Romaine was named for the lettuce. Her parents were vegans, but they didn’t like beans or rice or whatever else vegans are supposed to nourish themselves with, so they ate lettuce and named their first daughter in its honor.
We met in second grade when I bit her on the swing because she wouldn’t get off. In the principal’s office, Mr. Nickols sat us down on two roly chairs, our size one feet dangling a foot off the ground, and told us to “use our words” while he went out back to smoke a cigarette, since an elementary principal has a very stressful job.
In the hour he left us there, doing what else I’d rather not imagine, we missed reading, science, and became friends over games of hide-and-seek and I-Spy. We ruffled through the papers on his desk and opened his cabinets, spilling books with titles like Excuse Me, but Your Life Is Waiting. In retrospect, the man probably had the biggest self-help collection in the Hudson Valley, if not in all of New York State.
Mr. Nickols came back at one o’clock, carrying a large thermos of strongly aromatic coffee and a ring of keys. Surprised to find two second graders sitting on the floor of his office (we were sorting paper clips by size and color), he sent us back to class. With sagging shoulders and clasped hands, we trekked back; our teacher never asked where we had been for a full hour or whether we had “worked it out,” as she was supervising an eight-year-old finger painting session without tablecloths or smocks.
That was autumn, the season I claimed as my own, since the leaves turned the color of my hair, and the crisp air allowed me to wear my favorite marshmallow jacket. Autumn was a clean slate; it meant new clothes, new trees, new supplies, a new school year. I loved the feel of autumn.
Romaine came to fear autumn for the reasons I loved it. She saw dying trees and a new school, not just a school year. Her itinerant family moved when the wind changed, from Vermont to Montreal to the Hudson Valley. She could even speak a little French, saying “way” instead of “yes”. The way she said Montreal made it sound like Europe. Her parents had decided to settle down, stay in one place, while Romaine’s sister started kindergarten and her younger brother went to nursery school.
So Romaine and I became friends because she was different, and I liked novelties.