PONDS AND BRAMBLES by Elana K. Arnold
By the time I was eight years old, I’d moved half a dozen times. My parents bought and sold houses, fixing each up and flipping it for a profit, before deciding when I was six to move us from urban Long Beach, California to rural Atascadero, halfway up the California coast, and onto a two-acre parcel with a murky pond and a hillside resplendent in poison oak.
All kids are weird—all people are—but at the time, like most kids, I thought I was the weirdest. I wore heavy glasses, wished for curls with a desperate passion, and wanted—more than anything, even curls—a friend. A true, heart-deep, magical friend.
There was a girl in my second grade class. Her name was Nona. I don’t remember very much about Nona, and to be honest, probably none of it mattered—her likes and dislikes, her opinion about horses versus ponies, her favorite subject in school. All that mattered was that she was willing to be my friend.
From my vantage point now, I can see that Nona was lonely, too. We filled a need in each other’s lives. We announced our friendship by holding hands at recess, swinging the bridge made of our entwined skin and bones between us.
If you’ve read THE QUESTION OF MIRACLES, you already know how this friendship turned out. Nona and I did not name our daughters after each other. I wasn’t her maid of honor. We didn’t double date to Prom. Our friendship didn’t even survive the school year.
In middle school, after having moved several more times, I found myself surrounded by pairs. I was a single shoe. No one needs one shoe.
A few more moves and a few years later found me a freshman enrolling at yet another new school, this time three months before the academic year ended. It was there that I met Shayna, the first real best friend of my life. She got me, and she loved me, and, yes, she needed me as much as I needed her.
Many years later, after Prom, after marriage, after having a daughter (and naming her after a place rather than a person), I was living in Corvallis, Oregon (where THE QUESTION OF MIRACLES is set), and eating at American Dream Pizza when I got a phone call telling me that Shayna was dead.
My first question was, “But she’s okay, right? She’ll be okay?”
Dead was too much for my brain to understand in those first minutes. Even now, years later, I still find my fingers tracing her phone number on the keypad; I still hear her voice in my dreams.
If you’ve read THE QUESTION OF MIRACLES, you know that the main character, Iris Abernathy, has a dead best friend. Iris is in Corvallis, Oregon, and she wants desperately for Sarah to not be all the way dead. She, like I, would settle for scraps. Anything.
You may not believe this, but it is true: When I sat down to write THE QUESTION OF MIRACLES, I wasn’t thinking of Nona, or Shayna. When Claude the psychic tells her story of ruined friendship to Iris, I was as surprised as Iris to hear her tale—my own tale—about that first formative heartbreak. When Iris yearns for the return of her friend Sarah who is well and truly gone, it never crossed my mind that I was calling out, yet again, for Shayna to return to me.
Writing does not right past wrongs. Writing does not resurrect the dead. But, at its best, fiction dips ladle-like into the murky pond of memory, somersaults recklessly down the thorny, poisonous bramble of childhood, and emerges with something precious, and beautiful, and maybe, even, magical.
Elana K. Arnold, the author of several young adult novels, earned her master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of California, Davis. She lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. The Question of Miracles is her middle-grade debut. Visit her online at www.elanakarnold.com.