living next door was quite a factor but you look at me, with my awful teeth and pasty skin, living in books, huddling against the brick wall during recess and hating when the teachers would notice me and tell me to go out and run with the others. Ballet made it so I could grab my foot behind my head, but I couldn't catch a ball if my life depended on it and I didn't want to. Meanwhile Tracy was summer brown and beautiful, blessed with an older sister's guidance and a younger brother's rough-and-tumble fighting and her hair flew behind her as she ran down the hill, away from the car barreling towards us, me thumping along behind with my bag slamming against me.
And then what? I think we hid behind some trees, or maybe in the shadow of somebody's porch, and then came out when we thought it was safe, but the girls were still there, and "There they are! Get them!" and we ran more, we ran to the mechanic's shop that Tracy's father owned and he turned to the car with the fury of a father, and the fearless fists that winning most fights gives you. I really think he was ready to beat the hell out of that car. They were bullies, sure, to be old enough to drive and chasing down eleven-year-olds, but he was a grown man, and angry, and they drove away quickly.
Then what? Cobwebs. We went back and got Tracy's books, me still clutching my heavy bag and realizing I could have run faster if I'd had the sense to do what she did. Then I guess her father took us home, and I think police were called, as they would be in a small town. I don't know what I had thought would happen: Did I think they were going to run us down with the car? Get out of the car and beat us up? In my memory they are giants but they must have been 18 at the most, because the next day in high school one of them apologized to Tracy's popular sister, which was politically savvy. Denise said it shouldn't have mattered whose kid sister it was: chasing little kids in a car is uncool. Denise was wise. She once told me that sooner or later I would have to figure out my own merits and stand on my own apart from Tracy, which at the time hurt about as much as you expect it would. No dork likes to be noticed while standing in a pretty girl's shadow.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if we'd stayed there; how long Tracy would have stood for me; whether we would have fallen into a cliche or an awkward next-door silence as soon as puberty really hit. I had a host of general hurts when I was a teenager, and losing my first best friend to distance was one of them, but it's nothing compared to if I'd suddenly been too much baggage to carry, if I'd been thrown to the side of the road. Not least because I would have understood that it was the right choice.