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The house I grew up in was small, small but so beautiful. It was blue with white shutters and a white door. Flower boxes hung from every windowsill. Every season my mom would take us shopping for our favorite flowers to decorate the box that hung from our window. There were two beautiful giant pines in the front yard that I hung homemade bird feeders from every spring. Along the blue and white striped fence that kept our pool hidden, were beautiful snowball trees. I used their blossoms as my wedding bouquet when I married Ryan, my neighbor when I was five. Lining the front of the house were gardens full of beautiful plants my mother planted. As punishment us kids had to weed the garden. We spent long hot days contemplating our actions, but there was always a reward of lemonade and sugar cookies when I was done. The best memory of all is not really a memory at all.
Ryan was my best friend. It was innocent and childish, but it was love nonetheless. When I think of childhood, I think of hiking back to our fort in the woods behind his house. It was rickety, with three boards for walls and an old door, green from moss that someone found back there. No doubt there were bugs everywhere, but I was a fearless little girl. We spent so much time just playing house in our fort, and making up games that always ended up with us part of some sort of native tribe. I think of hours spent at his house where his mom babysat me, making us both cold bowls of soups every day. She never cooked, and I hated having to choke down the terrible things she forced on me. I think of our childish fights over how bossy I was, and how mean I could be. Ryan’s face would turn so red I almost couldn’t decipher where his hair ended and where his face began.
“Get away from me, Chelsea, just go home!” He would yell in fury.
“Ryan, if you don’t stop being so mean to me, I’m going to tell your mom. I don’t think she’s going to be very happy about how you’re treating me.”
“I’m sorry,” he put his head down and mumbled.
Ryan was my childhood, and I’d never trade that for anything.
My parents were always talking about moving so I never took their threats seriously. Traverse City, Grand Haven, Grand Rapids, we’d talked about living in all of those places. But somehow we always stayed right where we were. I thought that’s how it would be forever. My house was made for my family to live in. We had everything we needed, a pool, three bedrooms, a toy room, and a big screen TV with all the video games you could think of. We were set. In my eyes at least.
The day my parents sat everyone down to break the news that we’d be looking for a new house and ours would be up for sale, I called their bluff and ran outside to play. Two weeks later when my parents set off to their first open house, I was worried, but not scared yet. No I had not yet come to know what “scared” meant. Fear came later.
Being sat down by my mom and being told Ryan’s parents were also looking for a new home was fear. My childish mind couldn’t grasp the concept. “Well, can Ryan still be our neighbor?” I asked in complete innocence. That’s when my mom explained to me that Ryan would be moving further away than we were and I wouldn’t be seeing much of him. My insides gave a sickening lurch as I tried to digest what my mom had just said. I couldn’t, and my eyes filled up with tears. I cried harder than I ever had. He couldn’t move away. I would have no friends. I would have no one to come over in the mornings and eat breakfast with me just before the bus came. My childhood would be thrown out the window along with our plans to be friends forever.
We had found a nice property to build our new home on. That’s the day I realized this wasn’t a dream. This was reality hitting my seven year old self straight in the face. Ryan had already started packing by then. They had found a house in Dexter, a few hours away. It all happened so fast. All I could think was how can our parents do this to us? They knew what we meant to each other and it seemed they didn’t care. Our parents promised we would see each other once a month, they didn’t mind driving us. I later found out these were empty promises. It’s been nine years and I have seen Ryan four times.
I remember once, on the ride to our new property, I started crying silently, not wanting my mom to hear. Finally she looked over and saw the hot tears falling freely down my face. Without saying a word, she rubbed my back soothingly, the way a mother would. “I don’t want to move, Mom. I don’t want Ryan to leave.” Saying it aloud for the first time only made me sob harder. Again, I registered, this is reality.
Finally the day came. Ryan was leaving for good, and I was losing my best friend. My mom cooked Ryan’s family a big dinner so we could say our goodbyes. We said nothing would change, but who did we think we were kidding? They packed their last boxes into the van and turned to say goodbye. That’s the hardest word in the English language to hear. You don’t know until you’ve really heard it. Who knew one word could hold so many emotions? So much pain, regret, and sorrow.
I tried my hardest not to cry. I’d always been a tomboy and being tough fit the criteria. Apparently, Ryan didn’t agree so because as he got into the van, he started crying. So did I. This signaled the end of something truly beautiful. As I watched them drive down the road, tears hit my cheeks faster, easier. I allowed myself to cry.
Going to school without him was the hardest part. I was glad no one asked me where he was. Everyone knew he was leaving. Not seeing him was hell on me. Going home without him was hard too. I had to relearn old habits. I had to make new friends. I had to find new things to do after school. I called him for the firsts couple months everyday just to talk. To see how things were. Gradually the phone calls stopped. It seemed less important to keep in touch once we both got out lives together.
The last step to letting go of Ryan was moving into my new house. The first night was quiet. Too quiet. Bit it was so peaceful. The peace was full of unspoken sadness, just like that of Ryan’s first night at his new home. The quiet of the air in my new house surrounded me and in time I learned to love it, even need it when things in life got too loud.
I still pass by Ryan’s and my childhood homes very often. I’m flooded with my memories each time I do. Sometimes it makes me unbelievably sad. My past is gone, but it will never leave my memories. I can only hope he feels the same way I do. Does he remember those special times that I do? Does he cherish them in the same respect? I can only hope.