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It takes someone special to change your life, and Mary changed mine.
I met Mary the summer before fourth grade. Mary came up to me with the same exuberance that you use to meet an old friend that you haven’t seen in a while. “Hello,” she said, “My name is Mary and I don’t wanna be your friend if you are not a good person. Are you a good person?” Astounded by the bluntness of her question I waited a few moments before replying
“Yep, I’m a good person”
A wide smile crossed her freckled sprinkled face as she said, “Then good we’re gonna be friends.” I soon found out that Mary could predict the future just about as well as the Aztec calendar because I spent just about every minuet of my time that summer with Mary. I also found out that there was just about nothing in the world that didn’t have some good in it. For example when we were eating ice cream and her whole scoop of super strawberry surprise fell on the ground. She just looked at the melting sea of pink that her dog Heather had began to eat up then smiled and said, “I guess that was the surprise!” And when Heather died a day after his tenth birthday she told me that she was happy that Heather would have all the Super Strawberry Surprise that he could ever want in heaven.
Mary never frowned. I don’t think that she had ever had a day in her life when she had a down day, or was too tired to make jokes and smile. Or a day in her life when she didn’t spend every second of her time thinking of others. When I got my first cavity and had to get it drilled she was there right with me as I suffered the enduring pain. Or when my mom canceled my birthday party at the amusement park because it rained, and I was a selfish brat throwing a fit because I wasn’t going to get any presents, she put up with me and then threw me a surprise party to top it off.
Once we were walking to town and suddenly she said, “Ya know what Kate?”
“What?” I replied kicking a stone along the sidewalk.
“I think that one day I’m gonna make a school for all of the kids in the world that can’t get a school” she stated triumphantly, “ You can help! You can be the buissness person who deals with all the money and stuff, cause your’re so good at math”
“Cool. What are we gonna call it?” I asked.
“I’m not sure yet… I’ll think about that.” she told me grinning as her yellow curls danced around her flushed face. Mary was sure that we could make this school one day when we were all grown up and we spent the rest of the summer discussing the details for our school. We never thought of a name though.
For Mary and I fourth grade was full of new and exciting things. We were in the part of the school with the “big kids” and that meant that we got to act like the big kids. At the beginning of the year I told Mary about how my neighbor Tori, a big superior fifth grader said all her friends either had boyfriends or crushes. Mary told me that since we were going to be fifth graders next year that we better start early and got some boyfriends and crushes. Or at least crushes. I still remember that brisk September day that we chose. It had rained the day before so the whole playground was swamped and our shoes were caked with mud. We sat down on the old wooden bench and Mary braided my silky auburn hair as we chose our crushes.
“Well,” Mary said, “We might as well get on with it. Let’s see there is Trevor he is cute but he pulled my ribbon out of my hair once. We can’t chose him. Ryan, Jake, and Billy are all bullies they don’t let the other boys play with them. They are sooo out. That leaves Tom, Sam, Matthew, James, Philip, Peter, and Brody.” She looked around the playground looking at all of the boys to see if she had missed anyone.
“Gosh, that’s a lot! Well let’s not chose Sam he chased all the girls around in second grade and told us we had cooties,” I added as I handed her a ribbon to tie up my braid, “And Tom too he threw a snowball at me in third grade and it hit my face so hard I almost cried.”
“Yeah”, Mary agreed, “ I think that out of all of those guys, Matthew and James are the nicest for sure.” She tied the ribbon around the tip of my hair into a big bow
“Well,” I said “who should have who?”
“I dunno I’m not good at this crush stuff but my mom is shorter than my dad so, I guess since I am taller than Matthew and you are shorter than him you should have him. And I’ll have James.”
“Okay,” I replied, “Now what?”
“I dunno!” said Mary, “This big kid stuff is so confusing! They should give you a guide book or something” Mary and I laughed and laughed. In fact, I always found myself laughing in fourth grade. Between our plans and becoming “big kids” Mary and I had a really good time. But like the calm before the storm our happiness didn’t last long that summer. It was the summer that Mary got sick.
At the time I didn’t understand what was happening to Mary. All I knew was that I couldn’t play with Mary a lot because whenever I asked I got this as an answer ‘Mary can’t play today she is at the hospital’ or ‘Mary is a little to tired from her treatments to come over right now ‘. One day in the middle of summer I burst into tears because I missed Mary so much. That night my Mom called Mary’s Mom and they set up a time that I could visit her the next day. I was so happy when my Mom told me that from whatever lazy position I was in I erupted like volcano and jumped into my mom’s arms with a hug. But instead of hugging back my Mom held me and told me in a serious tone that Mary was very sick and would probably be to exhausted to play much at all. But I didn’t care I was just so happy to be able to see Mary in general.
The next day I wore the dress Mary had given me for my birthday the year before (event though it was long-sleeved and wool and it was the middle of summer), and I begged my Mom to do my hair in a fancy French braid just like Mary always put my hair. It was raining very hard so I was forced to war my rain jacket over my dress until we got to Mary’s house. When I got there Mary’s Mom led me up to Mary’s room and I saw Mary. I don’t think that anything my mom had said could have prepared me for this. Mary was lying on her bed and her yellow curls that usually bounced with life were tangled, and she was so pale that I could barley tell where she lay in the white sheets that she was snuggly wrapped in though in was the middle of summer. If Mary’s body looked sick and foreign at least her smile was still there. “Hey Kate! Guess what they unhooked me from all those dreadful wires! So I can move my arms a lot see,” she flailed her arms around for a split second then placed them back down on her bed like she had just run a marathon. I could see the hidden grimace in her mother’s steady smile.
“I’m fine Mom really,” she answered her mother’s silent question, “don’t worry”
“Okay,” said her mom, “I’ll be downstairs if you need anything.”
“Got it!” replied Mary with her ever-glowing smile. Reluctantly, her mom went out.
“Hey Mary!” I whispered scared to hurt her by moving only slightly.
“Kate,” laughed Mary, “I’m not gonna die if you move or talk loud. I getting better really. I bet I can even go to school in the fall. Come sit on my bed,” I hesitated slightly and I walked over.
“I’ve missed you so much,” she told me as I sat on her pink bedspread, “I’ve thought of so many idea’s for our school! We should paint it pink, don’t ya think?”
“Ha,” I said, “You’re a poet and you don’t even know it!”
We both laughed, it was just like before she got sick. It was wonderful. In the fall Mary’s future predicting skills proved to be right again, and on the first day of school we walked together into our fifth grade classroom. Though Mary was much weaker physically, her sprit was just the same or stronger then it had been in fourth grade. I don’t think I ever fully admired how hard she worked to even get up in the morning until after she was gone. She kept her happy out look on things and didn’t complain at all. I asked her once how she did it and she told me, “I just don’t see things in a bad way, everything has some good in it if you look hard enough”
Mary got sick again in the winter. She wasn’t in school for a month and I was miserable. Whenever I went to see her I would come home and cry. I just couldn’t bear seeing her so weak. The day Mary came back I pushed her into school in a wheel chair. I pushed her everywhere she wanted to go. Though usually she said wherever I want to go was where she wanted to go. One day Mary and I were on our way to lunch. People had started to call us “Mary-Kate” like we were one person because we were always together. All of a sudden she said, “Kate.”
“What?” I asked.
“I’m gonna make it till the end of fifth grade ya know.”
“What do you mean” I didn’t get it.
“I’m not gonna stop fighting ever.” Then I did.
“I know you’re not.” I told her, “I know.” I was telling the truth I did know. When Mary set her mind to something it happened. Mary was out of school a lot in the spring , the grass wasn’t as green and the birds didn’t sing quite as loudly when she was out of school. But Mary was fighting. She fought so hard. And she made it. On the last day of school, at fifth grade graduation Mary came. And that was just what she wanted.
Mary left us in the middle of summer. But even as she lay I knew she was still smiling. I have learned hold on to my memories about Katie like gumdrops. Keeping them for as long as possible to taste the sweetness, for a long time. I am twenty-five now and today I opened up “Mary’s School” a quaint little building that’s painted pink.