There are a lot of things about my childhood that I don't remember. Dates, faces, conversations become blurred.
I do remember when I first started going to school, though. I remember my mother leading me by the hand in the direction of my classroom. I stepped one tentative, stiff foot in the doorway and took in the scene. My eyes quickly became watery, large saucers as I tried to process the kindergarten chaos that played out before me like a colorful movie running in fast-forward on the TV screen.
There was so much noise, I couldn't make out what anyone was saying, a tug of war for toys was happening in the corner, and kids were wiping their noses -- WITHOUT TISSUES!
With one desperate motion, I clung to my mother's polyester pants and screamed in agony.
Being so little did not work in my favor. Although my mother was understanding, she was also firm: I was going to go to school. I soon found myself in the center of the classroom without a friendly face in sight. A wooden block (the spoils of the tug of war in the corner) came hurtling at the back of my head, knocking me back to attention. This place was crazy! I quickly crawled under a table for protection and hoped no one would be able to find me there.
I remember hugging my knees into my chest and rocking back and forth under the table. Occasionally, I could see black pumps and white sneakers pass from one side of the room to the other. With each pair of sneakers, I expected to see a re-creation of my experience, but it seemed that no other child grabbed her mother's legs or screamed. They seemed to simply shuffle along, wandering purposefully from one play station to the next. Did they know something I didn't?
I must have been hiding under that table for some time, because I was amazed at the treasure I collected while under there. At one point, a piece of paper elegantly flew through the air from side to side and landed under the table. I stuck my hand out from the shadows and grabbed it. A lion smiled in black on the white page. I scavenged quickly through my treasure. It seemed as though I had everything -- except crayons. I looked down at the lion, disappointed. His smile seemed to twist into a frown before my eyes; at least he understood how I felt.
Right at that point, though, something changed. A yellow crayon rolled in from nowhere, followed by a little girl on all fours who smiled widely at me as she joined me under the table. I smiled back at her but did not speak. She opened up a clenched fist and revealed to me a bunch of crayons that she set down on the floor between us. Although she presented a wide assortment of colors for me to choose from, I reached instinctively for the yellow crayon that rested next to my white sneaker. She shrugged her shoulders, grabbed an orange crayon and began to color. We both hid under that table, crouched over a smiling black lion, our bottoms in the air until the teacher eventually found us.
I don't remember what happened specifically after that, or the details surrounding the days that followed. I can tell you that my coloring buddy and I would remain friends all throughout school and into college, moving in and out of different groups, separating for short times away from each other, but soon finding our way back as friends once again.
Our friendship would come to an end, as many good things do, as the result of a falling-out after college, which remains one of very few regrets I have in my life. Looking back now, I wish I remembered more of the details that surrounded our parting of ways, but perhaps that's a sign that conflict is not as important in the grand scheme of things as we would have it seem.
I can tell you that I remember what's important: a smiling lion, a yellow crayon and an act of kindness that surely changed my life.