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I. THE PRESENT
The moving van is out front. And even though I’m trying not to, I’m looking back. I’m looking back and trying to remember the things that I’ll be leaving behind.
In the storage room there are several cardboard boxes. They contained childhood memories and useless mementos from the past. At the bottom of the heap is a box labeled in an unrecognizably scrawled fashion.
Inside is a batter silk gown torn at the edges and a dusty album that hasn’t been flipped through in years.
A stack of faded photographs fall to my feet.
We stood together, posing for a picture, in matching blue dresses. Her hair and make-up shimmers flawlessly and as she flashes a plastic smile. My eyes don’t match my happy face.
The truck is here and the boxes sealed and soon I’ll close this door for the last time. I hate moving. Because you always leave behind the things that mean the most to you. The tire swing that’s too low. The broken wind chimes we made in 2nd grade. The pouch of assorted beads made from all the necklaces that we’ve broken through the years. The scraps and ribbons from our favorite clothes, the clippings of the dresses for the weddings we dreamed about, the best stones we collected from the beach.
In front of Macy’s Department Store we stood while she poses with her new purse. Light reflects off her lip-gloss. There’s a smile on my face but it doesn’t quite reach my eyes.
In the attic, the air is so thick with dust and things left forgotten; a thin mist seems to spread across the room. I cough as I open the boxes. They bring back so many things I’ve struggled to forget. No one else will ever understand how much these memories mean to us.
She winks coyly into the camera as we’re driving back from the DMV, and I’m not even bothering to look into the camera this time- my gaze trained determinedly on the stoplight as we patiently waited for the light to change.
I hate going into my new house. An empty house; stripped of all foundation but full of someone else’s memories. A house doesn’t cease to be someone’s home even after they’re long gone. I stack the last few boxes and I wish something could delay the final goodbye. But it’s all I have left. I don’t look back again. I promised myself I wouldn’t. The years I spent, the memories I made have been sealed and forgotten like so many boxes.
At graduation we’re sitting at the same table our chairs next to each other, but really a mile between us. An ocean seemed to have grown in the space between us; an ocean that we can’t possibly swim. The camera flashed as we’re turned away from each other.
That was moment we started to forget.
II. THE PAST
For the better part of sixteen years we did everything together. We lived next door across the same Korean laundromat and from there took the same bus to and from a variety of schools. We went through bad safety scissor haircuts, scabby knees from playing soccer too late in the field, matching pink and green braces, studying and most likely failing the SATs, awkward school dances, unprepared cramming for a variety of tests, science projects that started off a huge bang, sneaking into the movie theater to play DDR, birthdays, holidays, any day…the best moments of our lives we spent together.
At the end of high school I think we realized it was time for a change.
One day we were walking to class in silence. After years of nothing but memories that we shared together talking about anything and everything under the sun; after sixteen years of being such close friends, it was as if we were finally seeing each other for the first time. Even though we were side by side, we’ve never been further apart. Somehow, through the long high school years, our friendship slipped through the cracks. A group of girls walked by and they tugged her sleeve saying they had big news to share with her.
She turns to me with a forced smile.
“I’ll see you later.”
I smile back. The last secret we would share was...
There would never really be a later.
III. THE FUTURE
She’ll invite me to her wedding as a guest for old time’s sake and I would watch her live the life I’ve only dreamed about. She’ll have a lavish wedding complete with all the bells and whistles that will include everything little eleven year olds could ever dream of. She’ll walk down the aisle and I’ll look up and smile. I’ll look up and smile at the stranger she’s become.
And I try to tell myself that tomorrow will be different.
…but all that will be is just another lie.
IV. THE MEMORY
I always wondered why we called it, ‘friendship’. Because friendship is the boat that never sinks, our cherry 3rd teacher liked to tell us. But if we’ve learned nothing else from the tragic Titanic- it’s that there is no such thing as an unsinkable ship. All ships will sink at some point. Eventually, after years and years of drifting across the endless oceans, they’ll start to fall below. Ships sink on principle. There is no such thing as an unsinkable ship.
There are some friends who are, in all aspects, for forever. But most of our friends hold a much shorter lease on our lives. You’ll grow up and realize that the people you’ve become are too different from the people you used to be. And then there are times there is an ocean between you; an ocean you can’t possibly swim. There are times when it is simply better to let go than to stay and waste what once was a beautiful thing. Yet friendship is sometimes even more precious than family, because friendship is a wish, a promise; a choice to love.
Friendship through all its phases and depth and beauty and tragedy is really only for rent. It can never be permanent.
We were ten years old and it was at my birthday party. We were surrounded by all our family and friends. Everything and everyone that mattered was cramped into that tiny, dingy living room. We didn’t have much back then. We had all that we needed and for the longest time, it was enough.
When I remember her, I’ll remember what she was like then. I’ll remember sneaking out with her to sled down the steep hills when we should have been doing chores, I’ll remember the creak down those hills where we tried to fish, I’ll remember the sunny days spraying each other while hanging up the sheets to dry, I’ll remember chasing the bees down in apple orchards until the sun grew too hot…
I’ll remember her at her best. Before she changed. Before she forgot the things that really matter.
Our friendship lease was over, but looking back, we’ll see it for what it was- a brilliant, beautiful thing. There is no way to erase the times we spent together and that will always be enough.
When I remember her, I’ll remember what she was like then.
I’ll remember her at her best. I’ll remember us at our best.
We sat side by side on the same seat and blew out the candles together.