Long ago in Livermore, California I went to junior high and high school. Last weekend I went to ConFusion in Michigan and participated in a panel on strong female characters. I did not expect these two facts to be in any way relevant to each other, but after the panel Rae Carson turned to me and said “Where did you go to high school?” She asked, because long ago she knew a girl named Sandra who wrote stories. She recognized me even though I had failed to recognize her. (In my defense, she went by a different version of her name when I knew her previously.) We attended the same junior high and high school. At least once we were at the same slumber party. It took me far longer to find the memories because I really did not expect them to be relevant at a Sci Fi convention in Michigan. Also because I think I dumped a lot of memories from that era in my life the same way that I dumped the yearbooks. It was more than I wanted to carry around constantly. This left me sitting next to Rae Carson, talking about people we used to know and that neither of us has kept in touch with.
“Do you remember Mrs. Bell?” I asked.
“Of course I remember Mrs. Bell!” Rae answered. Then we spent several minutes discussing the junior high librarian who took us both in and loved us. That library was a haven, a place for us to go when the lunchroom felt awkward. I spent hours and hours there. So did Rae. We must have been there together often. I wish I remembered more of Rae and less of the various awkward interactions with the geeky boys who absorbed so much of my early teen attention. But we both remember Mrs. Bell and we both credit her with some of our love of writing and reading. Truly there is no substitute for a full-time school librarian. Sadly, the high school did not have a Mrs. Bell, if it had, perhaps Rae and I would have reconnected in high school.
Rae Carson is the author of a trilogy of books that begins with Girl of Fire and Thorns. It is a book about which I’ve heard many good things and which I’ve been planning to read. Rae is friends with many of my writer friends and so I was aware of her that way too. Even before the panel, I’d seen her name and thought it would be nice to have a chance to meet her. Then I discovered I already had, long ago. While I was doing my teenage best to be stylish and not-a-geek she was doing her teenage best to please her parents and fit with the cheerleader crowd. Somehow we failed to solidify a friendship which would have meant we didn’t feel so alone while scribbling away at our stories in our separate houses. Rae remembers me showing her drawings and telling her about my imaginary world. I wonder what eddy of teenage angst swirled me off in a different direction and why I failed to see the potential in our friendship. I think most teenagers are a little bit lost as they try to define themselves. I’m not going to regret the separate paths we took, because obviously Rae has arrived in a very good place with her writing and I certainly wouldn’t want to give up my journey.
It makes me wonder what potential friendships I am missing now. I know it is not possible for me to be friends with all the people, but being more attentive to those around me can only be a good thing. People hide in plain sight sometimes. At one moment while Rae and I were comparing memories and telling about our current lives, I looked over at her, seeking for the face that I used to know but had nearly forgotten. She is there. I was put in mind of the old rhyme
Make new friends, but keep the old,
One is silver, and the other gold.
I’ve felt that before. There is a security and emotional strength in friendships with a really long timeline. They are the friends who didn’t leave, or who came back. They know the old stories and places even if both have been left behind. Rae is both a new friend and an old one, and I’m really glad that she recognized me and gave us the chance to start over at being friends.
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