Tammy M. was the most genuinely cheerful, beautiful friend I had growing up. I had a few friends, but Tammy? She was my partner in crime from the age of seven. Unlike me with my platinum blonde hair and long bushy pony tails, Tammy had gorgeous dark brown, almost black locks, that flowed down to her shoulders as elegantly as the shampoo model’s hair in the TV commercials. Tammy had dark eyes and a darker, olive skin to my blue eyes framed by small round tortoise-shell glasses sitting on my pale face with just a hint of freckles in certain light. To me, Tammy was the exotic to my average. She was the oldest of two girls while I was the youngest of two. Tammy was fun, kind, and loved to laugh. She had a light sparkling cider kind of laugh while mine was loud and hearty. I admit that laughing with her was simply the best thing ever and we created a lot of reasons to giggle or bust a gut. Of the two of us, I was more obviously daring, but Tammy, while she initially shied away from some of my bad ideas, was the original ride or die friend.
As kids we attended the same church, a First Assembly of God congregation, and our private school was run by them. My aunt was our teacher so I had to call her Miss. C. instead of our family nickname for her because apparently calling my teacher Auntie B was not appropriate. Because our church ran our school, the fellowship hall lived dual lives serving as a gathering place on the weekend and as our school’s classroom during the week. The men of the church had built free-standing desks with removable wooden dividers, two desks to a unit. On Friday afternoons after classes were done, the dividers were removed and all the desks would be closed up and moved aside making way for church functions. Come to find out those removable dividers were very removable. So much so that you didn’t need to touch them to loosen and drop them from their spot.
One of Tammy and my favorite pranks to play on my aunt Miss. C. was to push ever so gently but repeatedly on our respective sides of the desk. This effect produced a wooden divider that just so happened to fall to the ground leaving nothing to separate us. We concurred this was a much better solution than passing notes under the divider while we did our work. Miss. C. saw through this trick of ours but rather than fight a losing battle, she made us promise to behave so we could enjoy the barrier free environment for the rest of the day. Sharing that desk with my best friend was heaven! We had managed a successful mutiny of sorts and had won!
As the church and school were one in the same, our pastor, Mr. A., was also our principal. That created some awkward moments as you can imagine; your pastor knowing you as both a sheep in his flock and a student in his school. There was no hiding, truth be told.
Nothing made that more clear to us then when I instigated hiding M’s snow boots on a cold New England winter day because M was the class bully, and, in my opinion, needed to be taught a lesson. What better way, I thought, then to make her walk in the snow in just her school shoes? She would have wet feet and be cold. In my seven-year old brain this seemed like a proper punishment for her bullying. I knew right from wrong but clearly M. didn’t, and I knew that her treatment of the other kids was bad. Every day she was miserable to them just because she wanted to be. She was mean, and I saw no one in authority doing anything about it, so I took matters into my own hands. Well, into our hands. Didn’t I tell you Tammy was the best? Hiding M’s boots on her was within our control and so it was done. I hid them under the stairs while Tammy served as look out. It took just a moment and then it was done.
Sadly, our pleasure with this ingenious plan for M. was not shared by the school administration. I’ll never forget the morning we were called into Mr. A’s office to speak with him. Tammy and I knew what it was about but we weren’t giving anything up. No way! They’d have to work it out of us! I have to laugh even now as I recall us. There we were, two pint sized conspirators side by side in our matching two tone blue uniforms, a little strip of a tie snapped around our collars, in white tights and wearing God ugly shoes. One knew well enough to be concerned and contrite, the other feeling justified and emboldened. We must have been a sight.
“It’s OK Tammy. Let me do all the talking,” I whispered to her, leaning in to further shore up our partnership as we walked along. “I’ve got this.”
Tammy nodded and quietly but confidently said, “OK.” She trusted me and I felt invincible, which isn’t something I experienced often as the baby of my family.
The massive doors of the office opened to reveal our judge, Mr. A., seated behind his imposing desk. We had never been in this room before. It was impressive, more so then I felt a pastor principal’s office should be. Mr. A. was as a slight man, but then any man who wasn’t my towering Italian father was slight to me. Mr. A. had short dark hair parted to one side, and somewhat soft facial features. He was originally from the South, or had spent time studying there as all good Christians who want to become pastors do, and had a bit of an accent when he spoke.
“Hello girls,” he said without a smile.
“Hello Mr. A,” we said in unison.
“I understand that M’s snow boots went missing yesterday?”, he formed this as a question but we both knew he wasn’t asking us about it. He was stating a fact that we all knew to be true.
“Oh did they?”, I replied somewhat amused at the whole thing.
“Sherri, you know they did”, he said. “You know they did because you hid them on her. You hid them on her and she had to walk out of school into the snow with only her shoes, nothing covering her feet. It was cold yesterday, Sherri, and her feet were wet without her boots.” Mr. A. himself just told me the results of our plan which went exactly as we had imagined it would. I was quite pleased to hear this report.
Looking back now, I have a better understanding of, and a deeper appreciation for, my mother’s worries about me. My fearlessness and sense of justice, two of her own innate characteristics, were deeply rooted in my DNA. What I have come to consider as some of my best features starting showing themselves at an early age, more often than was deemed safe or ladylike by many, including Mom. Thankfully, or in some cases maybe not so much so, I was also my Dad’s daughter. He taught me how to throw a punch, how to stand up for myself, and how to speak my mind without fear. On this day, with M’s bullying behind me, driving me, with Tammy by my side in solidarity, and with Mr. A’s intimidating desk in front of me, I was invincible.
But even though I felt invincible, I still felt the need to sneak a quick glance at Tammy just to be sure we were OK. She hadn’t uttered a word after greeting Mr. A. and looked appropriately humbled. But she hadn’t turned me in or broken her composure. I knew she had my back and I loved her for it. She could feel contrite for both of us so I would, and could, carry the weight of speaking the truth of the matter.
“Yes, Mr. A., we did hide those boots and we would do it again! It was my idea. Tammy did it with me because she’s my friend and we both know how awful M is to everyone. She needed to be taught a lesson. So I’m glad she had cold wet feet. Maybe she won’t be a bully now that she had a taste of her own medicine.”
By the look on Mr. A’s face I’m guessing this wasn’t the response he expected. Or maybe it was since he had clear opinions on my Dad and his forthright, often abrasive, nature. What amazed me was how much I believed what I had said and done was right and that I didn’t feel bad about it at all. Like seeing Mr. A. in his office at seven years old with my bestie next to me trusting in me completely was just a formality. This was simply the price of teaching the school bully a lesson.
I was too caught up in my little soapbox moment to recall what was said afterwards but the words “Let the teachers handle your classmates from now on” and “Let’s not do that again shall we?” were uttered. Tammy and I shared a sigh of relief at no punishment being doled out and, smiling at each other, giggling a bit as we did, we raced out of the office and back to class. The conspirators lived to tell the tale of the meenie and her missing boots.
Over time, Tammy and I lost touch as our family left the church and the school. Gone were the days of giggles and girl talk, of swooning over boys and bouncing dividers out of our desks. I never did forget her and I hope she never forgot me.
Years later, working at our local FM radio station put me in our town’s historic inn for a Christmas themed fundraiser. Arriving to set up ahead of the event, I walked into the main lobby and looked up at the front desk to see my long-lost friend’s beautiful face. She hadn’t changed in the 20 years since I had last seen her. She was still slender with her dark hair and her friendly smile, her shy but welcoming demeanor. I ran up to her.
“Tammy?!”, I said with excitement.
“Oh my God! Sherri?!”, she replied, happy to see me though spoken calmer than my greeting.
“Oh my goodness! Tammy! How are you?!”, I asked.
We spent the next five or ten minutes catching up quickly. She had two little girls now, she was the Inn’s front end hostess and lived nearby. As she spoke, the memories of our time spent together as kids flooded my brain and for a moment we were seven years old again, talking like no time had passed between us.
My work colleagues started to arrive so I had to return to the task at hand, but I hugged her and told her how great it was to see her.
“We should get together sometime maybe?”, I asked.
“Yes, someday,” she replied with a smile.
I saw her again the following year at the same fundraising event but the year after that, she was no longer there. I don’t remember who told me, it was probably my mom, but the news of Tammy’s death left me having to catch my breath as I sobbed. My first thought was of her daughters left without a mother now. Then of how young she was and how great she looked last time I saw her, and what happened? How could she be gone? I couldn’t wrap my brain or heart around it. It was too big and too deep to fathom.
The best I could get from anyone was that Tammy had some drug issues and it caught up with her. The thought of my beautiful childhood friend being caught up in the messy, ugly world of drugs broke my heart. She didn’t need that. She was lovely, funny, and kind. She was perfect. I soon regretted then that we had never met up outside of the few minutes at those two fundraiser events. Now, with her gone, I would have to wait for that time to spend with her.
But yes, Tammy, we will. Someday.
Copyright 2017 Sharon Arsego