Magical Maria and Fox By Kelly Kehoe
Picture a 5’4” little 11-year-old girl. She stands as though she’s scared of taking up too much space, and is trying to make her skinny frame as small as possible. She has shoulder-length hair, pulled up into a careless ponytail. She’d recently dyed it a brassy shade of copper, but her brown roots were already showing. Her face isn’t so childlike anymore, but she hasn’t quite grown into her features yet. She wraps her brown leather jacket around herself tightly. Jeans don’t fit her properly at this weird stage of development, so they hang around her legs. Her prized Converse high-tops are already scuffed, though they were pristine last week. Her wide eyes dart around, searching for anyone who’ll flash a smile. That girl is me, my first day of 6th grade.
I was attending Kaleidoscope Academy, a technology and project-based charter school within the building of Roosevelt school in Appleton. It was 45 minutes away from my house, but the trip got up to a full hour in the snow. I was the only one there coming from Oshkosh, and I didn’t know a soul there. My hands were shaking as dad and I drove up that morning; I was so excited to be going to a such a cool new school, but I was very worried about making friends. I used to be a huge (annoying) fan of this British TV show called Doctor Who, and I was wearing a shirt that referenced the show so I could, “get in with the right crowd” (i.e. other dorks like me).
I noticed that at the new school that lots of people were hanging out in groups, but there were also lots of loners like me. So far, no one seemed unfriendly, but the first person to really introduce themselves to me was a very outgoing, fiery girl who my red hair and leather jacket had caught the eye of: Maria Serna. Or, as she introduced herself to me, “Magical Maria” (see, I warned you we were dorks).
KA was an old, two story brick building that looked like an extravagant castle to me back then. There were stone gargoyles attached to the second-floor façade of the building that watched benevolently over the yard in front of the school, and a small third-story that no one knew what it was for, with four conical spires on top. Maria and I first encountered one another in the stairwell next to the lunchroom.
What first struck me about Maria was how confidently she stood and walked. She was somewhat stocky, at least next to me, and her shoulders were broad. The second thing I noticed was her beautiful, naturally perfect teeth, which I still envy to this day. I still remember what she was wearing because, well, the two of us really only wore one outfit for the entirety of sixth grade. Hers was a pair of bootcut dark wash jeans that hugged her hips and thighs (in contrast to mine which were so baggy around my twig legs), and a plain tee-shirt underneath her signature hooded purple sweatshirt. She had ash brown hair that brushed the top of her shoulders, and she usually hid half of her face behind a curtain of hair, as I remember she was doing when we first met. Her voice was confident and enthusiastic, so I heard her right away when she called out “Hey! New kid!”
I turned to face her, taken aback and somewhat scared. I had never been bullied before so I didn’t know what to expect, but this shouting method seemed kind of lame to me. My second thought was, Am I really that obvious? Now, looking back, I think, What the heck, we were all new, it was sixth grade!
As soon as I turned around, I knew this wasn’t some sort of lame bullying scheme, and that shouting “new kid” was the only way she could think of to get my attention. Immediately she gave me that million-dollar grin, and introduced herself. “My name’s Maria, but everyone calls me Magical Maria. I like you, kid.” I’m pretty outgoing myself, but Maria was a whole new level of confident, off the charts for a sixth-grader. I liked her immediately, too.
We lost each other in the hall, but I saw her across the room in my next class. As soon as Mr. Schwantes told us to get up and find a seat at a computer, she swaggered over to me and promptly said, “I love your hair. Can I call you Fox?” I was a little caught off-guard, again, by her confidence and friendliness, but of course I said, “Sure!” That’s how I received the most prominent nickname I’ve ever had. It became mostly retired once I dyed my hair brown, to everyone except Maria.
Her and I became very fast friends. When we were together , we became the most uninhibited versions of ourselves (much to our teachers’ dismay). I didn’t care about what I wore, or how I looked, because I knew Maria thought I was cool. We didn’t care about fitting in, because we had each other’s backs. In a world of cliques, we were our own dorky island.
Years later, I’m so thankful for the time we spent together and how lucky I am to have had such a loyal friend throughout the biggest formative period of my life. Her unconditional support kept me from going to a place where I was self-conscious or insecure. She’s probably the biggest reason I had a good middle-school experience. Loyal friends who build you up are one of life’s greatest gifts, and even if they’re not forever, the time you spend together is a treasure. I can’t thank Maria enough for standing by me through everything, giving me the confidence to be myself, and making me so happy when everyone around me was anxious and sad. We were Magical Maria and Fox, and we were unstoppable.