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My voice sounds feeble even to me as the only person I’ve ever loved turns away from me angrily. It was a mistake, a misunderstanding. I didn’t mean for it to happen… somehow, it just did.
That’s how things go in my life, I suppose.
Beautiful ice-blue eyes flash over a rigid shoulder, cold as their owner’s demeanor. “I don’t want to hear it, Mary. It’s not like that. You know I’m not like that.”
The words pierce my heart like arrows. I’ve imagined this so many times, daydreamed about it when I should have been taking physics notes or finishing my English paper. But in my daydreams, it always goes so much better.
As I watch the one person who I thought understood me walk away, my mind flashes back, back through the years we’ve known each other…
My earliest memory. The first time we met. It’s fall; when I force my memory to recall the tiniest details, I can see the outline of red-gold leaves waving against the sky. I can feel the chilly sidewalk pressing into my bare knees. The temperature warns of the coming winter, the breeze nipping sharply at my exposed ears and nose. I remember that I’ve lost something in the grass, though what it was exactly has been lost in time’s fog.
And then there is the slap-slap sound of light-up sneakers hitting the cement, getting closer and closer. Finally, they stop in front of me, and I watch the flashing red-and-green dots for a few seconds before I slowly look up. I remember curly brown hair, but it was short back then, not long like it is now. “The Evil Stepmother”, as we always called her, wouldn’t have it grown out, although we agreed that having it short wasn’t interesting. Boys with long hair were always cuter.
“Wanna play with me?”
Those first few words spoken sparked a friendship, still strong fourteen years later. I looked up at my mother, sitting on the front porch steps, repeating the question with my eyes. She smiled and nodded. “Stay on the block.”
“Okay,” I agreed shyly. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if back then I’d known that the person I’d met that day would quickly become my best friend, and later, my first crush, and eventually my first love.
We played pirates at first. It was always a favorite of ours, but it was too cold outside and so we tumbled into my house to spill the hot chocolate mix all over the counter—purposely, of course, so that my mother would help us, because she always made it just right. We laughed at each others’ whipped cream moustaches and we promised to call each other to play the next day too.
Childhood is so simple. Why can’t all of life be?
The first day of third grade and it is my first day of school without my best friend, whose hair is now almost shoulder-length, and whose stepmother is livid. She wants to cut it off, I was told while we made leaf bouquets from the first leaves that spiraled down lazily from the trees. She hates it, but Dad likes it. That’s what I was told.
I’m glad my mother doesn’t care what length my hair is, I think to myself. I like my long, stick-straight black hair. I miss my best friend so much. I really wish that we were together, but my mother says it’s time for me to make new friends. That I can’t spend the rest of my life playing with just one person.
But by lunchtime, the other girls have already made fun of my plaid-patterned dress and sparkly red shoes that I love, because they remind me of the Wizard of Oz. They don’t let me sit with them at lunch, so I eat by myself, missing the jokes we laugh about together and the way we never eat the Pringles first, always last, because the best has to be saved for last.
I missed you.
In church, we used to pass notes. During the liturgy and prayers, when everyone’s eyes were closed. Two pews in front of us were occupied by “The Evil Stepmother” and the rest of my love’s family. I thought the babies getting baptized were adorable, but we didn’t agree on everything, because with a vigorous shake of the head, brown curls flying everywhere, I learned of the opinion that they were too pink and wrinkly. How could that be conveyed as adorable?
I still loved them.
I loved you. But I didn’t understand that yet.
The first day of middle school comes, and by then we’re back together again. The middle school is almost exactly three blocks from my house and only two from yours. The building in front of us looks so big, so tall, like the people flooding around us to get in. I’m scared. I take the only source of warmth I feel in this crowd of strangers; the big, pale hand. I am glanced at by those fire-blue eyes and the hand pulls away. Some of the girls loitering by the door glance at us strangely and snicker behind their hands, and suddenly I am alone in an impatient huff of air. Did they think we were—together? I blush deeply. Secretly, the thought makes me happy.
But I hate middle school by the end of the first month, because my best friend has already left me. That wide, smiling mouth is laughing with another person—the person who took the big, pale hand and asked if “You would please go to homecoming with me”. Ever since then they’ve been inseparable. I have felt the first sting of jealousy.
High school is no better. By then, I know exactly who I am, exactly what I stand for. I am openly humiliated in the halls, but I can’t tell my parents. I sometimes see my best friend, who comforts me and stays with me. I can see the popular groups casting us disdainful, confused looks—What are they doing together? My best friend is too cool to be seen with me. We talk on the phone late into the night, but I believe that we dance around the actual question; is it true, what my tormentors accuse me of?
Every night, after we hang up, I whisper the words that I could never say into the receiver.
I love you.
And then one day, I cannot stand it anymore. I cannot stand the darkness, the uncertainty, the secrets. I cannot hide my identity. I gather my courage and come to my parents. I can’t make a long speech; it has to be short. Otherwise I’ll lose my nerve.
“Mom, Dad? Can I talk to you?”
They assure me that they will love me no matter what. I dare to believe them. I am confident for a moment.
But the exchanged looks of horror on their faces tell me all I need to know. They lied. They didn’t love me anymore—just because of that one thing.
The words are murmured, but they hit me like a punch in the gut. They expect me to leave. No—they force me to leave. It’s their house, their rules—and they can’t accept me as I am.
I’m numb as I pack, too numb even for tears. I hardly realize what items of clothing I’m shoving into my bag. Does it matter? Of course not. They have rejected me. I wish I could take the words I said and shove them back into my mouth, swallow them back down and keep them from ever appearing again. But of course, I can’t.
I walk through my home—just another house now, I suppose—waiting for someone to say goodbye. But it’s silent inside. I don’t want to call out. And so I leave.
Where will I go? The answer comes instantly; to the place that’s always brought me comfort before. My best friend’s house.
My feet know the way, and they take me there, even though my mind is too preoccupied to think of much. I am homeless. The word rings with finality. Homeless.
The door opens and I see a green t-shirt, a dirty pair of sweats. The favorite relaxing outfit. But soon, the realization hits that I’m not normal. The over-stuffed backpack slung over my shoulder, my mascara smearing with barely unshed tears. I am quickly ushered in and warm, protective arms wrap around me. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
And so I do. I unleash a stream that becomes a flood, of everything that I’m feeling and maybe everything that I’ve ever felt, a hot rush of words that I can’t seem to hold back any longer. I become aware sometime of wetness on my face; the tears are racing each other down my burning cheeks. I can’t even think to be embarrassed, even though the person who means more than the world to me is hugging me while I sob out all my problems to sympathetic ears.
And then I’m pulled back, held at arm’s length. Those brightly blue eyes are gazing straight into mine. Even as the smiling mouth says the words, I read them truer in the eyes. “I’ll always be here for you, I promise.”
The moment is just so perfect, I can’t stop myself. Before I know what I’m doing, I press forward and our lips meet, just for a second before the contact is broken. The blue eyes are surprised now, mouth slightly open in shock. The sting of rejection hits me hard and my eyes fill with fresh tears.
And that’s how we come in a full circle. My best friend turning away coldly, angry at my mistake. I couldn’t help myself. I’ve wanted to do it for so long.
“Please, Laura,” I whisper. “I’m so sorry, I—I didn’t mean to…”
She whirls around at me. “Look, Mary, I respect who you are and everything, but… I’m not like that. I do have a boyfriend!”
I look down. “I’m sorry,” I murmur again. That’s the only thing I can think of to say.
She puts her head in her hands, long brown curls cascading over her shoulders to curtain her face. “It’s fine. Really. I just need some time, okay?”
“Okay,” I say softly, and then, even though I don’t want to, “I’m sorry.”
She shakes her head and walks away without looking back at me. I watch her bright green t-shirt receding, watch her messy curls bounce.
The only person I’ve ever loved.