June and I have hit the road for a week in Arkansas to visit old friends. Old friends whom I nannied for almost ten years ago.
They say that time passes more quickly the older you get and they would be right. These two teenagers were once two young children, running wild through the backyard, climbing on a giant tree they called “dinosaur”, holding my hand on the way to the bus stop. They were: pigtails on top of their head, dirt under their finger nails, cartoons of the TV, macaroni and cheese for lunch, “please can we have some lemonade, Danielle”.
Now teenagers, I look at them in wonder and awe. The core of them remains: innocent + witty, beautiful + curious; but the rest of them seems so grown up. Time passes quickly, it is true.
I came to this family, all those years ago, at a time when life was uncertain and everything was an adventure. I was a dichotomy of fearlessness and fearfulness. At twenty, I was just beginning to see the vastness of life and I wanted so badly to do everything, to be everything, to feel everything. I couldn’t think about life as a big picture yet, although if you had asked me then, I would have told you that I could.
One day last week, I made a box of macaroni and cheese again for the oldest of the two. She sat the countertop and watched me cook, telling me stories of her days in high school and asking about my time with them all those years ago. Her simple presence and conversation evoked in me a side of myself I had forgotten existed. Old friends have a way of doing that to you— reminding you of your roots. I answered her questions honestly and for the ones I couldn’t, I told her I would answer when she was 21. She sighed at me and smiled. Soon enough, those conversations can take place, but for now I want to keep her how she is at 16– curious.
Will she ever know how deeply her role in my life has changed me? Probably not. But I will never forget. And I will do whatever it takes to protect them.
Now they are make-up and cell phones, messy piles of laundry, secrets whispered between sisters, half-drunk cups of coffee, real insightful conversations, text messages, a rap song on the radio. They are “Hiiiiiii Danielle” and “how was your day?”. They care and they feel and they want to know me now, as a person. They are memories of the past and advice for the future. They are everything to me.