Taking a moment to be serious: Sixth grade Amanda and a scandalous book

It’s cheesy to admit this, but there are some books out there that always make me think of certain people. ‘The Lovely Bones’ makes me think of my friend Kayla and ‘Gone with the Wind’ makes me think of my mother. I was scrolling through Twitter and taking in the terribleness that is the recent ‘Flowers in the Attic’ adaptation on Lifetime.  It’s based on the book of the same name by V.C. Andrews.  Instead of reading the snarky tweets, I thought about a girl, Amanda, who was one of my first friends in junior high. She passed away a couple of years ago, her death surrounded by rumor and vague circumstances.

I arrived at St. Anne’s as the new girl in the 6th grade, painfully shy and with terrible bangs. I was immediately intimidated by Amanda.  I was quiet and she was not. She had a loud, boisterous laugh. Her voice would carry across the playground, lunch room and down the stairwell that separated the two sixth grade classrooms. I was as naive as could be, and I remember spending one recess embarrassed and uncomfortable at how much Amanda swore. It’s hard to even think that Amanda and I were technically the same age. Where as I was a stick, all angles and straight lines at age 12, Amanda had the body of a twenty something, mature physically with obvious “street smarts.” I was extremely scared of her, especially when she became the girl with “that” book.

(via Wikipedia)

Amanda, for all her quirks and what people would dub as a general “weirdness” in junior high, was actually incredibly nice to me. She would have conversations with me, invite me to hang out in her circle at recess, and include me in after school activities. She, like me, liked to read and I remember one time on the playground her activities for the day alternated between gushing about this book she had, a worn black paperback with a red and blue house and a girl’s face in the attic window, and shoving her nose in said book, blocking out the rest of us. She read it and reread it and finally I was curious so I asked her if I could read it.

This book was ‘Flowers in the Attic.’ The story involves a family of four children who are sent to live with their grandmother and she’s a sociopath so she locks them in the attic for years. The older brother and sister develop a romantic relationship. Some other stuff happens, but I didn’t get very far because the book disturbed me. I didn’t want to read it anymore, so I stuck it in Amanda’s backpack in the coat room. I was too embarrassed to face her and tell her I didn’t like it. To my surprise, she never bothered me about it and eventually moved on to other things to obsess over.

As we grew older, we grew apart, which happens to many friendships that start in junior high. Amanda went to the same high school as me, but ended up leaving, and I only saw her once after that, when I ran into her at the movies. I don’t really know what she did after she left Holy Family. It wasn’t until I heard that she passed away that I realized she was as a person who exposed me to other elements of the world.

Amanda’s background was different than mine, meaning she did not have a  mom and a dad who were still married to each other like I, and mostly every kid I knew, had at the time. She was raised by an uncle and his partner. My friendship with her was my first exposure to someone who had gay dads. She also was the first friend who got me into trouble. I was grounded for two weeks for lying to my parents about something I can’t even remember fifteen years later, but I know it involved her.

Everyone has that one friend that gets you out of your shell a little, and for me it was Amanda. Whether it’s her absence or the pretty color nostalgia paints on our memories, I can’t help but smile when I reflect on those recesses and trips to Water World. She reached out and took me under her oddball, profanity-laced wing during a time when I was really lonely.

What surprised me most about her death was I always sort of hoped things would work out for her. In fact, I almost counted on it. Because Amanda was nice to me, I rooted for her to have a happy ending. I wanted her to have a satisfying relationship with her family, to find her true calling, to be with a man who loved her, and to enjoy her life. I thought she would get that eventually because she had been through enough and the universe. After all, Cathy, the protagonist in “Flowers in the Attic,” gets a “happy ending” in the sequels (or so Wikipedia tells me).

There was no happy ending for Amanda though. Untimely deaths are an ugly blemish on any optimistic landscape, a reminder that everyone gets and ending, but sometimes it isn’t what you expect or what they deserved, and that’s just the way it is. I don’t feel led astray that I believed in Amanda’s happy ending, I only feel sad that she herself won’t get it.

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