Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Karen who met a little girl named Anne. Both of us were eleven years old, or somewhere thereabouts. I lived in the United States in the late twentieth century, while Anne lived almost a century earlier, in Canada, in a village called Avonlea, in a house called Green Gables. This was no impediment to our becoming friends; we agreed there was excellent scope for imagination in having a friend from another time and place. Even when we bumped against annoying barriers set up by adult society (Anne was a staunch Anglo-Protestant whose grown-ups looked down on French Catholics, while I happen to be descended from quite a lot of Canadian French Catholics) we were too obviously kindred spirits to let such nonsense come between us. Because, you see, my middle name just happens to be Anne spelled with an e, and long before I met Anne Shirley, she and I had reached identical conclusions about the importance of that final silent letter. So much more distinguished than plain old A-n-n. Can you hear it, how that little e crowns the silence with its song?
At the age of eleven (or somewhere thereabouts), I had already discovered how few people can hear that silent e. Until I met Anne Shirley, in fact, I thought I was the only one. I also thought I was the world’s only eleven-year-old who wrote stories for fun. Certainly, no one else at my school had brought unassigned work into the second grade and pleaded with the teacher to read it aloud. No one else had tried to convince our fourth grade class to perform an original play for the other fourth grade class. No one else, when their friends came over to play, said, “Let’s write!”
But Anne did.
She was shier about wanting her work read than I was, but even braver about creating stories to enact. She got into a great deal more trouble for the sake of dramatic realism than I ever did, though it was fortunate Baton Rouge had none of Avonlea’s idyllic settings, or I would have found my way into quite a few “scrapes” she had inspired. Anne proved to me that there were, in fact, kindred spirits in the world, that imagination really was as powerful as I had always suspected. Anne of Green Gables assured me in a way no one else ever had that I was not alone.
Anne grew up faster than I did; that’s what happens when two friends are born almost a century apart. This proved to be a blessing, though, because watching her mature from an awkward daydreamer into a graceful, scholarly young woman gave me hope. I never believed I would achieve even half of Anne’s ability to captivate new friends, which might be why I never did. But I watched her develop virtues like kindness, generosity, the ability to forgive–all stemming from the core of childlike wonder that she never lost–and I took the lesson to heart. My catalogue of sins is longer than Anne Shirley’s, but whatever virtues I possess, I owe in some small part to her example.
Anne grew up faster than I did; but eventually, I passed her up. The girl who had been a playmate, then a role model, became a tether to a part of myself the world often tries to crush. That childlike core of wonder–mine is cracked and splintered. There are several layers of superglue holding it in place. But it is not shattered and swept away, in part because Anne is always with me to help me collect the pieces. There is more than nostalgia left for me in her yellowed pages. I am there, a girl of wind and starlight with flowers in my hair.
Common sense would say that, for a friend to love you, she must actually exist. She must have a pulse, and breathe real air, and look at you with real eyes. Anne and I know better. We know that sharing a story is enough. We know our friendship is only possible because she was imagined, and because Someone also imagined me. We know that love lives in the unheard echo of a tiny, silent e.