Brenda was my BFF before there was such a term, back in kindergarten, first, second grades at Willow Glen Elementary. We both lived in a sweet little neighborhood off Lincoln Avenue, and I thought she was adorable, with her wide blue eyes and curly blond hair and a gap between her front teeth.
Brenda had a blue faux-suede-and-fur-trim coat and sometimes at lunch recess we’d both put one arm in the sleeves and the other one around each other and walk around like a two-headed creature. Or we’d curl ourselves into one of the huge hollow truck tires that were planted in the playground tanbark.
Brenda’s mom Mary looked like an older, more weathered version of her daughter, with the same curly hair and gap between her teeth. She wore heavy amounts of black eyeliner and mascara and often laughed so abruptly I’d jump. Brenda’s dad was there for a while and then he wasn’t; Mary’s boyfriend Bob appeared soon after, a broad-shouldered, creepy guy who used to tell us somberly that we were going to be “beautiful women someday.” (Hmmm.)
When I was in third grade our family moved to a different neighborhood and I didn’t see Brenda much until we were reunited in junior high. I was jealous that she’d grown into herself, a blond curvy beauty, while I was still hanging out in the gawky phase, my teeth too big for my face. She would often get into scrapes and when I was with her she’d bring me along. Once during that time, when she was living in a condominium complex that had a pool, she invited me to go swimming. There was no one else there and it was great except that when we were ready to go we discovered that we were locked inside. To get out we climbed the metal fence – topped with barbed wire, no less – ripping our bathing suits in the process.
I moved again for high school and Brenda and I lost touch. After graduation I heard from an old friend that Brenda had bought an Oldsmobile and had driven it down to Los Angeles in search of fame and fortune. I remember feeling sad about this, convinced that Brenda would end up having a lonely life. But why that assumption? I guess for as long as I knew her, she had a rough edge, a painful neediness that even I, only another child, noticed. I hope I’m wrong, and that she’s well, having a rich and fulfilling life. Maybe she remembers her blue coat, too, and how fun it was to hide together inside it.