I met Dover at orientation in the gymnasium of our Arts High School on the first day of ninth grade. She was a dance major and I was in theater. She had long dark brown Italian hair and perfect skin. She was fierce and brave and I liked her immediately. I like to think that we were two halves that created wholeness. The ying to my yang.
Dover came from an incredible family: a mom, dad, brother, sister, grandparents. One was more thoughtful, giving and amazing than the next. They all loved each other and worked together at the family pasta store on Sundays. I think in some ways, without them really knowing, I fantasized about them being my family.
Dover’s family was everything my family wasn’t. They worked hard, they were honest, and they loved their family more than anything. I remember, sometimes they would send Dover to school with special treats from the pasta store. She would always share them with me. We would sit side by side in science class and Dover would stealthily open her bag when the teacher wasn’t looking and set up a picnic between our seats.
Her name isn’t actually Dover by the way, she gave herself that name.
The story begins a few months into grade nine. There was a girl two grades ahead of us that had started hunting me at school. She believed I had ‘stolen’ her best friends boyfriend. I just stayed out of her way and tried to be invisible mostly, as you do as a ‘niner’. But one day during lunch hour, she spotted Dover and I. We were in a crowded hallway about to sit down to eat our lunch by my locker when she shouted down the long yellow corridor, so everyone could hear, “Hey, Rover, where’s your dog collar?”.
My palms started to sweat and I felt my face go flush. (It was true, I guess I had ‘stolen’ her best friend’s boyfriend, if by ‘stolen’ you mean he dumped her to start going out with me. Why was that my fault?) She was in eleventh grade and we were only freshmen. I was definitely much cooler than her, so being referred to as a dog didn’t really bother me, but with everyone now starring at me I was scared at the prospect of having to fight her and embarrassed by the nickname. I suddenly felt a strong presence. It was Dover. She had rooted herself solidly beside me and glared at the mean girl. Dover was much stronger than me. Standing next to Dover, somehow I knew, nobody could hurt us. We didn’t move. Dover didn’t break her stance.
And the mean girl kept on walking.
When my birthday came around a few months later, Dover arrived to school early and taped up posters she had made all around the school, ‘Happy Birthday, Rover! Love Dover’.
It was the first gift she ever gave me. And I’ll never forget it.
Dover always knew how to take back the power.