From my first memory as a baby in a playpen, she was there, just like a sister. "Sharla" was a neighbor and 4 years my senior. Her parents were an older couple, both over 55 years of age. They felt like extended family and lived just down the highway.
Sharla had been adopted from an Eastern European country as an infant. Her mom Jayne in particular cherished her. She overindulged Sharla, spoiling her rotten. Even Sharla's uncle called her a brat and swore he'd never take her in if anything should happen to his sister.
There was no denying that Sharla was spoiled and entitled, also she was mouthy and disrespectful to everyone, including adults. My father considered her a bad influence and my mother tolerated her because she was constantly asking favors from her mother, Jayne. I adored Sharla for those same reasons my parent's disliked her. I found her daring and way cool!
Sharla knew I idolized her and often used it to her own amusement. She wasn't kind. I was always made to feel she was doing me a favor with her company and was merely enduring me. There were lots of "You're just a dumb kid, you don't know anything" put-downs. Also it was automatically assumed that she had first choice of everything and I was supposed to be content with sloppy seconds. Also if we went someplace where there were kids her age or older, I suddenly became disposable or a non-entity.
Whenever she visited, we didn't stick around the property. We went exploring! This was back in the days before Florida was consumed by concrete. Miles and miles of scenic wilderness waited to be discovered. It made me feel as if I'd traveled back in time and it was exciting!
Sharla was a tomboy but then so was I, plus I could go her a few better. Sharla was terrified of leeches and spiders, I am not. (Bring on their slimy and hairy little butts, I'll kick them!) Those things never rattled me the way they do most girls.
Also because she was older, Sharla was more interesting to be around. I was exposed to a wider expanse of knowledge. The kids my age only knew things I knew and I found them boring.
And she was a physically beautiful child! Her eyes had an upward slant that gave her an exotic look, probably a recessive gene from the Mongol warriors who invaded her birth country centuries ago. Her frame was slender and sinewy; and she was born tan. Long dark hair hung down her shoulders like melted chocolate.
Everything about her was awesome!
My grandfather was a chain smoker. I thought smoking looked like fun and declared that I was going to be a smoker when I grew up. Well, Sharla gave me quite a lecture! "It's a dirty, unhealthy habit," she declared. This dissuaded me!
My family stayed in close touch with hers when we moved down the coast to Hobe Sound. But we were there only briefly.
After we moved back to Stuart, we rented a 100 acre property with a big lake in front and several small ponds in the back. Friends and I swam in the lake and had great fun on the rowboat as well. My father also bought me a horse. Sharla visited more frequently than ever!
She was an experienced horsewoman while still in Elementary school due to professional riding lessons. (Hey, I said she was awesome!) But I was the kid who owned a horse!
But the horse was a stallion that proved temperamental and unpredictable, so my parents forbade me to ride unsupervised. However Sharla knew how to handle a horse! When she visited, Sharla took the reins and I held onto her. Among my happiest memories are the 2 of us riding double and cantering across the field in front of the lake.
During the autumn of 1959 everything changed! I entered Third Grade and Sharla Junior High. By 1960 we had left the sprawling house on the lake and the horse was sold. My parents purchased what was to be our permanent home, a house on the St. Lucie River atop a steep hill in the back that showcased an amazing view. But my memories of that place are mostly terrible.
Sharla almost completely disappeared from my life. Her mother Jayne dropped by from time-to-time, but usually alone.
My father noticed I was sad. He explained that unfortunately we were at an age where 4 years made a tremendous difference. "Later, when you're both adults, you'll be friends again," he assured me.
The following year Jayne visited and Sharla came too! I almost didn't recognize her! She had undergone a growth spurt and was now almost 6 feet tall! -- I was still 4 feet whatever and in the Fourth Grade. Sharla's long straight hair which I had so admired was now short and curly. I felt as if the friend I'd known was dead and replaced by this adult stranger. However, this encounter made it easier for me to move on.
Several years passed, I was now 14. A 7-Eleven was only a brisk 15 minute walk from my house. Upon my way there, 3 older teenage girls suddenly emerged in front of me from a side street. The middle one was Sharla! They were boisterous and all were smoking cigarettes.
Sharla must have felt my eyes penetrating the back of her head. She turned, and then did a double take. On her second look, her eyes narrowed. I got the message! I was being issued a warning! I must keep my distance and not embarrass her in front of her older much cooler friends.
The next block they turned. I watched them walk off, all puffing away on their cigarettes. It's a peculiar feeling to see someone who was a significant part of your history, someone with whom you made memories and now that person may as well be a stranger.
I saw her briefly for the last time when I was 19. My father and I entered the drive-thru at a bank. I was on the passenger side in sunglasses. Sharla was the lone teller! Her hair was cut in a pixie style and bleached platinum; this look complemented her dark complexion and eyes. She was strikingly attractive!
When she saw our name on the slip, she looked up and curiously stared at me. I didn't acknowledge her.
As we pulled away, my father asked, "Wasn't that what's-her-name with the slanty eyes who was your friend?"
"Yeah, that was her," I replied.
"So why didn't you speak to her?" he wanted to know.
"That friendship ended years ago," I told him. The water in my reservoir was fresh and I wanted to keep it that way.
It seems incredible to me that If Sharla is alive today; she's now 70 years old!
A current friend suggested I look her up online and contact her. However I have no interest. Sharla was the one who left and has never made any attempt to contact me during all those years. We were friends only because we we're thrown together by our parents. Given a choice, she would never have chosen me. And in retrospect, she wasn't that wonderful a friend.
Sharla's only a part of my history now, as are my deceased parents.