She was absolutely beautiful and could have easily been a model on the front cover of Teen Vogue magazine.
She was not your average all-American girl!
It was already mid-semester; scarlet fever had kept her from starting school on time. She sat by the door and I was seated clear across the room. I had to figure out a way to get to her, though, before she disappeared into the chaos of the high school hallways.
I had to know who she was. How long had she grown out her hair? Why was her name spelled so oddly? Clearly, she spoke another language. What was it? This glossophile (language fanatic) needed to know!
I think I scared her when I chased after her to introduce myself. She was at least a good two inches taller than my 5’7” height and seemed startled when I barraged her with questions about herself. She was totally intriguing and had a quick wit.
I knew we would be best friends in no time.
She was Albanian, I soon learned. We would walk together to classes we had near to one another. “What’s this?” I would ask. “How do you say that in Albanian?” I questioned. I would like to think I helped her appreciate her culture by the near-endless questions I asked her.
“Where is Montenegro? So, you’re ‘hotjanë’ and you ‘fol shqip’ at home?”
She eventually introduced me to her entire family – even those living in Europe – and connected me with the local Albanian community. She showed me hours upon hours of Albanian wedding videos, pointing out everyone she knew, so I could recognize them when I met them. She also taught me how to dance two traditional dances. One day, she took me to Studio Malesia – an Albanian media store – where I then proceeded to buy as much folk music and poorly dubbed Disney videos in Albanian as I could afford.
Ice Age, by the way, is unbelievably HILARIOUS in Albanian!
I did everything I could to become as Albanian as possible. I attended family feasts, learned the language, read books in Albanian, and started cooking as many Albanian recipes as I could.
If you’ve ever wanted to roast a lamb on a spit, I now know how to gut one and pack it with salt. I did that with her dad right there on their kitchen table.
She taught me how to think, to eat, to speak, and to be like an Albanian.
Except that I wasn’t. I was Italian. And I learned to appreciate my own culture by immersing myself in hers.
She taught me how to drink moonshine (long story), to appreciate ethnic folk music, and she let me be a part of her family. The most expensive Christmas of my life was when I spent almost three thousand dollars and almost all of it went to giving multiple gifts to everyone in her family…siblings, parents, grandparents, etc., included!
I wanted to do everything I could to let her know I valued her. She and her Albanian world mattered to me.
She had a big personality, yet was reserved. She was extremely naïve and very innocent. She was also one of the funniest people I had ever met.
We would spend the day passing notes at school, then talk for hours on the phone in secret so her dad didn’t catch her on the phone and flip out on her. This was back when houses had landlines and cordless phones had a short range.
Then after a year, when I was allowed over, we would stay out as late as her dad would let us. We would spend our time together walking to the end of the street and back a million and a half times because we weren’t allowed to go anywhere. We talked about anything and everything.
Mostly boys. She was obsessed with more than a few!
We daydreamed a lot about what it would be like to married with children and what the future would hold. I’m pleased to report she is happily married today with children and a wonderful husband.
She taught me how to have fun in a time of my life when I was way too good at being serious and overly intense. She helped me have something to look forward to every day in high school, when I was bored out of my mind and ready to escape the prison of adolescence, and later in college together. She gave me the gift of laughter and kept me sane while the world was moving way too slowly for my Type A tendencies. She taught me to value tradition and culture, to appreciate my Italian roots and my Christian heritage. She once wrote me a letter telling me how I was the reason she had a relationship with God. It made me cry and smile. It was the only letter she wrote me, but it was truly a treasure.
We have each gone our own way in life and are no longer close, but I am thankful for the friendship we had and its season. We both have changed and grown so much since those days, but those memories of my time with her still mean the world to me.