Friday, April 8, 2011
Today I'm going to tell you a memory. It's not a story. It's a moment in time that lasted for many years throughout my childhood and truly defined the girl I would later grow up to become. I've only told a few people this story before and they've always thought it to be funny, sweet, touching, and sad in the kind of sad that only great moments give you before they're gone. Before they become the memory in your head.
You always remember the first one. The first day of school, your first love, the first day of work. Yesterday when I was at my new job (which is wonderful, if you were wondering), I was writing a blog post and mulling in my head how exactly I came to love and appreciate being with my pen and paper, my keypad. The origins of this were found directly in my first one: my first best friend. The truest of true blue, the greatest friend a girl could ever have when she was just a girl herself.
Her name was Trudy.
I didn't have very many friends when I was growing up, a recurring issue of mine throughout most of my life until I moved away to attend university in California. I know a lot of people say this, but I never fit in with the kids my age at any of the schools I attended. Nor did I care to. All I wanted out of life was to sit with my book and read until forever. There were so many countless days when I would be sitting in the lunchroom, tightly holding my lunch box and wishing so much that I could just bring a book with me. I didn't like to talk to others. I mean, I could try to pretend we had things in common, but then the moment would be fleeting and end and I would lose interest and move on. Even as a child, I didn't do commitment. I just wanted to sit in the bookstores forever and read myself somewhere where the people were like me. I know I'm painting you the portrait of a child who nobody understood and I know there are definitely some people who would tell you otherwise and say that I was a mean girl and sarcastic. I guess it was a coping mechanism. While I might have been lonely at school, I wasn't in my head. I used to talk to myself, not in the "Hi Heather. How's your day?" way, but in the way in which I would tell stories to myself with fictional characters and act out their dialogue to each other. I used to do this while walking back and forth in the hallways of my parent's house. Gradually over the years, I learned how to tell myself stories while sitting down, then finally without speaking but speaking aloud within my mind. I still do this. I don't imagine there will ever be a time in my life where I'm not telling myself a story in my head.
My parents worried about me and my inability to relate to the world. My Dad decided that if I wouldn't make friends at school, I'd have a pen pal instead. He signed me up for a pen pal service that allowed me to become insta-friends with someone (a young girl, to fit my demographic) from across the world. I was very excited. Who would she be? Did she like sprinkles on her ice cream like me? What did her house look like? Her favorite color? I wanted to know everything about her!
The first letter I received my Dad gave me. It was all the way from England and the girl's name was Trudy. She grew up in a very small township called Moustershire and lived in a small cottage with a vegetable garden. She had honey colored hair and like me, liked to read. Her favorite color was pink. Her town was very small and did not have a movie theater so she would always ask me about movies I was seeing, especially since I lived in the United States where the release dates were different. Her letters, written on yellow paper, always contained lots and lots of beautiful sparkly stickers, with some scratch and sniff. Sometimes she'd include whole sheets of these stickers tucked in her letters and I would use them sparingly, as they were so stunning. I still have an entire container of them at home. I kept everything she ever gave me. I always felt like I could be myself when I wrote to her and would spend longer and longer amounts of time hunched over, telling her my life. She always wanted to know about my brothers, because she was an only child and was curious about my parents, which I told her about too. It never took very long to receive her letters back in response which my Dad would always pull free from the mail and give to me first. I remember sometimes I'd get longer letters which always excited me and shorter ones, which were a bit more hurried in content, but I loved them just the same.
"I have a pen pal." I would smugly announce to the lunchroom table at school, "She's from England and her name is Trudy."
There was always one smartass in the group who instead of "oohing" and "you're so lucky"'ing would narrow her eyes at me and sigh, "Where is she from?"
"Moustershire." I would excitedly reply, "It's a very small town. You probably haven't heard of it."
"Moustershire?" The dubiousness was on full blast, "There's no such town."
"There is too!" I hotly replied, "And it is inhabited by mice!"
Chuckles. Giggles. "You pen pal lives in a town with mice?? Is she a mouse?"
"No, but her parents are." I replied, each word dropping off in tempo. See, that's the thing about Trudy. She told me she lived in a town owned by mice. Moustershire. Get it?
I suppose this is the time when I should have started to wonder about her. I guess this was the moment where I was supposed to ask my Dad why she didn't have a last name, why I never had to write a street address on the envelopes. He told me Moustershire was so small that the town name, her name, and zip address would suffice. They'd find her.
It was the last age of childhood for me, the one in which I would visit neighbor's gardens and pretend I was in The Secret Garden, wore a locket all of the time like Sara Crewe and charm bracelets with ribbons in my hair, when I wrote in an essay for school once that I wanted to wear petticoats and carry parasols in my 30's. All I ever wanted was to grow up but never lose my childhood in the process. I would carry it with me. These were the things I promised myself at night alone in my bedroom. Losing the magic would be the end and I swore to hold to time as much as I could, as much as I could grasp before inevitably letting go.
I wrote to Trudy for years. During these years, I would tell my Mom, "Now, I'm going to do my homework, write a letter to Trudy, and read before going to sleep." She would smile when she saw me writing to Trudy, watching my penmanship get better with each letter. We would buy stationery sets at the store in the widest variety of styles so Trudy always had something to look at. We would find unique stickers and mail those along too.
The moment I never forgot was when my parents took me to a little bookstore that sold jewelry in a glass case. I must have been 10 when this occurred. Underneath the glass were two rings, perfect to fit my fingers. One with a pink cubic zirconia stone and the other a white stone. I told my parents I wanted them both because I wanted to send one to Trudy, like a friendship ring. They bought me them both and asked me which one Trudy would get. This was a tougher decision than it seemed because we both loved the color pink. I thought about it for awhile and decided to send Trudy the pink stone because, "she'll love it more." And she did, when she wrote back to me the following week, praising how pretty it was and how nicely it looked and just thanking me so much for it. That letter was really the first lesson I remember sticking in not being selfish and putting others before me.
Then I asked her about Moustershire.
Once when I was at my beloved Library Limited with my Dad, I went into the history section with him and found a map of Europe. "Where is Moustershire?" I asked him, holding the map up to him as he sat in an armchair reading, "Can you find it for me?"
He just smiled at me and put down his book a little bit, "Heather, I told you, Moustershire is too small to be found on those maps. Maybe if you ask Trudy about it, she can tell you more."
So I did. Trudy began to send me a series of cards, of different places in her town. The French bistro cafe, the garden house with the best vegetable garden around, the grocery shop, the school, the bakery, and homes in the area. All of these cards were beautifully illustrated with small mice standing outside of each place, smiling and wearing little aprons and clothes. It was like another world, one that I held to my heart and believed existed.
The true stunner was the map of Moustershire Trudy sent me. Written and illustrated on a very thin piece of parchment paper, it showed all of the buildings from the cards and the pathways to getting around. There were no cars, no modern (for the '90s anyway) technology, no streetlights or stop signs. There was an ocean. I had never been to the ocean at the time.
With trembling fingers, I turned the cards around to see where they were made. I needed to go here, there, be with her. Embossed on the back of every card was one phrase "Greetings from Moustershire."
I could only hold time for so long before it let me go. I began to grow up and with it, for every bad outfit I created for my angst, working at 11, and trying so much to fit in at school before giving up, I grew apart from Trudy. The last letter I wrote her when I was 12 and never got a reply back which was my closure. The way I responded to this was how I responded to all of my troubles at the time: leave home and go walking throughout the neighborhood, eventually edging out and wandering to other neighborhoods far off from my own. I wish I knew her last name so I could Google her and see how she was.
When I was 14, my parents sold our old house to buy a new one across the street from my new high school. Cleaning and sorting through the old house was a task that required more hands than just 4 people (my two little brothers were too young to really do much) and for the longest time, it seemed like it would never empty. The house just kept accumulating more and more things in every nook and cranny you could imagine.
One evening, I was in the basement cellar pantry, clearing out old dresses of my Mom's from the '80s when I found a big brown envelope tucked on one of the shelves. I opened it cautiously in case any brown recluse spiders decided to wiggle out. What I found inside shocked me to the bone.
It was every letter I had ever written to Trudy. All of the cards I sent her, all of the stickers, the stationery sets. And taped to one letter, the little pink stone ring I had sent her.
"Dad!" I marched up to my father, sitting in a sea of paperwork himself and threw the envelope at him, "What the HELL is this?"
"Watch your language." He replied and looked inside of the envelope, "Oh boy. Oh boy." He started to laugh, heaving and gasping like a beached whale.
"Why are you laughing?" I shouted, "I wrote those letters to Trudy and you never mailed them? What's going on, I need to know right now!"
My Dad calmed down from laughing and finally gasped out, "Oh Heather. Honey. Trudy isn't real."
"WHAT??" Already a high-strung person, I thought my head was going to skyrocket off of my body. I started to cry a little bit. How does a person sit there and tell their only daughter that their best friend wasn't real? I really needed to be sitting down for this, but I continued to stand, knees close to buckling.
Then he looked at me and sighed, "Your mother and I were worried about you. You know, not making friends in school. So we thought this would be a good idea for you. Plus it improved your reading and writing abilities."
I looked at the floor trying not to break down into full-fledged sobbing. He did have a point though, in 4th grade my cursive was immaculate and close to calligraphy.
"I missed you too." He continued, "I was always at work and didn't get to spend much time with you. So I just wanted to know what you were up to and how you were doing. I got the cards and stickers from a specialty shop. Decided on Moustershire because they said so on the back. And I did always like the name Trudy."
He looked so earnest sitting there. Everything fell into place suddenly. The yellow paper the letters were written on came from his legal pad at work. I remember one of the card shops, Botanicals on the Park, from one of our Saturday afternoon visits. He did it all for me, to keep me from being lonely, to make me happy. I didn't know that for as much as I was trying to not let time go, that someone else, several someones were trying just as hard as I was. The tears really started to flow and I just hugged him for a very long time, crying until I didn't know if it would ever stop.
To this day, I still have that entire envelope of letters along with my Moustershire cards and parchment map. They are some of the best magic I know for my life, for keeping my childhood close by even though it really wasn't so long ago.
I still envision Trudy being out there, somewhere, in the English countryside. Even if she isn't in reality, I keep her in my head, my heart, where the story isn't a story and where I can tell her memories forever.
Love to you all,