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I stared at the monkey bars looming above my head sizing them up as if I was about to attack them. They had outsmarted me since I was old enough to walk, but now I was in the first grade and I was determined to finally beat them. I clamored onto the platform and wrapped my fingers around the thick bar, then taking a deep breath and getting my bearings, I stepped off the platform. I hung in the air for a minute, my frail arms shaking with a mixture of determination and effort. I let one of my hands slip from the bar to reach for the next, but my fingertips barley brushed it. When I tried to swing my body toward my goal, my one supporting hand slipped and I was sent failing to the ground.
I squeaked in pain then stood, pulling offending woodchips from my knees and elbows. A giggling reached my ears and I swirled around, fists clenched and cheeks red in embarrassment, to see who had witnessed my fall. One of my friends, Ryan, stood on the platform for the monkey bars laughing at me. Before I could yell at him he jumped up and grabbed the first bar before proceeding to swing down the set of bars with no problem.
“How do you do that?” I quickly asked, watching as he continued to go back and forth across the bars. He looked down at me and jumped next to my left making me jump.
“It’s easy, want me to show you?” I nodded but in the same second we heard a loud whistle, telling us recess was over.
“You have to show me tomorrow, pinky promise?” I asked, giving him my best pout.
“Okay!” He replied smiling and locking his pinky with mine for a second, then we both quickly ran inside for lunch.
Ryan hadn’t come to school the next day though, or any of the days after that. Now it had been about a month and all of class was wondering what had happened to him, but all the teacher would say was that he would be back soon. School went on as normal for the most part, but one day I finally got the chance to learn where Ryan had been. It was just another day after lunch when I ran into the classroom to find a frail woman with powder colored hair looking brightly at everyone, in her arms she was stroking a teddy bear that had a band aide taped on it’s head. Once the rest of the class had come in our teacher told us to sit in a circle around the strange woman so we could listen to her talk, and after she took a deep breath and introduced herself she got really quite for a few seconds.
“ Hello everyone, how many of you are friends with Ryan?” She used a voice that I think was supposed to calm us, but I found it strangely unsettling. I raised my hand along with most of the class and the woman looked around with soft smile on her face. “Oh my, Ryan sure has a lot of friends now doesn’t he?” One girl kept her arm up longer then anyone else, so the woman asked if she had a question.
“Where is Ryan?” The girl asked, her small voice rang out bouncing on the cool walls, asking the question we all wanted answered. The woman’s smile faltered for a second before she moved the bear forward in her lamp and resumed stroking its soft fur.
“Well. . .Ryan is sick right now, so to be safe he is in the hospital.” Little whispers filled the room, but they were quickly hushed by the woman‘s waving hand. “How many of you know what cancer is?” Only a couple kids raised their hands so she proceeded to explain that cancer was when all the little cells in you body start to break the rules and go crazy, and that it was what Ryan had. She also told us that the treatment used for it made you loose your hair, and that’s why Ryan got to wear a hat in school. As she told us about Ryan’s sickness she would point to different parts of the bear to help explain.
“ He is doing good and he misses all of you guys, but I’m afraid he wont be able to come back this year, he has to stay in the hospital for while.” Her voice had started to shiver a bit towards the end of her speech, and she sniffled a couple of times. After mumbling a hurried sorry she got up to get a tissue.
Our teacher quickly got up to distract us from the woman who was crying a little, “How about everyone go to their desks and make Ryan a get well card, I’m sure he would love that.” She pulled out some construction paper and markers, placing them on the desk groups. My classmates ran to their desks talking about what they were going to draw, but I stayed sitting in the broken circle.
Even at a young age people understand how important friends are, and when someone is told they wont be able to see them for a long time, they tend to react. Personally I felt angry. Angry at the woman for knowing where Ryan was when I didn’t and using that stupid bear as an example when he looked nothing like him. Angry that no one was feeling the same as me. Angry that I couldn’t see Ryan even though he was my friend. But I was mostly angry at Ryan, because he was breaking his promise.
He had pinky promised that he would teach me how to use the monkey bars; now he was just going to disappear and not even say sorry. I felt like I was going to cry, but the teacher started walking over. I didn’t want to talk to her, she wouldn’t understand, she was smiling like the rest of them. I stood up and stomped over to my desk where a clean sheet of blue construction paper waited. I wanted to tell him that he was stupid and mean, but as a grabbed the marker to write my angry note I hesitated.
I wasn’t really angry at Ryan, I just really missed him. I felt myself start to cry as I wrote a big ‘I Miss You!’ on the front of my card, then I drew a frowny face in the corner for emphasis. On the inside I drew some pictures of flowers and faces, silly things that I wish now could have had more meaning, then I wrote my name at the bottom with a quick note ‘P.S. don’t forget your promise!’ I wiped my eyes with my fists before bringing my card to the powder haired woman who was collecting them. She patted my head as I walked away, and I watched as she walked out of the door, a messenger dove taking my card to Ryan.
It was later I would learn that Ryan had lived for another few months before succumbing
to the cancer, but it was the day the woman came in that really stuck with me. It was that day that I really got a grasp on the idea that things don’t last, and you cant wait for tomorrow to do what you love, because sometimes you wont have the same chance as you did today. I still remember the promise Ryan gave me, and to this day I still haven‘t tried to use the monkey bars. So one day in heaven, or whatever is next after death, I plan on meeting him again and making him fulfill his promise no matter how silly it may seem. I know now that friends are kind of like snow on a nice winter day, they’re wonderful and it seems as if you have forever to enjoy them, but in one moment they can melt out of existence.