Lined up on a shelf in your room, staring out with their placid eyes and gently curved smiles, were more Madame Alexander dolls than I have ever seen. When I visited you, I brought my doll. Her tag said she was Scarlett O'Hara, but I'd christened her "Jolene," in honor of my favorite Dolly Parton song. She had black hair and green eyes and a white lace dress with a tulle petticoat.
You had long, blonde hair like Alice. You were older than I was and your parents were already divorced. You had a rug in your room made out of a real lion. I liked to lie on my back on the fur with my head propped on the head of this lion. Because his mouth was open in a roar we could push our fingertips against his sharp, white teeth.
I once spent a rainy summer night at your house catching frogs in your back yard. We caught dozens of frogs and put them in a bucket. Some of them were as big as my two hands and others the size of a quarter. The grown ups drank wine on the patio, the light from the kitchen window illuminating the empty dinner plates and crumpled napkins. Our long hair grew wet and ropey, our hands and knees were covered with mud. Later, we set the frogs free and in return they sang us to sleep.
Your dad and my dad were business partners. They had a country store. They sold art and Indian jewelry and embroidered shirts made by my aunts. They sold kits to make your own dulcimer and kachina dolls and stick candy. The phone number to the store was printed on wooden nickles. In the store, your dad sold tiny glass beads by the pound. We liked to dig our hands deep into the barrel where these beads were kept. In the summer, the beads stuck to our skin like sprinkles on a cake.
The country store closed down and you moved to England. For a long time, you sent letters on pale blue airmail stationary. You told me it was cold. You wondered how I liked school. You missed me. I missed you.
I wish for my own daughter a friend as magical as you. I wish for her, too, the kind of private childhood we shared. I don't think our parents watched over us as much as I watch over my children. Though I want them to be safe, I am trying to let them move more freely through their lives. In your company, it was as though we were always striking out on an adventure of our own making. It is good to remember this feeling.