Egg-frying hot, the pool deck warmed their shivering, lanky bodies. After swimming lessons, they met on the concrete to warm up. Snuggling as closely as possible, one of the nine-year-old girl’s jobs was draping a large beach towel over them, completing the goose-bump sandwich. New England summer mornings can be chilly, but their newly budding friendship made it easier to cope.
The vanilla-tussle-haired girl was eleven months older than her chocolate straggle-topped friend who had bigger feet. Yet, they were both long and lanky with matching crystal blue eyes. They nicknamed each other Nilla and Coco.
Once warmed up, they would throw their shorts and T-shirts over their dried swimsuits, hop on their bikes, and head to the town market to spend their quarters. Each day they chose a different drink and candy bar. After a snack, activities included games of tag, handstands, pulling wheelies on their bikes, and seeing who could hang on the chain-link fence the longest.
Sadness fell upon them every day at 5:00 PM when they had to separate and head home. But there was always tomorrow. Or was there?
Both girls had begged their moms to stay at each other’s house. Nilla’s mom insisted she needed to meet the girl and her parents first. The girls had a plan – the next morning at the pool was the big date.
The following day, Nilla immediately saw Coco wrapping her towel around her like a burrito. She grabbed her mom’s hand and dragged her across the pool deck. “Mom, this is Coco. I mean Sandy.” She might have noticed the pure shock on her mother’s face if she hadn’t been jumping for joy as she raced to her new best friend. Ironically, Coco’s mother walked out of the women’s restroom and was headed their way. The girls were so excited because the day had come when their moms would meet, and they could now stay overnight at each other’s house. Better yet, Nilla hoped the moms would become best friends like their daughters, and they would all be together forever.
In that moment, both mothers grabbed each of their daughter’s hands, whipping the girls around and heading off in different directions. The friends were in disbelief and begging out loud for answers as they simultaneously screamed for each other.
The mothers were aware of the new friendship but had never heard their “real” names. It was the summer of 1975, and I will never forget it. I AM NILLA.
Later that day, similar conversations took place in each of our homes. Apparently, she was told the same story I was. We could never stay at each other’s house and, moreover, never be friends and never speak to each other again.
How could this be? What did we do wrong? Our friendship was based on the real stuff, like which M&Ms tasted the best, how cool it would be to be an archeologist, and which Brady Bunch brother was cuter. We didn’t even know each other’s last names or where we lived. We didn’t think that stuff mattered.
Apparently, she also received the same “talking to” because to this day, forty-seven years later, we still have never spoken.
Why were we yanked out of each other’s lives, you ask? Because, unbeknownst to us, Coco and I had the same biological father. Each of our mothers had been married to the same man and become teenage mothers. Once my mother and “The Man” divorced, he quickly married her best friend. You read that right. My mom and Coco’s mom were once best friends, too. But apparently in a town of fewer than 1800 people – I suspect neither of them could handle being the talk of the town – again!
I did my best to ignore Coco so I wouldn’t get in trouble, but we were only a grade apart in school. She would stare me down and pierce her lips whenever I caught a glimpse of her. She always seemed mad and me, and to this day, I have no idea why. I always wondered if I missed her more than she missed me.
Ironically, Coco later had a child from a boy I dated in high school. She happened to name her son the same name as my brother. Her son and my oldest son are only a few months apart in age. Isn’t history fascinating?
I have never tried to reach out to her. My biological father has never expressed an interest in knowing me, and I have just let sleeping dogs lie. Both Coco and my mother have passed away, and I wonder if it would bother them if their daughters ever chatted again.