Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Friend Like Her

When I was 10 years old, my best friend was Robbin. She always wore her dark brown hair in two long braids on each side of her head that came down to her waist. She had freckles and hazel eyes. We spent most of our time together telling or writing stories, and giving each other our critiques of our work. Sometimes, we collaborated. She provided all the action, and I slowed the plot down with emotional dramas. We sometimes drew our scenes, like moviemakers with their storyboards, but our intention was never to do a comic book, like a lot of our friends were inclined.

Robbin preferred historical dramas along the lines of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I did too, but I often branched out to science fiction. Our collaborations were very interesting. Like, little Mary on the Prairie who had an encounter with a mutant mouse while cleaning house. It was sort of a "Planet of the Mice" instead of Apes idea. Yes, the adventures Mary and that Mouse had, going back and forth in time. Why didn't we ever get them published?

Even when Robbin and I were doing something else, like swimming in the Columbia River close to her house, we were planning a story. During our swims, we came up with a story about a group of orphans who lived on the riverside and had to survive on their own. To get to civilization they had to build a raft that could stand against the raging river's current. They nearly died every time they launched out. But they were tough and lived another day to try again. Robbin and I experimented with raft building to come up with one that our orphans could actually use. We never did. But it was fun researching.

Our friendship was built on lots of time sitting under trees with our notebooks, lighting each other's creative sparks. She would listen to my stories and give me ideas. I would listen to hers and give her mine. A lot of my stories were fueled by Robbin's ideas. She took a lot of what I had to offer and ran with it. I loved hearing her read something in class that included my input. We had a bond built on intellectual exchange as well as imagination.

When I was 12, my family moved away from the Tri-Cities to Ephrata. Robbin's father was a nuclear scientist at the Hanford Reservation, and when his project was done, they moved back east to Maryland. We wrote awhile. I was always trying to compete with Robbin's letters in terms of expressiveness and vocabulary. But it was short-lived, surprisingly since we were such serious writers. But the whole point wasn't the writing or the stories, really. It was being listened to.

There's just something about having a friend who hears what you are saying. I remember the warmth I felt when it was my turn to read my story to Robbin, of her warm hazel eyes intently on me as I told her chapter 5 of the ongoing saga of the boy with an alien living inside his transistor radio. She never laughed. She understood the serious complexities of the relationships between humans and creatures from outer space, that we could be on the brink of war because of one very minor misunderstanding. It was stressful having an alien in your radio, uninvited. Humanity depended on you not to make a stupid mistake.

And I never yawned when Robbin told me yet another situation that her pioneer girl got into while moving west with her family, encountering new landscapes and angry natives. She was lonely, and her best friend was her horse, who rescued her from a wildcat by getting right between her the beast and kicking it over a cliff into a canyon. It was a strange place and strange things were always happening, but her family was always nearby. And her horse.

[I really liked that horse. Robbin knew how to create wonderful animal personalities without them turning into cartoon charachters. Her favorite book of all was "Black Beauty" and the influence showed in her writing. My animals had to be mutants so they could talk. Hence, science fiction. Sci fi always solved my storytelling delimmas. Robbin warned me to not rely on it too much. It would get too predictable. ]

I often wonder what would've happened if Robbin and I were allowed to keep writing and reading to each other and using our collective imaginations and ideas to prod each other on. It was a gift, a priviledge to have a friend like Robbin even if just for a few years.

It was sad to lose touch with Robbin, I never had a friend like her before. I've been looking out for one since. A really good listener who can hear or read between the lines. Who gives me timely writing advice or challenging intellectual feedback. Who models daring leaps of thought in their own work. Once I find one, I'll make sure that I would stay in touch. It is really hard to replace a kindred spirit. Actually, impossible.

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