When I was in second grade I met a girl named Anne. We met at school during one lunchtime in 1972, when neither of us had anyone to play with. We quickly became best friends and that’s how it stayed for the next 42 years.
Anne’s parents had migrated from Yugoslavia as newlyweds in the late 1950s and although her father was university educated in the field of mathematics, he wore overalls to work every day at VicRail; our State train system. He was a quiet and pensive man who enjoyed collecting things, laughing quietly and delighted Anne with his practical jokes. She was his favourite daughter and, looking back, that’s probably because Ann was also a quiet and pensive person who enjoyed little practical jokes. Her mother was usually focussed on Margaret, who was about 11 months younger than Anne. Mother and Muggsy were usually snuggled up in Mother’s bed watching TV together, often whispering little in-jokes to one another. Anne’s other sister, Lydia, was six years older than us and had no time for pre-teens, TV or silly parents. Lydia was either out with friends or in her bedroom. Anne’s family of five lived in a long and narrow terrace house on a busy road; sharing a wall with the terrace house next door. The very small back yard was paved with bricks and the small front yard full of potted plants so there was nowhere for us to play outside. We found our fun up on her roof, where the base of her pitched roof joined with the base of her neighbour’s pitched roof. There was absolutely no way to fall down and that’s where she taught me Yugoslavian swear words and we talked about boys and the lives we imagined we’d have as adults. Neighbours in Anne’s Street nodded and waved to one another from their front porch and children played inside. Anne’s spare time at home was spent in cultural pursuits like ballet and piano lessons, reading and writing. My spare time a home was spent outside playing.
Normally, when we spent time together, Anne came to my house which was a few kilometres away in the next suburb. My street was a No Through Road (in those day it was called a Dead End) so the only people who drove down our street were the people who lived there, or their visitors. The entire street was our playground and we climbed trees, made cubby houses, rode bikes, kicked balls and delighted in the abundance of time and space we had to be ourselves – away from the judgmental gaze of adults and siblings. We knocked on my elderly neighbour’s doors and had little chats with them or we just sat on their front fences and talked for a while. Although I had an older brother and two younger sisters (plus five other kids who lived in the street) it was big enough for us all to play our own games without getting into one another’s way.And we often played together as a big gang. Caterpillars and grubs freaked Anne out and I was always on the lookout for them, to alert and protect her from ever looking at one. We took care of each other like that. Anne came along with my family to visit my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins and enjoyed these relationships as she had no such family (they were in Yugoslavia).
Anne and I always knew one another’s secrets. In grade five she had a crush on a blonde haired boy and I had a crush on a dark haired boy. We had a secret language of special words and specific facial expressions that alerted one another that a crush is nearby. Naturally we wanted to be alert to this so we always looked good… or cool… or both.
My earliest memory of Anne was as a six year old, sitting on the floor at school, listening to our teacher tell a story. I was sitting, cross legged, behind Anne and to her left. She was in the front row sitting next to Darren T. The teacher’s voice carried a gentle, lovely, soft tone and I have no idea what the story was about – listening to the gentleness of her voice was my enjoyment.
Anne’s back suddenly stiffened and she leaned forward a little, as if trying to get a closer look at something. Curious, I edged across to see what she was looking at and just as I had repositioned myself she let out a loud gasp, then a scream as she scrambled backwards over top of me to get away. She was screaming and pointing at Darren T’s leg, “A grub! A grub!…”
Darren T lifted his bare knee and bounced himself aside a little, looking for the grub but there wasn’t one. Mrs McDonald quickly went to comfort Anne who was crying at the fact there was a grub up the leg of Darren T’s shorts. Poor Darren T never wore underwear and poor Anne had never seen a penis.
Anne was very innocent in every way and she learnt the facts of life straight after I learnt them. When we were twelve I took Anne to talk to my mum because Anne’s explanation for where babies came from went like this, “Storks bring babies to the hospital and families go to a big, glass window to select the baby they want to take home.”
Our first day of high school came and I felt so nervous I wanted to be sick. The relief of seeing Anne there was enormous and we supported one another through every trial and tribulation that ever came along. Nothing was horrible because we had each other.
The years went by and we finished high school and moved in to a little flat together. She worked taking care of disabled children and I worked as a typist for the public service. This was an extraordinarily happy year as we both had boyfriends, a social life and our own place to live. However, we were still young and naive in the adult world – which was seen in the day Detectives and Police came knocking on our door at 6am one Thursday. Pulling the curtain back I could clearly see there were about a dozen men with guns drawn and a ramming device ready to bash the door down – it was a scary sight to two 18 year old girls. We stood in their clear view, wearing pink dressing gowns and looking at them though our very wide eyes. Anne went to the kitchen, at the back of the flat and said there were more of them out the back window! The man at the door asked if he could come in as he held his identification badge up to the glass. Still, I was wary and told them I wouldn’t know what a real identification badge looks like – how do I know it’s real? With the patience of a saint the detective said he would like me to open the door so just he could come in and check that nobody else was in the flat. Anne and I stood aside as that one person came in and did a quick check. They apologised and left, going straight on to raid one of the upstairs flats across the courtyard.
At the end of the lease my boyfriend and I decided to marry and Anne went back to live at home with her parents and little sister. Our twenties and thirties went by and I had moved interstate; but we kept in regular contact over the phone. Every year we caught up in person and marvelled at each other’s lives, then each other’s babies, then each other’s homes, then each other’s divorce. Both divorced in our forties, we saw one another more often and admired the women we had each grown into being. Her recollections of her life weren’t very happy and she felt betrayed by every person she’d ever been in a relationship with – including her parents, estranged sisters, ex husband and her children. It appeared that I had been the only constant in her life over all these years.
Last year Anne needed to buy a car. I told her my father had a 17 year old car he was about to sell and she gladly bought it. I’d been driving Dad’s car around for a few years so I could tell her about all its little idiosyncracies. A few weeks passed by and my phone rang where I had the most devastating conversation I’d ever had with Anne.
I answered, “Hello?”
Her voice was bitter, “Sue?!”
“Yes,” I replied, “Hey how are you?”
Bitterness changed to restrained fury, “You would already know how I am. I’m very upset! I’m calling to tell you to never speak to me again! Don’t ring, don’t write, don’t email, don’t knock on my door!”
Of course I was confused and asked her what had happened but she wouldn’t answer; she was convinced I would already know – but I didn’t know. She hung up without as much as a goodbye and I sat crying. My daughter asked what happened and I told her, although it just didn’t make sense at all and we puzzled over it together.
I tried to ring Anne back but she wouldn’t answer. I wrote her an email asking her to explain what had happened because I truly had no idea but she didn’t reply.
My daughter contacted her son and he suggested his mother might be upset because the car broke down the week before and she sold it to the tow truck driver. I wrote asking why she hadn’t just spoken to me so we could have arranged a refund, this wasn’t worth losing a lifetime of friendship. She responded angrily telling me that if I apologised for scamming her into buying a lemon and if she sensed my apology was sincere – we might be friends again.
You know, there are so many people who say their “jaw dropped with surprise” and this is exactly what happened to me when I read her words. I was shocked and devastated that she thought I had schemed and scammed her into buying a lemon. Didn’t she know me at all? We’d spent the past 42 years together and travelled through thick and thin like sisters yet she didn’t know that I couldn’t possibly do such a thing?
A few months later I saw The Lemon parked on the side of the road and I approached the driver, an older man who had bought the car for his wife. He said he bought it from a tow truck driver a few months ago. I asked whether it had a new engine or any extensive work done to it.
“No,” he replied. “The tow truck driver bought it off a woman who had cross-threaded the radiator cap, letting the water leak out… and it overheated. It only needed a new radiator cap and it was good to go. It’s a great little car!”
A year has now passed and I’ve cried many tears for many hours over losing Anne. She was my very best friend until the day I found out she wasn’t a very good friend at all.
I lost my life long best friend over a $14 radiator cap.