That One Exciting Childhood Friend

We all have one, the childhood friend that pushed us out of our comfort zone, for good or for bad. Mine moved in across the street in third grade. She was fun, she was daring, she was blond.

That next summer before fourth grade we played and played.  Troll dolls were all the rage. I had made mine clothes out of old socks and scissors. Soon her troll dolls were wearing clothes that looked an awful lot like mine.

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

“I made it,” she lied.

“It looks just like mine, the one that’s missing,” I said.

I knew deep down that Debbie had stolen my troll clothes, but what could I do?

Debbie had her own bedroom.  Her mother baked cookies and fed us regularly. Her house was spotless, a far cry from my own. So what if I lost a few troll accessories? They were just old socks, anyway.

Debbie told stories. She embellished a lot. Once she claimed there was a carnival in the middle of a cornfield. We lived on the edge of town, so the cornfields were only a few blocks away.

“Show me,” I challenged her.

“Tomorrow,” she said.

The next day, Debbie showed up on my porch with her troll dolls in familiar knitted attire.

“We’re going to the carnival, remember?” I said, daring her.


Debbie ran her troll dolls back home, and we headed down the street toward the cornfields. It was a hot day, and I was soon tired of the glare.

“Are we there yet?” I asked.

“Not yet,” she said.

We walked another block.

“Is this the one?” I asked, pointing to the green stalks of corn.

“Oh, it looks like it’s closed today,” Debbie said, trying to save face. “Let’s go to the park instead.”

Back in the 60’s little kids were often left to their own devices on summer days. So two nine-year-old girls on their own was no big deal at the park.

We found a shady tree and decided to take a rest. We stretched out under the tree and stared up into its swaying branches. The wind rustled the leaves, and we put our hands behind our heads for pillows.

I knew there was no carnival. Debbie knew that I knew. Still, we didn’t discuss it, the same way I didn’t demand back my troll doll sock sweaters. Debbie was the most exciting thing that had happened to me.

We found a dead butterfly in perfect shape. We named it Beautiful and then made it a bed of leaves. We held a butterfly funeral under that big tree. It was peaceful and lovely and . . .

“Susie! Where have you been?” my sister called out to me. “You are in so much trouble! Mom thought you were dead from heatstroke in a cornfield!”

A gang of my siblings was coming toward me.

“The carnival is closed today,” I said, defending Debbie’s lie.

“Get home right now!” a sister said.

“Okay,” I said.

We left Beautiful under the tree, not yet buried but already blessed.

Debbie never did admit she’d made up the whole carnival thing.

As teens, Debbie was more daring than I was. She taught me how to swear on our walks to junior high school.  She loved roller coasters, egging people’s houses, and climbing out of her bedroom window at night to meet boys. My window was on the second floor, but even if it had been on the ground floor like Debbie’s, I wouldn’t have had the guts to climb out in the middle of the night.

Debbie came to school with hickies on her neck. She fell off a moving motorcycle, got hit by a car, and got caught shoplifting, all by the 10th grade. I was with her when she stole the lipstick, and I had to empty out my pockets right along with her when the store security woman nabbed us.

I rode the bus home alone that day from downtown Des Moines, livid that my friend got me involved with breaking the law.  After that, I still saw Debbie a lot (she lived across the street) but didn’t spend time with her as my number one friend. She had betrayed me. I wasn’t happy about it.

Debbie grew up and married the boy from the roller rink. They had two sons, and now she’s a grandma.  I see her from time to time when I travel back to Iowa. We send Christmas cards. But we went our separate ways, me to college to become a teacher, then off to Nebraska and then California.

Debbie and her husband still live in Des Moines in the same house they’ve always been in. I don’t think she climbs out the bedroom window anymore and might not shoplift, either.

She was a good friend for a few years.  And we’ll always have the cornfields and the butterfly funeral on that hot August day.


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