My best friend in school was Diana. We were both single children, both raised by single mothers, both had a beloved grandmother, both were good standing students and both didn’t enjoy much running like crazy in the schoolyard during breaks. We were both of us ugly, too. Fed by grandmotherly love and not very active we were both too tall, too fat and too serious to be cute. Both our fathers were engineers somewhere out of our reach. Both our mothers were beautiful. Hers was special: a gorgeous tall blonde doctor. She was also special in that she cared more about marks. Diana always had to get 10 of 10. Mom cared much less about such things. She thought learning in itself mattered more than the final mark hence the second and third final prize for me were good enough. As we were both terrible at drawing, my homework pictures were always a mess of mixed colors while her were neat, tidy, exact paintings obviously made by her mother hands. It didn’t matter, we loved each other so much that the teacher had to separate us during first years because somehow we found hilarious whatever the other one was saying. .. for hours.
At the beginning of the 5th grade our school was moved into a new building. Instead of the old corner house, five minutes’ walk from our home, there was this gorgeous new one. We didn’t have podiums anymore for teachers to stand in front of the class and the chairs didn’t have the smooth worn wooden round corners instead were made of easy to break plywood cut in straight angles on a metal skeleton. The tall ceramic stoves piled with frozen wool gloves during winter were replaced by iron white radiators. However the classrooms had larger sunny windows and the schoolyard was even wider than the old one. The building was risen in time to gather the much larger generation of kids some five years after Ceausescu outlawed abortion and I had to walk some fifteen minutes to reach it.
Part of this time I was walking together with Diana. We seemed to never get bored of each other. Books, family, friends, actors, films, dogs in the yards we were passing by, home works all were transformed into fascinating stories to share. Even the death of her grandmother that occurred when we were around 11 became a favorite long story with large parts where we both laughed like mad. At the crossroads where our ways parted we stopped to wait for the green light. The green light came but we would not notice it then again wait for the next, and for the next, and for the next until one or two hours passed in our happy chit chat. My grandma was the lucky one who from her window could see us standing there next to the traffic light unable to decide to part. Her mother passed through some hard times when her daughter was not at home hours after she knew the last class was over.
Our mothers didn’t love each other too much I think. Mine was religious, a dedicated civil engineer, serious, and with feminist inclinations and political appetite. Hers was mostly feminine, preoccupied of her aspect and seeing profession rather as a tool than as a target. She came from an intellectual family of a nearby town and I guess she was looking for a good husband for her and a father for her daughter. My mom was at the time still very much in love with her ex-husband and firm in her belief that no step father could be a good father. However as it happens Diana and me brought them both together.
We had to visit each other and we ended going together in short holidays to the mountains. I can still recall this particular trip to Poiana Brasov. This is a sky area about two hours drive from Bucharest. Neither of us had private cars of course. To buy one normally you needed a family with at least two good salaries and even then you would wait for years on the list to buy the car. Few high positioned people had foreign cars.
We were though some of the few lucky ones to possess a house of our own in the middle of the city so a car wasn’t our dearest dream anyway. Trains were going to and forth between Bucharest and Brasov every other hour during Sundays so we reserved rooms in some modern hotel and travelled by train. I can’t remember anything of that trip, we must have laughed a lot, Diana and me were able to laugh out of nothing. We surely ran in the snow and had fun but I just can’t remember.
Two things remained in my memory from that trip: The sun burning our faces on the hotel terrace and a story. I never suspected the sun in winter can feel so good on the skin. We threw away our winter heavy coats and bathed in that sun with delight. For once we didn’t tickle, laugh and pushed each other but just lay there in the December light vaguely listening to our mothers’ chat. I still have no idea if Diana heard her mother, I never felt like asking.
She was talking about her student years. She was a medical student to some university when someone of the secret police discovered a group of students preparing a revolt. It might have been a sequel of the Hungarian revolt in ’56 or something else. Most of the students were girls. Since the secret police couldn’t discover all the members of the conspiracy they simply sized every one in ten students. She didn’t detail what happened to the students taken into custody. She only said she met one of them after some years. She had lost all her teeth.
We traveled everywhere together and while our mothers didn’t love too much one another we still remained very close until late, in our high school years. When we went to different high schools we were writing each other long pages letters and we talked so much over the phone that my ear flesh ached when we were done. Diana was part of me like nobody else, our brains worked together towards same results and same feelings. There was never anything really surprising between us, as if a mirror was floating beneath us in the act of learning to live. Except once.
We were coming from school as usual. And as usual we stopped at the traffic light that separated my way home from hers. She lowered her voice and asked me if I knew who is the man she loves most after her father. There was no need to lower the voice, there were much more stupid things we were shouting all the way. And I expected the name of her favorite actor whom I knew she saw as a God.
“Comrade Nicolae Ceausescu” she said.