William

December 9, 2008
By
I slouched crankily in the passenger’s seat of the moving van with a cat carrying cage on my lap and a pout planted on my face. I had just celebrated my fifth birthday, and was now wise in the ways of the world. Now that I was essentially an adult, I had felt confident that my parents would heed my advice and cancel the move to some Podunk town in the middle of the wilderness and stay in the comfortable, cookie cutter world of suburbia. I was bitterly disappointed when they ignored my articulate, unbiased arguments (as well as my threats to run away) and bought a house in Round Hill, a town with one main street and not a single stoplight. The truck thundered on, enormous wheels crushing the pieces of my beloved childhood into dust.

Twenty four hours later, I was beginning to despair. I had never gone so long without a play date. I began to wearily divide my possessions amongst my friends and acquaintances, for I felt sure that I would soon die of severe boredom. As I lay there haphazardly among boxes and Styrofoam peanuts, I heard the doorbell ring. Normally, I would never have answered; but in my desperate state, curiosity overcame my fear of Stranger Danger. I crawled military style to the front windows and peered out suspiciously at a pale, scrawny boy with a goofy grin and blonde duck fluff hair. His name was William, and he lived two doors up from me. Within an hour, we were best friends.
We spent the next three years inventing new and ingenious ways of turning our parents’ hair gray. As soon as my dad rescued us from a pit of chest-high mud, he would find us climbing out my window onto the roof or trying to catch snakes in a pickle jar. From time to time William would ride his bike into trees or through thorn bushes (afterwards he would claim he only did this for research purposes, to see if it would hurt). On more than one occasion, he rode after me with a stick or a baseball bat, like a knight preparing to joust. I secretly feared he would kill me.
One muggy August afternoon, we sprawled lazily in the branches of a big oak in my yard, resting after a long day of exploring and spying on the neighbors. Talking to William was almost as fun as playing with him. We argued over the best Pokemon starter choice, and agreed that Aladdin could beat up John Smith any day of the week. Abruptly, William turned to me.

“I love you.”

I eyed him warily. From watching movies I knew that love was for adults who kissed each other and held hands. As a second grader who strongly believed in the existence of cooties, I was adverse to the concept of love. I prepared myself to let him down easy, but as I opened my mouth, he continued, “Not like a girlfriend, I love you. Your personality, and talking to you, and catching frogs with you.”

I paused to consider this peculiar statement. Platonic love wasn’t an idea I had ever been introduced to before. Disney certainly never ended with a “just friends” speech and a good game of kickball. I knew I liked all my friends, but we had never really discussed how we felt about each other; our conversations tended to be limited to dinosaurs and princesses and pound puppies. I looked at this strange, slightly insane boy and decided I loved him too.

School began again few weeks later, and for the first time, William and I were in different classes. For the first time, too, I realized that I was the only one who appreciated William. He was awkward in public, and tended to scare people off with random psychotic laughter and blunt, sarcastic comments. When we sat together at lunch, the seats around us stayed empty. As the year went on, I made other friends, and slowly their scorn for him began to weigh on me. I avoided eye contact in the halls, and when I saw his face fall, my own would burn with shame for betraying him. By the end of third grade, we were like strangers. I toyed with the idea of apologizing to him, but I was too afraid of being shunned for being friends with “that weird kid.” He moved away the next year, and I hated myself for being so cowardly.

A few years ago, a Christmas card came in the mail from William’s mother. It had a picture of him on the front (now at least six feet tall and wearing an ROTC uniform) and a phone number inside. I wrestled with myself for a few minutes before I dialed the number. He answered, and I awkwardly introduced myself. There was a long, uncomfortable silence. We sat there for over a minute, the static crackling with things we wished we had the courage to say.

“Well…I guess I’ll see you around,” I said lamely, hoping he wouldn’t hear my voice shaking. I desperately wished that he would understand why I called, that he could still read my thoughts the way he could when we were eight years old.

We haven’t spoken since, and probably never will again. Sometimes I look back through my old scrapbooks and wonder what I missed in our last year together while I was busy trying to fit in. Sometimes I look through my old scrapbooks and wonder if he’s looking at his, remembering the first time he was betrayed by a friend.





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