It was a few weeks before Harriet’s parents let her come over to my house again. Every day I would ask Father if I could call her, and every day he would say something like: “It’s too soon, Vickie.” Or: “Let’s wait just a little while longer.”
“Just a little longer. Then I’ll call and talk to her parents again.” He looked at me closely. “And I’ll assure them that you’ve learned your lesson … about scaring your friends,” he added.
But he didn’t have to call them. One day during the Christmas holidays Mrs. Eastbrook called us and invited me over to play.
When Mrs. Eastbrook came to the front door and opened it, I noticed right away that she had been crying. She looked tired … tired and sad. “Hi, Vickie,” she said in a tight voice. “Harriet has wanted to see you so much.”
“Mrs. Eastbrook, I’m so sorry about—” And I was starting to cry myself.
“You don’t need to apologize again,” she said. “I know that you love my daughter and that you would never hurt her, not on purpose.”
Now I was really crying—and hard.
“Anyway, come on in. We’re letting all the cold air in the house!”
Harriet was up in her room. And the first thing I noticed when I saw her was the she had been crying, too. That made three of us.
“Oh, Vickie!” she sobbed when she saw me. “Daddy’s gone! My daddy’s gone!”
And so he was.
A few days after Thanksgiving, I learned, when Mrs. Eastbrook came home after spending an afternoon out with Harriet, she found a letter from her husband on the dining room table. He was leaving the family. Going somewhere … but he would not say where. He had taken lots of their money, one of their cars, other valuable things. And off he had gone.
Harriet didn’t know—or wouldn’t tell me—why he had left them. But I guess that doesn’t really matter. He was gone. And now Harriet and her mother were alone. I was kind of glad. He didn’t seem like a nice man—he made people who loved him feel bad.
I thought I knew why Mrs. Eastbrook wanted me to come over: She needed help with Harriet, who was suffering a great sadness.
But I never minded, never minded at all. Soon, Harriet and I were spending much of our time together. I would go to her house; she would come to mine. She would show me her goldfish; I would admire them—even though I couldn’t really tell them apart. She gave them names (Charles, Jane, Edward[i]), made up little stories about them. And soon Harriet and I became very close friends, like sisters—like twins, remember? We seemed to agree about so many things. She would start a sentence; I would finish it for her. It was as if there were one of us, saying one thing; we just took turns saying it.
We also dressed alike. We had sayings that no one else understood but would make us laugh whenever one of us said them.
Blue skies. Blue jays. Blue whales.
They all have tales—but two have tails.
That sort of thing.
In other ways, though, we were very different. The goldfish, of course. But Harriet also went to dancing lessons. And piano lessons. And voice lessons. She started playing sports—soccer and basketball and softball. More and more, she was not home when I called or stopped over.
But it didn’t really bother me. Because while she was away, learning to dance and play and kick and shoot and throw, I was reading—or down in the basement, building things, learning things, surprising myself with discoveries almost every single day.
By the time I was in school in Franconia—Chester Elementary[ii]—I had learned not to let anyone know about my talent for making things. It made people uncomfortable—or unhappy. The pre-school teachers thought I was cheating on the little projects we were supposed to do at home. One teacher wrote a letter to my father about the Thanksgiving turkey I’d made out of chicken feathers, a soccer ball, and other ingredients. Not only did my turkey look just like a real—though miniature—bird: It made gobbling sounds and felt warm when you held it. There was even a little heartbeat in its chest.
The letter from the teacher accused my father of buying the turkey and—here’s the teacher’s words—“destroying the spirit of the assignment” and “making the other little children feel bad.”
Well, the other little children didn’t feel bad at all—they hated me. They hated me for “cheating.” And those few who didn’t think I cheated hated me for being too good at something. Only Harriet stuck up for me—but I could tell that she had some doubts, too. Not that she would ever accuse me of anything, but I’m sure she was wondering why I was able to do things so well.
Anyway, the last time I ever did my best on any school project was in kindergarten. Here’s what happened …