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India: First Day of School

A hot tear slid down my cheek, burning my skin. My vision blurred, and memories sifted through my mind. I saw the grin in her eyes and heard her tinkling laughter far in the distance. I saw an image of myself, promising her I would not forget her.

Johan snickered.

I snapped back to reality and glared at the thick-skinned boy in front of me.

"Don't talk about Janelle like that! You barely knew her, and you just wish you did!" It was a childish retort, on my part, but we were only fourth graders anyway. My best friend had just moved to Australia a few days earlier, and I would never see her again. Life in an international embassy school wasn't easy. People were always leaving, and the search for a lasting friendship was never complete.

"Hey, give her a break. This can't be easy for her."

I looked to see who had just come to my rescue, and I saw Alex Pomeroy by my side. She flashed me a comforting smile, as if she knew exactly what I was going through. She told Johan to leave me alone, and then she invited me to have lunch with her that day. I wiped my tear away and attempted a weak smile, grateful she had been there.

Another memory shifted into view. It was the first day of school, in third grade. I had just moved to the American Embassy School in New Delhi, and the bell rang for lunch to start. The children around me grabbed their little brown bags and rushed out the door in flocks, flying to their pre-designated areas on the playground with the rest of their friends. I walked outside slowly, unfamiliar with my surroundings. Was this real? Was it possible to feel this alone and out of place? I sat on a swing and rocked myself back and forth. For a moment, the constant motion, its dependability, the fact that I could count on it to continue as long as I kept swinging my legs the same way, all made me feel safer. But it didn't last. I felt my eyes get hot and mouth get dry. Before I knew it, I was crying freely, wondering frantically when I could go home. A young teacher approached me and told me not to worry. I couldn't appreciate her efforts though. How could she understand my confusion and inconsolable loneliness? For the rest of the school day, I became numb to the throb of solitude.

I remember the next day just as vividly. The lunch bell chimed, and my stomach churned with apprehension. I followed a group of my classmates to the cafeteria, walking a distance behind them. I picked out a tray of steaming spaghetti and headed toward an empty table. I heard a girl laugh.

"You chose the wrong kind of pasta! Their spaghetti tastes like worms!" I laughed, and she told me to sit with her and another group of people she was friends with from the previous year. And just like that, I was no longer alone. We became attached to each other instantly, spending school days and weekends together. She showed me everything and introduced me to everyone, but no one else mattered as much. We were inseparable. Or, at least, we wanted to be.

A year and a half later, she called me; her voice was tight and soft.

"I'll write to you from Australia, everyday. And I'll send you pictures. You can come visit me, when we're older." She tried to sound calm. But we both knew it was over. She was saying goodbye.

"You must miss her a lot."

I noticed Alex had been watching my face as I tried desperately to lose myself in the past. I nodded half-heartedly and tried to swallow the spaghetti on my plate. Alex laughed when I almost choked on a forkful, disgusted with the taste, offering me some of her Nilla wafers instead.

Alex and I soon became a pair, never apart. People began to associate us with each other, and knew that an insult to one was an insult to the other. We defended each other, stood by each other, leaned on each other. We would spend sleepless nights together whispering about our dreams and our futures. Not once did we ever imagine that one of us would leave, putting an ocean between us.

But, of course, it had to happen. Toward the end of fifth grade, a year and a half after Janelle had left, my father broke the news to me that he had just been posted in Washington, D.C. I didn't want to tell Alex, so I hid it for a week. But then I couldn't hold a secret from her for so long, and I picked up the phone to get it over with.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she cried. "You can't leave me like that! What am I going to do without you? I'll be alone." I cried for her, and for myself. We spent our last few weeks together burdened with gloom.

When I left, I knew in the back of my mind that life wouldn't be the same for either of us. But I hoped that just maybe I would be lucky again, and someone would come to my rescue, to save me from isolation. I was wrong.

My first 2 weeks of middle school were almost unbearable. I sat in the lunchroom everyday waiting for someone, anyone, to come. I waited to hear laughter, or see a little ziplock bag of Nilla wafers. There was nothing. Every night I came home and cried over my despondency. I continued to write letters to Janelle and Alex. Janelle had adjusted to life in Australia quickly, and she was happy. But Alex shared my pain.

I knew I could not go on like that forever, just waiting and waiting. So finally, I approached someone myself, and asked to have lunch with her. Elise smiled, surprised by my question.

"Of course! Why would you even ask? You should have just sat down!"

The next summer, Alex flew to D.C. and visited me. We had sleepovers for days at a time, cherishing the time we had to see each other again and reminiscing life in India, when we had no worries. The next three summers followed with her visiting me again, and we never lost touch. But the summer of my tenth grade was different. When she arrived, we hugged each other, and she handed me a bag of Nilla wafers, whispering, "My dad just got posted to D.C."

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