When I was a child my best friend suffered from what was then called M.E. It’s called chronic fatigue syndrome now which describes it well. She slept a lot. Thankfully I was never one of those children that liked strenuous activity or any activity really if it involved organized fun and other people. I liked books and animals and food. A day spent with a good book, a dog on my lap and a bag of chips by my side was a good day, if it wasn’t for my mother and sister nagging me to come outside.
My best friend moved away when I was nine. This was not a good time for me I wanted to tell her parents. I’m about to go through a very awkward stage that will in fact not be a stage but my way of life from here on in and I’m going to need your daughter by my side to hold my hair when I’m drunk and sick and embarrassed over some boy and not just that but everyone else here is stupid and doesn’t get why we play at being witches or warriors at lunch instead of reading their sisters’ magazines or playing kiss chase. Please don’t take her from me.
But they did. And we dispelled that myth that long distance relationships don’t work because we are still friends today. In those first few years she was gone we spoke on the phone daily and wrote to each other weekly. We visited each other every school holiday, taking turns, only I always wanted to go there obviously and escape this hell she left me in and vice versa.
But like I said she had M.E. So she didn’t go to school. She didn’t go anywhere really. She mostly slept. And before she got sick she was actually quite fond of the outdoors and was the best tree climber I ever met. She was more robust than me, bolder. She entered a beauty pageant once for a laugh and told them she wanted to be an astronaut which was true.
When I visited her she mostly slept. I didn’t mind though. When you love someone you’re just happy to be near them and she was usually so far that I just liked knowing I could prod her if I wanted to, which I did not because you do not prod a sleeping bear and when she woke up that was what she was, and a grumpy bear, for a good few hours, until it was all too tiring for her and she needed to sleep again. I think then I thought it was quite romantic, this disease that showed how exhausting it was being human. I know that’s not what it is, that it’s an autoimmune thing, but to me, her loyal subject, who would sit by her bed side, just waiting for her to honor me with her presence, just long enough to watch an episode of the X-Files, it felt like something out of a fairy tale.
It was in those hours that I waited that I learnt real patience and fell in love with marathon reading sessions. I had always read a lot and was never without a book, something my parents did right, but it was in those hours spent sat by her bedside that I devoured entire authors.
One in particular was Francine Pascal and her Sweet Valley nonsense and I think, no, I know, they’re partly to blame for my life of disordered eating and body image issues. I mean each book starts by describing these perfect blue eyed blond twins that are living the American dream. My sleeping friend beside me did not approve of these sorts of books so it was a good job she was asleep. She would never read such trash and as a result always had a healthy relationship with food and her body. But in my defense there were a lot of them and I had a lot of time to kill. They served a purpose. I think or hope girls today are too smart to read these books but mostly worry those twins they found to play them in the TV show have had to go into permanent hiding, what with standing for everything that’s wrong in the world.
Don’t worry I had already read Judy Blume but it was Paula Danziger’s books I loved the most. The Cat Ate My Gym Suit and There’s a Bat in Bunk Five introduced me to Marcy Lewis. A girl who was awkward but feisty. She thinks if she loses weight she will feel better, fit in, but instead she finds a real cause and comes out of her shell. She was my hero. My favorite was the The Pistachio Prescription about a girl who seemed to be in a constant battle with her mother, mostly over her love of pistachios which was just not fitting for a young lady apparently but it was her thing and it got her through. Remember Me to Harold Square was about a girl whose parents sent her on a scavenger hunt round New York and from the moment I read it I was in love with New York and knew I wanted to be a writer and someday live there. All her books were about incredible girls who were struggling with their bodies and families and life in general but they always came out on top. No one else seemed to be reading them, well not in my tiny English town, so they were just mine. People weren’t shouting about the rude pages all over school is what I’m saying.
I’d never been on a scavenger hunt or to summer camp and my parents weren’t divorcing and I didn’t have a pistachio problem like the characters in Paula Danziger’s book did but I did have my own weird shit going on. Namely my devotion to a girl currently auditioning for a part in sleeping beauty when I knew full well she would always want to play the prince.
When she was awake we would read each other Roald Dahl’s twisted tales and drink hot chocolate then it was bedtime again. I guess a lot of the time I felt like her suitor in an odd fairy tale which begs the question when was she near spindles and witches without me? Not fair.
My sleeping beauty mostly read choose your own adventure books which is understandable when the only choices you’re making in life are what PJs to wear.
You will be glad to know she was one of the lucky ones and made a full recovery. She now lives a full and active life in Sydney with her growing family. She still likes her sleep though. And likes to rib me for my bad reading choices. Bad meaning not Game of Thrones.
I don’t tell her that I would happily read them or anything if I could just sit beside her again now for a while, slow the world down, watch her sleep, that would be creepy.