Amy and Nina and the Statue of Liberty
I saw a meme with two young girls walking, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders. “Who was your best friend when you were 10 years old? Tag them if you’re friends on Facebook.”
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I was the type of kid who only needed one good friend. One person I trusted, who liked me better than anyone else.
Amy and I knew each other since we were seven. It’s been kind of unbelievable.
Amy, however, always preferred to have a lot of different friends, even while being devoted to our kinship. I was loyal as hell, but in the cold light of day, I was likely downright clingy and isolated and over-emotional compared to an easy-going, bawdy kid like her, who attracted leagues of buddies and pre-pubescent boyfriends at a time. She’d often try to share them with me. Through it all, I knew she would always like me best.
Amy’s other friends always noticed—and often resented—the bond between us. Not all those other friends took kindly to our attachment. Or to me. Instead of branching out with additional friendships of my own, I took it personally. I was intense.
In fifth grade, Amy became buddies with another girl in our class named Nina. Amy “shared” Nina with me, bringing the three of us into one fold, which worked out nicely for a while. In time, Nina got tired of being the third girl in the triumvirate. She wasn’t always so friendly anymore. She’d invite Amy to do cool things like ice-skating on the pond by her house, which my mother didn’t allow me to do, edging me into sporadic third-wheel status.
Throughout fifth grade at our Long Island elementary school, we students had been building classroom “points” for tasks and good deeds and high grades and such. Our teacher Miss Harrigan conducted a year-end class auction where we could purchase garage-sale items based on the points we accumulated.
There was a grand prize offering: A trip to New York City with Miss Harrigan to the Statue of Liberty. Only five kids could win that, whomever bid the highest amount, secret-Chinese-auction-style.
I didn’t need the trinkets Miss Harrigan assembled. I bought a magenta glass brooch shaped like an apple, then dumped my remaining wad of points into the New York City prize envelope. Amy said she’d do the same.
Me, Amy, Nina and two “popular” girls in the class won the trip. I wonder if Miss Harrigan hand-picked a set of power girls and claimed we were the highest bidders. I resolved to go, even if Nina was no longer crazy about me, even if I was a loner and not Miss Popularity like the rest of the bubbly crew.
We climbed hundreds of steps to the crown. Amy, Nina and the girls were cordial enough, yet I waited for the shoe to drop where Nina might decide to cool it and not speak to me. I still felt that veil of threat between us, even knowing that some of it was a threat I represented to her, the girl who reciprocally forced her to apportion Amy’s attention. Meanwhile, my relationship with the best friend I had in the world sat squarely in the hands of a third party.
I’m not sure what happened to the teacher, but we ended up five eleven year-olds alone at the top of the Statue of Liberty. We gazed through the panels of the crown across a gray New York Harbor, the skyline miniaturized as to fit into a snow globe. I stared at the Gulliver-sized book Miss Liberty tucked under her arm (“JULY IV”). Satisfied, Amy and our two other classmates shot back down the steel spiral staircase, echoing chatter. I moved to tag along—always the follower, never the leader.
Nina grabbed my arm and squeezed.
“DON’T LEAVE ME.”
I thought she was kidding.
Our friends’ footsteps were already too far below to hear. “Come on, let’s go,” I said. “The other girls are way ahead ….”
Nina had a death grip on my forearm against the stair rail. Her body vibrated like a scrap of paper caught against the back of a fan. Fifth graders in New York would rather burst into flames than cry in front of each other. Yet Nina stared at me, wide-eyed and blinking back tears, her feet rooted in place.
“YOU HAVE TO HELP ME DOWN,” she said. “Please, Suzanne. Please-please-please. I can’t do it.”
Amy was nowhere to be found.
I couldn’t leave Nina there.
I hugged onto her shoulders and said, okay, let’s go slow. We literally took one step at a time, resting on each step before she could face the next one. She wouldn’t let go of me. Every pace, she insisted she couldn’t finish. Every step, I said, it’s okay, try just one more.
Three hundred and fifty-four steps.
It took us nearly an hour. She asked me not to tell the other girls.
* * * *
This morning on Facebook, I saw the meme again. It warmed my heart to see two friends from middle school tag each other across the miles, defying decades.
Then Nina tagged Amy—and me.
Note I changed the names here.