Back in third grade, when best friends changed weekly, I sat next to a girl named Lucy Brandt. We didn't know then that our friendship would even make it past that year. But it blossomed and evolved to that comfortable place where we referred to each other as best friends. Partners in crime might have been a more suitable title.
The reason I was first attracted to Lucy was that she giggled -- giggled to the point of sheer hysteria. I was a giggler, too, and that common denominator is what drew us together. Lucy and I were regularly admonished by our teacher, Miss Chandler, an old fuddy-duddy, who banished us from the classroom to a cold, wooden bench in the hall until, as Miss Chandler said, we could "learn to control ourselves."
It was during "bench time" that Lucy and I got to know each other well. We discovered we had a passion for Archie comics, tuna fish sandwiches and Billy Richardson, who had curly red hair and freckles.
Lucy and I both had crushes on Billy, and while neither of us felt competitive about whom he preferred, we found satisfaction in dissecting him in minute detail. In some perverse way, even better than having a crush on a boy, was having a girlfriend with whom to share Billy's unrequited love. It also helped that he never gave either of us a tumble, so it never came down to choice. The best we could do was live in hope. Every February 14th we sent him Valentine cards signed "from your secret admirers." They were unreciprocated.
Lucy and I were sent to the bench 10 times in third grade. I kept a log of such trivia. That way when Miss Chandler told my mother that I had been sent out of class 20 times for bad behavior, the log proved otherwise.
What I also liked about Lucy was her name. It wasn't Lucille like my mother's friend -- who had two blotches of red rouge on her cheeks and wore hats with lace veils. It was Lucia, which sounded exotically elegant.
"Why couldn't I have a name like Lucia?" I asked my mother. "Lucia sounds so romantic."
"So does Judith," she said, plopping a slab of beef liver on my dinner plate.
Any woman who forced her child to eat liver didn't know about names like Lucia.
Lucy and I made it through to junior high, our friendship still intact. But, we never stopped giggling. Miss Chandler had incessantly warned us: "You girls must learn to be serious, or you won't amount to a hill of beans."
Neither Lucy nor I understood what that meant, but whenever I engaged in any wrongdoings, an image of a large hill laden with lima beans crossed my mind. Like the bench, it was the worst possible place I could end up. I grew up fearing that beans would become my ultimate demise.
We continued to be friends through ninth grade, and though we never did manage to "get serious," we shared pivotal moments that bordered on the absurd. What few others found funny had us convulsed in laughter. Then, a bad thing happened: Lucy's father, who worked for a large corporation, was transferred to California. We were assigned the new role of pen pals. I waited by my mailbox for her weekly letters, as she did mine. Much of our adolescent angst was solved on scented stationery with the words SWAK (Sealed With a Kiss) scrolled on the envelopes.
During our college years, I remained in the East while Lucy went to Berkeley and became a hippie. She had a long black braid cascading down her back. Black leotards and black Capezios polished off the look. She referred to this as her dark period. I wore pastel sweater sets with a string of pearls, and dated appropriate boys. We were the Yin-Yang duo of a bicoastal friendship.
Lucy continued to send letters with accompanying photos of herself seated on the back of a Harley Davidson with her latest love, Bruno, or lying barefoot in a meadow, a garland of wild flowers in her hair. The old "hill of beans" image regularly came to mind. Lucy eventually married a lawyer, had three kids and lived a conservative life in San Francisco. She shed her Bohemian image and went straight; it was almost more than I could bear.
A few years ago, Lucy died, separating us forever. But, my mental picture remains constant: third grade, Miss Chandler and the bench where we spent endless hours discovering one another. In those ways, Lucy's memory lives on.
When Valentine's Day rolls around, my thoughts turn to Billy Richardson. I imagine that he's fat, ugly and never amounted to a hill of beans. Lucy and I would have giggled over that for hours.
Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.judithmarks-white.com.