My Old Friend Anne
I first meet Anne at my elementary school book fair. I’m eleven. She’s twelve. She’s wearing a blue shift dress over a filthy white shirt. Her red hair is in two long braids, and a wide-brimmed straw hat is perched on the back of her head. She holds a large, ratty carpet bag and sits erect, her face resolute, even haughty. I’m not sure why, but I want to be her friend.
She is the orphan and main character in Anne of Green Gables, and her book only costs three dollars and ninety-nine cents.
This sort of book does not reflect my personal taste. I watch Knight Rider, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. I play aggressive games of backyard soccer, football, and the tackle game my friends call “Smear the Queer”. I tell guys they “throw like a girl” or “run like a sissy.” Boys like me don’t read Anne of Green Gables.
At the same time, I’m learning that growing into a man means turning down the volume on all my emotions. New rule: I don’t let myself get too excited. If I do, I might get disappointed, and that would make me cry. No more getting too attached to friends (who move), toys (that break), or plans (that change). Those things might make me cry too. Only babies cry.
Then there’s Anne. Between the book and the PBS mini-series, I gain a wonderfully poetic, sentimental, and slightly manic friend. She constantly allows herself generous amounts of hope without any real assurances, something I’m trying never to do.
When she first meets the man who might adopt her, she begins falling in love with every moment of her new life. She gives the landscape she enters dreamy, poetic names.
But when she finds out there’s been a mistake and her adoptive family means to send her back, she collapses into tears and “the depths of despair.” She and I couldn’t be more different, and I think she’s wonderful.
I continue my friendship with Anne as we both grow up. I watch her learn to moderate her emotions, but she still weeps openly over disasters both large and small. She divides her acquaintances into kindred spirits and bitter rivals, with almost no room for anyone else. And more than once, she falls deeply and hopelessly in love.
As my life continues, I move twice and learn not to get too attached to my friends, school, or home. I grow up well-liked and sociable, but largely detached from all but a couple very close friends. I lose a kind and loving grandfather. I lose my two boyhood dogs. I suffer other losses and disappointments, but never shed a tear. I have a couple of “girlfriends”, but find it impossible to exchange even the simplest intimacies, like holding hands or giving gifts.
The summer before my senior year, I go to work at a local daycare center. One of my co-workers is the most wonderfully quiet, funny, and interesting girl. She’s beautiful with translucent blue eyes and an acre of chestnut hair. Every day at work is a date for us. As we take the kids to the zoo, the swimming pool, and a million other summer attractions, we find excuses to take little breaks together, to talk to with each other, to be near each other.
Almost eight months after we meet I get up enough courage to ask her, officially, to be my girlfriend. But even then, though we see each other on weekends and exchange notes constantly, I still affect a mildly indifferent demeanor and treat her as little more than a fairly good friend.
Thankfully, she’s patient, because it takes a me couple of years to let my deepest feelings show. It happens like this: We’re sitting in the back of a dark car while someone else is driving. Carefully, slowly, I move my hand across the cloth seat and allow the very tip of my pinky finger to touch hers. We sit this way for half an hour, me barely breathing, nearly two years of our unspoken love revealed in that quiet moment. It’s an incredibly simple gesture, but it gives me the courage to begin to express all the love I feel for her.
I don’t know why or how, but for many years, I let Anne be the one to cry, to feel joy, and to fall in love. I let her keep my true self safe for me, holding it in trust for this very moment. And here, in this quiet moment, I begin to give that gift to someone else: the beautiful, wonderful girl who will one day be my wife.