In the early seventies my family moved into our first house, a comfortable three bedroom ranch-style house on a quiet street where I would live for the rest of my childhood with my parents and my younger sister Julia. Living next door was a girl named Faith, who was at least a year older than me, but exponentially wiser. We eventually became fast friends in spite of our age difference and my mother’s reticence.
Faith had all sorts of things going for her that I envied. Her mother worked, leaving her at home unsupervised at times. She had a toy poodle named “Bluebell” and a piano, two things I desperately coveted as a child. She had a half-sister and brother who were much older, which seemed pretty glamorous to me, especially since her sister had long blond hair, wore frosted blue eye-shadow and worked in a bank. Faith had a subscription to Tiger Beat magazine and there were posters of David Cassidy and other teen idols tacked on her bedroom walls. Truth be told, at the time I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I wasn’t romantically interested in boys yet, but I knew it was something to which I should aspire.
Most impressive to me though, was Faith’s insanely giant collection of Breyer plastic horses. She was a horse freak. A plastic horse freak. I swear she owned every single Breyer plastic horse ever made, and we spent hours on the floor of her bedroom building elaborate paddocks for her appaloosas and palominos to call home. These horses got married and furiously clacked their plastic bodies together and made plastic foals. They lived very human-like lives in their paddock homes and spoke English as well as whinnying and nickering and snorting. Faith and I also galloped around in the yard on a regular basis, pretending to be horses, neighing and pawing at the ground with our hooves and tossing our manes around.
One summer we spent our afternoons sitting high in the shady limbs of the giant tree in her front yard reading books and eating oranges. We built homemade slip-n’-slides out of brightly colored deflated air mattresses and used the garden hose to fill a wading pool with water and put her pet goldfish in it so they could join in our fun. Faith and I listened to top-40 AM radio and her K-tel record collection, and we danced around her living room to “The Locomotion” and “Hooked on a Feeling“. We helped ourselves to Dr. Pepper and Hostess CupCakes and Ding Dongs from her kitchen, and licked the fluorescent orange salt off of barbecue-flavored potato chips until our tongues were raw and painful.
Faith’s parents were different from mine. For one thing, they seemed a lot older. Her mother smelled like cigarettes and Aqua Net. She wore her hair short in a tight permanent wave, and seemed to spend a lot of time lolling in the sun on a plastic lounge chair, smoking and working on her tan. Her father was a Greyhound bus driver, and as far as I could tell, wasn’t around much. I occasionally saw him in their carport smoking and hovering around his shiny, enormous, red 1960’s station wagon. When he wasn’t home, Faith and I would climb in, sit on the red vinyl seats and play “man and wife” and pretend to be driving somewhere important.
My father was a university professor, and my mother a stay-at-home mom for many years. They did not smoke, nor did they stock our cabinets with Hostess baked goods or Dr. Pepper. Ironically, to me her household seemed exotic with its unhealthy blend of ordinary American treats and pastimes.
As we got older, Faith began to throw me challenges that I wasn’t really up for. It started with cigarettes. She lured me into the grape arbor in her backyard with the whispered promise of an exciting secret. In the lush, shady protection of the arbor, she expertly lit a cigarette and took the first drag. She didn’t choke, gag or cough. In fact, she inhaled it with ease and passed it over to me. I was paralyzed with fear and guilt, but she egged me on. “Go ahead and try it! You’ll like it!” she urged, smiling. I took one hesitant pull on the nastiness that was her mother’s Newport Light and immediately suffered a paroxysmal coughing attack. That was it for me. I was an amateur, and wouldn’t revisit my smoking career again until my college years, but Faith, she started everything early.
The last time I really remember seeing Faith, I was about 12 years old. Faith had moved away from our idyllic street. Her parents had divorced, and she and her mom had moved into a shabby little duplex in another part of town. Her pixie-cut had grown out into a rocker shag, and black eyeliner ringed her eyes. We went into a local pharmacy and gift-shop owned by some friends of my parents. There, in that store that I loved, owned by adults that I knew and respected, Faith shoplifted a small, fuzzy, stuffed black cat and gave it to me as a gift. I was wracked with guilt. Should I pledge my allegiance to my old friend whose life was clearly taking a turn for the worse, or to my parent’s friends who owned the store? I opted not to tell anyone and kept the little cat, but every time I looked at it, I felt terrible. Mostly though, I felt terrible for Faith and the way things were turning out for her.
I don’t recall ever seeing her again after the shoplifting excursion, but I heard that her sister said she “went off the deep end”, and I often wonder if she survived her teen years. I prefer to imagine she is living somewhere in Kentucky with the man of her dreams, who looks something like David Cassidy, and a barn full of real horses.