My life will begin anew today. I keep thinking about that bumper sticker: TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. I had never realized how true that would turn out to be for me, or under what strange circumstances.
A small hand quietly clutches the one belonging to its new neighbor...two horrified little girls clinging to each other under the protective cover of the desk as the kindergarten teacher, Ms. Ashka, systematically lifts each successive little skirt and pulls down each little white pantie to find the source of the growing smell. "Iné aydelehum." Pigtails fly as our heads shake emphatically, in stereo. "Iném aydelehum." In the overwhelming relief we feel when the pungent victim is discovered only three desks away, a lifelong friendship begins.
I look around at the people who love her; who love me. Who know me only with her; her only with me. I hear her aunt, "They grew up like sisters, you know."
Pick me; please pick me. Eight is a difficult age when you can't run as fast as the other girls; this time, though, she's one of the team captains so I'm safe. "Manin tifeligalachihu zare bemaleda?" She points to me without hesitation, "Iswan," knowing how critical this is to my survival in the morass of playground politics. I bounce over to her, triumphant, not looking back at pathetic little Imu, who knows she'll always be the last to be chosen. Eight is a cruel age and memory is short when you're safe within the embrace of the heartless mob.
"Kelijinetachew and timhirt-bet'iko new yetemarut", the aunt continues, and I look up to nod at the curious faces - when they look at me, do they see her, too? How could they not?
"He's not calling." She pretends she doesn't care, but I know how long we've been waiting; near enough to the phone so that no one else would get it before she did, and far enough to give the appearance of two studious teens instead of the quivering mass of adolescent angst we'd turned into since that Saturday movie date at Ambassador Theater. And then the phone rings. We both squeal...she then quickly pretends not to be excited as she answers, leaning into me so that I can hear.
Ashes to ashes...dust to dust...
"Ay belahu...beQagn." There's too much going on for me to stop to grab a bite to eat. The smell of onions already cooking for dinner is wafting over the courtyard where a number of women are quietly discussing what needs to be bought -- I wonder who they're sending to Merkato - we were the ones usually unlucky enough to get sent to fetch "Lega Qibe ...adera beTam le----ga new'minifeligew belut, ishi?"
I've been crying for eons, it seems...I cried out my fear and shame the entire week before we arrived at the off-duty dresser's house, who snatches our carefully collected money from our hands. I cried out in pain for the hour and a half "operation"...I cried all night as the fever raged, while she found a car to rush me to the clinic and faced down the numb nurse who's seen her share of guilty eighteen year olds. I cry as they wheel me into the public ward. She holds my hand the entire time; my lifeline, my strength...
My wedding pictures are being passed around, and I can't help but smile at the hideous hot pink flouncy maxi organza dress I had made her wear. "Am I doing the right thing?" She had smiled at me with such serenity that I had been immediately convinced -- she knew me, knew who I had been, who I was -- who I could be. "He's right for you." That had been an incredibly happy day -- for both of us (though I still can't believe I actually followed through with the threat of making her wear a hideous pink dress!).
Yesterday, her medication stopped working. I held her hand for the last time...felt it grow cold...felt her slip away.
Today I buried my best friend...and with her died my history.
Today is the first day of the rest of my life.