Of all my first days of school, the one in sixth grade is probably the one I remember most vividly. I had been busy that summer, swimming and eating corn on the cob, slathering clay on my face that we had dug from the lake up at our cabin north of Ottawa, walking to the village in the blistering sun to buy a tiny pack of gum — and all of this in the greatest of company: my newfound friends. You see, I had spent a good part of the fifth grade by myself, with none of my old friends interested in looking at me, let alone sharing their secrets with me. I had been shunned as fat and ugly, and I was bummed. But I was also about to get extremely lucky. During a school trip, I met a girl who would become my best friend in the whole world, even to this day. She was sweet and loyal and had the kindest of all the hearts ever molded into a human body. Soon after we met, another lonely girl found her way to us. This one was feisty and funny and always up for an adventure. Together, we became invincible. No more loneliness, no more rejection, no more bullies — because you can’t be bullied when you’re not afraid. And these two made me less afraid of the world with each passing day. In the middle of summer, we all piled up in my dad’s old Volvo, and headed for the cabin at Blue Sea Lake. It was arguably the best summer of my life. There was no room for body issues in the canoe; no time for self-hatred on the diving board. There was only unabashed fun, and a new sense of trust that everything painful could be healed again.
My mother has always been a wonderful seamstress. Over the years, she has made countless outfits for me to wear on special occasions (this summer, she even made my wedding dress!). For my first day of school in sixth grade, it was a lovely skirt-suit, made of tweedy houndstooth fabric (it was the eighties, after all), but with a retro safari feel to the pattern, like something Katharine Hepburn would have worn in a movie. It was belted and I felt quite grown-up in it. It was also very different from the jeans and converse sneakers that everybody else wore. Before, I would have been self-conscious about this, and would have wanted to blend in with the crowd, but that year, flanked by my two new friends, I felt like a million dollars. We were laughing and talking, remembering our summer at the lake, and giddily anticipating the future. And when I crossed paths with my old tormentors from the fifth grade, instead of melting in a pool of shame and fear in front of them, I flashed a smile and strutted away. I was neither sad nor vengeful. I was free.
I will never forget the summer of ’88 at Blue Sea Lake with Alexia and Nadia.
Fanny Britt is a Quebec playwright, author and translator. In Jane, the Fox and Me, her first graphic novel, Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
Watch for back-to-school blog posts from Groundwood authors running from August 15th – September 15th. Everyone at Groundwood hopes that this school year will bring you confidence.