I looked up.
Past my yard, across the alley there was a girl with her elbows propped up on a fence, her chin resting in her hands. “Hi,” she yelled, “How old are you?”
She had rosy cheeks and dark hair divided into pigtails. We had just moved in and this was my first encounter with a neighbor, another child. And she was talking to me. I cupped my hands around my mouth, “I’m four!”
“Me too!” This girl was bold. “When’s your birthday?”
I knew my birthday and proudly answered, “October 17th.”
She grinned, “Me too! I’m Rita. Who are you?”
I was stunned by her, taken with this apple-cheeked confident girl. We shared the same birthday – no way! My age! “I’m Heidi.” Please be my friend. What if I say something stupid? Overcome, I ducked inside the house. More words failed me, and I hoped and prayed she wouldn’t disappear.
Long conversations hanging off the fence, joint birthdays, sleepovers filled our days; and best friends were born.
It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve seen her. Will I recognize her? Should I get coffee or just wait for her? I’ll wait. I check my phone. It’s 1:48. I will see her in 12 minutes. A woman just sat down. Is that her? It doesn’t look like her, but it could be her. At 1:55 I find the email that includes her phone number. I call and her voice mail message transports me to girlhood. The voice that greets me is older, but I can hear the girl I knew. I look up and that has to be Rita pushing on the glass door. It is her! We hug and cling and exclaim. “It’s you! I can’t believe it’s you! It’s so good to see you!” And then we’re laughing, shaking and talking. We can’t stop talking for two and a half hours.
Rita is as deep, smart and rosy-cheeked as I remember who still has an affinity for the color red. As we sit across from each other we interrupt our catching-up (oh, the catching up and the photos!) to point out, “You’re just like I remember. You haven’t changed a bit. Look at us! We turned out okay.”
I look at this bright, bold woman who fell from the sky to perch on a fence seemingly just for me. She didn’t know then how she would make my life better, sweeter. How she would be stamped all over my childhood. How she was a gift. And what a gift she is today.