Forty three years ago I was a naive twelve year old, starting at a high school where none of my primary school friends were going. I was young, tall, thin and shy. Unsure of who I even was. I rode my bike the couple of miles on my first day of high school alone. Found the bike racks. Locked my brand new two wheel push bike that I had gotten for Christmas into the rack and prayed that it would be there after school. It was gold, shiny and the most expensive gift I had ever received. It was my transport for getting to high school.
I nervously found my way to the school hall, along with the other kids, newly graduated from primary school. There were two types of us. There were the confident, beautiful, outgoing ones who had several friends already with them. Then there were the ones like me. Shy. Not particularly athletic. Immature. I was young to be starting high school. I had just turned twelve, and although I was tall for my age, I was not physically advanced at all.
And worst of all. I was at a school where none of the kids I knew from primary school were. They all went off to different high schools. I don’t even know why my parents chose this school. It was brand new. Only had been open for twelve months. Perhaps they thought it would be nice. Going to a school where everything was shiny and new.
And there weren’t that many students. Only four classes from the previous year. And now, about six new classes. That’s less than 500 students. Not as scary as going to an established school I guess. But I was still scared.
I hung near the back. Not looking at anyone. Afraid to make eye contact. I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone. I was having enough trouble understanding what the head mistress was saying about classes, and lunch breaks and sporting teams.
I made my way to what would be my home room, ended up sitting right at the front because all the cool kids grabbed all the desks at the back. Of course they did.
It was hot. I remember the windows being open and all I could think about was hoping that a breeze would make it’s way across the room to where I was sitting.
I had on my new school uniform. A green checked dress with peter pan collar and a side zip. My home room teacher was walking around the class, watching us fill in our diaries with our basic class information when he stopped next to me. He leaned down and whispered. “I know it’s hot, but perhaps doing up your zip might be wise”
Yep. My side zip was all the way down, gaping as I sat there, with my white singlet showing. Because when you’re twelve, tall, thin and extremely physically immature, that’s what your mother bought you to wear. Singlets.
I was mortified of course, and quickly zipped up my dress, my face burning as I did. I still don’t know if many people noticed. Perhaps they were still feeling as shell shocked about their first day at high school as I was. Nobody ever mentioned it to me. But I remember it as clearly as if it happened this morning.
At some point during the day, a girl sat next to me and we started chatting. I cannot remember about what. I just remember her having thick dark hair, brown eyes and the loveliest smile. Her name was Marianne and I really liked her.
I guess we decided pretty quickly that we were going to be best friends. I don’t remember a day of high school where we weren’t sitting in class together. Having lunch together. Spending weekends together.
We were polar opposites I thought. She was dark, I was fair. She was filled out, I was built like a stick. She was bright and bubbly, I was fairly shy and quiet. At first. But as the years went on, I think she brought me out of my shell.
We would go bowling. Or hang out in her room playing records. We discovered, what was going to become our first band crush. Sherbert. They were a flurry of satin, long hair and catchy songs like Summer Love, Howzat, You’ve Got The Gun and Slipstream .
Marianne loved the lead singer Darryl Braithwaite, whilst I adored the keyboard player Garth. I can’t remember his last name. We would go off into the city at night to line up to buy tickets the next morning for their concerts. We would be first in line when the venue doors opened so we could be right up front at centre stage. If they did two concerts in one day, which happened occasionally. One in the afternoon and another at night. We would have tickets for both, and be there all day and night singing along with our favourite songs.
I remember that Marianne would be crying and screaming and all I wanted to do was hear them singing. I have never been much of a concert screamer I guess.
As soon as the concerts ended, we would race around to the stage door to try to get an autograph or to try to touch our idols. We met radio stars, we got autographs of different singers and band members from Sherbert and other bands. We would save our pocket money to buy all their albums. Yes, vinyl albums. I still have them. I just don’t have a record player to play them on any more. We would spend hours writing the lyrics of all their songs into exercise books, decorating the pages. We were very dedicated.
When we were sixteen, we discovered Sams Disco. We would line up, dressed in our hottest bell bottoms and cute tops with our platform shoes, waiting to gain entry. At six thirty in the evening. Disco’s back then started at seven pm and pretty much finished at one am. That was Adelaide in the 70’s. And it was fantastic getting served drinks like a grown up. Yes, we did. I remember my drink of choice was either a gin tropical or a gin squash. I am horrified when I think back to this. AND we would drive home, and I just know we would have been drunk. But, again, this was just the way things were back then.
You might notice that I said “when we were sixteen”. Yes. We were underage. The legal drinking age in Australia has always been eighteen. That never stopped us getting in. Wear enough makeup, dress the right way and it was a snap getting in. And I loved it. Dancing was my thing it turned out. We would pretty much always be the first two on the dance floor. Disco was the big thing.
We would dance to Lady Bump, Ain’t Gonna Bump No More With Some Big Fat Woman (yes, that was a song), War -What Is It Good For, Heart Of Glass, Let’s Stick Together, That’s The Way I Like It and Shake Shake Shake by KC & The Sunshine Band, Bus Stop, Disco Inferno and of course, Nutbush City Limits.
I was at my best on the dance floor. I was never shy like I used to be at school. I loved it. And I was a pretty good dancer. Saturday night at Sams was the best night of the week. We followed it up by driving down to Moana, one of the surfing beaches, and spending the day body surfing, and getting sunburned. I cringe when I think about how many times we came home burned to a crisp. I worry about it now of course. Melanoma is so prevalent here in Australia. But back then, I think there was one brand of sunscreen available, Coppertone. But of course it was extremely expensive and I was never going to spend my money on that!
I left school one term into fifth year, or Matriculation, as we called it (Year 12). I got a job as a junior receptionist at a company my mother worked at. I had turned sixteen three months earlier. Marianne ended up going to a commercial college in the city. We still saw each other on weekends and still went out on Friday and Saturday nights dancing.
Then, at some point in the next couple of years, we lost contact. She got a job that eventually took her to Sydney. I got a boyfriend, and as it tends to go, I gravitated away from school friends and made new friends. Actually, I ended up trying to be friends with his friends. Big mistake. I married him. Bigger mistake. I was twenty and my parents didn’t like him. I was also very immature. And I was separated after eleven months. But that’s what happens I guess.
Thirty seven years passed. In that time I remarried, had three amazing sons, worked as a receptionist on and off. And recently retired. And I’ve been very happy.
One day, out of the blue. A message came via Facebook. It was Marianne. Now, I’ll be honest, and I did tell her this. My first instinct was suspicion. But of course, I’d never really talked about her, and,even though I did think about her quite a bit really over the years, it was pretty unlikely that someone would know about us being best friends in high school.
I bit the bullet and replied, after I kind of Facebook stalked her first. Yes, I did.
We had a bit of a chat, and then I relaxed, and we became Facebook friends. Not the kind that talk to each other every day, comment on every post, like every photo, kind of friends. But it was kind of nice, knowing that someone from your past had made the effort to find you. And it was nice seeing that she had a lovely son, and a good life in England.
She told me she was coming to Australia and would like to catch up. My heart jumped. Really? What if I didn’t have anything to say? What if we didn’t like each other now? What if there was that really awkward silence between us?
Well none of that happened. We caught up today. I couldn’t believe my eyes when she stepped off the tram. It really was her. Lovely as I remembered. And she still has that same bright smile. We had lunch and talked, and talked, and talked, and.. well you get the picture. We reminisced about school and how we got into trouble even though we both swore we were angels. We talked about our lives, our sons, our families. We looked at photos on our phones and laughed about how young we were. And regretted that we fell out of contact, even though it was inevitable. Her job took her round Australia, and eventually she ended up on the other side of the world in England.
It was a fluke that she found me. But I’m so glad she did.
I hope it won’t be another 37 years before I get to see her again.