People always seem to leave. I am used to the change. I moved a few times and switched schools before, so I don’t understand why this time was so different. Gale left in the summer between third and fourth grade. Our families were very close; our mothers worked in the same company for many years. The best part to me is both families all have the same last name. Gale was the nicest girl, extremely clever and bookish. She and I were close, especially the summer she left.
It didn’t feel real. Under the warm summer sun, Gale and her little sister Ellie duck into their silvery white minivan, and their mom hands them plastic water bottles. Their dad who was driving a white and orange rental moving van had already left. The car door slammed close and the engine started. Soon the car was lost in the sea of other cars. Those were perhaps people going to work, to home, to vacation, but few were leaving forever. The last thing I see is Gale’s tear streaked face as she waves furiously back at us. My mom, my sister and I walk the long way home, our footsteps like giants’ feet echoing down the road. My world was silent, yet people still moved and lived and laughed. With each step, I caught a glimpse of my memories, small things we did together.
One day in that summer before they moved, I walk to Gale’s house and we watch the movie, Mama Mia! I definitely am not old enough to watch it, but Gale always the romantic, insists and we finally agree when she says, “Let me have my way for the last time.”
Another day, Gale and her grandpa, a comical old man, took me to the nearby park. It was on Placid Way, but over time the P was rubbed off, we always joked it was Acid Way. I am guided towards the forest area behind the play structure. The area was overgrown with grass, bushes, trees, flowers. Gale pushed aside some grass to reveal what looked like a pine tree branch. “This is the tree I planted, I want you to take care of it so when I come back it will be really big!”
I don’t want to take care of her tree. Maybe in my mind, she stopped existing. I am angry she left me behind. Even though I always know life is unpredictable, I still feel betrayed. I refuse to go near that tree months later. I specifically ignore that park when my parents ask me where I want to go. Even now, Gale feels like the past, or sometimes even a dream.
Eighth grade rolled around. By middle school, most of my friends from elementary had moved or gone to a different school. I was the only person with my last name in my grade. It matters less to me when my friends move away since I can still communicate through social media. The thing about moving away is the people who left and the people who stay grow farther apart, farther and farther until you become so different that you can’t even find things to talk about anymore.
During Christmas in middle school, my family went on a road trip, the kind we haven’t gone on in years. We stopped at Gale’s city for a few days. Gale more or less looks the same, only a few physical changes like growing out her bangs or wearing contacts instead of glasses. She is like any other teenager, glued to her phone. I am the childhood friend, awkward and quiet. Ellie, only five years old when she left, has no memories of us or the city she was born in. Funny how the family I used to know so well changed so much and became strangers to us. On one car ride, Gale remarks, “You changed a lot. You used to be so talkative!” I wanted to tell her that she was the one who changed, but we both know we both changed. We stopped being naive kids a while ago.
When my family left to go back to Michigan, Gale’s face was streaked with tears. I felt guilty, but I was relieved. Some things like the feeling of loss won’t change.