A Circle Of Friendship
Posted by Frances Freais on Jun 27, 2020
As we approached my preschool for the first time, one of my hands tightly squeezed my father's hand, the other nervously grasped my mother’s. We walked past the cheerful sign out front which read “Welcome to the Lakeshool!,” up the stairs and through the front door. I was happy and curious—what could this new place be? There were other children for me to play with, toys, snacks, and of course my parents were right there. Soon enough, however, I was introduced to my teachers and as they warmly greeted me, they pried my hands from my parents’ hands and latched them onto their own. They guided me and my parents towards a window, complete with a small window seat full of stuffed animals, pillows and blankets. As we progressed across the room, my parents suddenly broke away from our little group and went a different way. They seemed, in fact, to be heading toward the door. When I realized what was happening, I attempted to run after them, only to be held back by my teachers. My small face contorted and tears began to flood my cheeks. My mouth opened and a desperate wail escaped, loud enough for my parents, who were now outside, to turn around. I stared at them, pressed up against the glass, my tears now rushing down my face. “We call this The Crying Window,” my teachers had told my parents. “Children are often upset when they see their parents leave the school without them. ” My parents stood outside frozen, tormented by having to stand by while their little girl suffered. But soon another little girl appeared in the window. She was taller and older and she wrapped her arms around me until I stopped crying. The hug was the most comforting feeling I had ever experienced, next to the comfort of my own parents. Then she took my hand and led me away from the crying window. My parents breathed a sigh of relief.
The girl’s name was Helen, and from that moment on Helen and I were best friends. Everyday when I was dropped off at school, the tears would come but then I would fight them back, as Helen grabbed my hand and led me away. Our families grew closer and closer over the years. I would frequently spend time at Helen’s house, playing with her and her brother, Paul, while our parents talked and cooked dinner. Unfortunately, since Helen was a year older than me, the day came when she had to advance to kindergarten and I still had one year left of preschool. She had given me the ability to enjoy preschool on my own, and even though I missed her terribly I was able to make other friends. Of course, we stayed best friends and spent a great deal of time together.
One day when I was seven and Helen was eight, Helen’s mother got a job in Los Angeles, and so Helen and her family had to move. Both of us were deeply upset. I couldn’t lose my best friend, the comfort and happiness we provided for each other. But she did move, and although it made it much more difficult to see each other, we remained best friends.
It became more and more challenging to see Helen’s family, with the long drive and our increasingly busy schedules. When I was around ten, both Helens brother and her mother, Julia, were diagnosed with cancer. Paul recovered from his bone cancer after many surgeries and chemotherapy, but Julia's recovery from lung cancer was more difficult. We began to go to Los Angeles more often, offering any support we could, taking over chores and cooking so that the family could relax and be together.
One night, back home in Oakland, as we were sitting on the couch, we got a phone call. My dad got up and answered it. All I heard was “Oh, Tom,...” but somehow I knew what had happened. Julia had passed away in her sleep. It had been sudden and unexpected. I tried but failed to imagine what Helen was going through; all I knew was that I had to be with her just as she had always been there for me.
We drove down to see them a few days later. We attended the wake and the funeral, and walked out to the cemetery for the burial. Overwhelmed and shocked, we stood together to honor the life of a loving mother and wife. Clothed in all black, we huddled together, one at a time stepping forward to place a beautiful white rose on the coffin. As Helen went up, I found myself holding my breath as if to give my strength and love to her. When she began to walk back from the grave, her eyes found mine and tears began to flow down her cheeks; it was my turn to hug her as she had always done for me. I ran forward and wrapped my arms around her. We stood together until my dress clung to me from the wet salty tears. One of her uncles walked up to me and said, “Thank you, Frances, Helen needs a friend like you. I am so grateful….” He choked on his words and I gave him a faint smile, nodding, “Of course.” As Helen pulled away, I looked into her eyes and reached down, interlocking my fingers with hers; I led her away.