September 24, 2008
It was 2006. I was a junior in High School, sixteen. I’d never had a boyfriend, never been kissed. The year before, my best friend had moved away. I kept to myself, kept my head down, smiled at someone if they smiled at me, sometimes, tried to keep everyone happy. Then, a week into the school year, a new boy joined the class.
New students were somewhat unusual in our small town, and I thought he would like all the other new boys: low-cut jeans, gelled hair, grey iPods with ear buds and a natural affinity for crude jokes. I first saw him in English; by that time the grapevine had already told me his name was Terry. He wore a green t-shirt and jeans and his hair was sandy brown. His eyes were dark and his skin was pale white. He wasn’t shy, but he just nodded a greeting to everyone and took his place. Some of my fellow classmates, who never spoke to me, tried to strike up conversations with him about the newest bands or television shows but he shook his head. He knew Black Sabbath and MASH.

As class dragged on, I tried to forget about Terry. About three weeks had passed when Terry asked me one day in my math class, ‘Don’t you ever talk?’ I gave him a small smile, not socially adept enough to offer anything better in response, and put my head down. Immediately, I felt bad because I had probably hurt his feelings. Instead, he asked me, ‘Can I give you a ride home today?’
I shook my head. ‘No, that’s okay, thanks.’

‘Hey, I just want to talk to you. Can I walk with you, then?’

Not know what else to say, I shrugged and mumbled, ‘I’ll wait for you outside.’

Terry, I learned that day, had an easy smile and a brilliant mind. The class discussions we could never have had in English I could have with Terry. He walked me home for almost two weeks, and he always asked how I felt about anything and everything. Terry because my best friend, and then he became something more.

Terry liked to borrow his father’s 1939 Ford and drive fast, really fast, down the country roads. When he first took me, I punched him in the air and begged him to slow down, which he did, laughing. We went to a movie together, and one night he took me out for dinner – things I had feared were dead in teenage boys of today. After we had been together for about a month, we were sitting together one evening on Terry’s porch, watching a late November hailstorm. We shared a blanket and for a moment I thought he was surely going to kiss me…then I felt him kiss my cheek and he took my hand.

‘No matter how much I love you, and maybe I do, I could never hurt you. I told you my mother died. She died of AIDS, and I was born with it.’

Unlike some people, my first reaction was not to pull away. I knew Terry too well by then. Instead, I through my arms around him and choked out the words, ‘Oh, God.’

In the days to come, I asked a lot of questions and Terry answered them patiently, one by one. None of the students knew, he said. All his doctors doubted he would live past the age of eighteen, but he was going to make the most of what little time he had. So, I thought, this was it. The love of my life, my Terry, was sentenced to death. It was a week before I could smile again.

That summer, which we both knew could be Terry’s last, we went traveling - he had just turned eighteen; I was barely seventeen. Terry took me to art exhibits and philosophical presentations in big cities, and we took his father’s hot rod seven hundred miles to Georgia, just to see it. We stayed in hotels, and sometimes we’d come to the end of the day and Terry would be sobbing uncontrollably. He was scared. On those nights, we’d fall asleep beside one another, just to be close. I would wake to feel his warm breath on my neck, and those were the times I almost cried.

When school started up again, Terry got a lot worse in just a few days. He stopped coming in October, but someone I convinced myself he’d be back in a couple weeks, when he had recovered.
Gloves and hand sanitizer became my constant companions. Many of my classmates whispered behind my back that I was sick. On the contrary – I knew that if I caught a cold, Terry could catch pneumonia. In November, our principal told the student body Terry’s condition, as though he expected the classes to write letters of support. The reaction of my peers disgusted me. Everyone who had been friendly toward Terry before was attacking him. Jibes were everywhere. It seemed like nobody cared who Terry was, just what disease he had.

When I went to see him on December 7, Terry’s father told me they were going to the hospital the following morning. I went to work the next day and around noon, Terry’s father called and asked to speak to me. He told me that if I wanted to talk to Terry, I needed to come to the hospital then. I did.

Terry was asleep when I arrived, so his father bought me lunch in the cafeteria. The man’s face was grey, and confirmed what I already suspected. He didn’t have to come right out and say it; I was not a child. When he woke up, he had been taking morphine, and when he first looked at me, he didn’t know who I was. Then, he took my hand and whispered, ‘Don’t be afraid.’
Those were the last words he ever said to me. On December 9, a Sunday, just before nine o’clock in the morning and six months shy of his nineteenth birthday, Terry died.
I went to school the next day, no sign of grief on my face. For a few days, I began to wonder if having Terry in my life had changed anything. Nobody spoke to me, nobody looked at me…I was as alone as I had been before I’d met him.
Though he was not particularly religious or impeccably organized, Terry had left me Christmas present: two notebooks, a thesaurus, and a package of mechanical pencils. Inside the first notebook, he had written in black ink, ‘Tell me your thoughts and you have my mind, Show me a poem and you have my heart, Write me a story and you have my soul.’
It wasn’t until January that I realized how different I was. I wrote close to forty poems for Terry in the months that followed, and three stories. Terry had given me a gift.
All my life I had known how to write. My essays generally received good marks, and my speeches could make people think. But fiction! In the second notebook, Terry had written, ‘Fiction is a girl’s department store dress and a boy’s basketball shot/ It is tears and laughter and images/ It is a life that matters to people, a world of possibility/ It is an author’s love on paper/ It is humanity.’
For a while, I didn’t know what to make of it. I really didn’t want to write any stories. When I went on spring break trip to Chicago, alone, I woke up on the last morning and turned absently, reaching for Terry’s hand on my shoulder. Of course, it wasn’t there.
It was that day that I realized: fiction can bring back the dead. In fiction, Terry and I could see all the places we hadn’t yet seen, we could talk about things we’d forgotten. In fiction, Terry could live to be twenty, thirty, forty.
In fiction, Terry could kiss me goodbye.

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