Growing Apart

January 15, 2012
We trekked through the woods, pushing further with each step. You were talking wildly about what we could come to if we kept going. There could be anything out there. “Monsters,” you said. “Murderers, animals, houses. There could be anything.” I felt myself becoming afraid but I didn’t want to show it. We were always so close. Nothing ever needed to be said. We could’ve walked forever in complete silence, but you kept talking to fill the empty space. I was always too lost in thought to say anything, anyways. You always told me that I was spacey. A deep thinker. But, you could read my mind, I think. You knew when I wanted to talk, and you knew when I didn’t.

The branches cut up my ankles. Sweat began to bead on your forehead, your straight brown hair clinging to it. Your freckles contrasted greatly with the flush of red on your cheeks. We’d never walked this far in the woods before. You’d begun talking about Hansel and Gretel. “We should’ve left a path or something. Like the bread.”

“Didn’t the animals eat the bread or something?” I thought about how Grandma used to tell us that she reminded us of Hansel and Gretel. She’d tell us the story when we were little all the time. She always thought we’d get ourselves into trouble like they had. We were inseparable. A packaged deal. I miss that.

“I don’t know,” you said. “I don’t really remember the story.” It made me realize how much time had passed. Grandma hadn’t told us the story in forever. We were getting older, and I feared for the day when growing older would mean growing apart.

I looked down at the ground, the leaves crunching under my feet. I’d only worn sandals, and my feet were beginning to feel blistered and dirty. You lifted a tree branch out of my way and I followed you through until we were in a clearing. Trees surrounded the whole thing, and bright green leaves littered the ground. I never understand what those leaves grew out of. A tree? We walked further, gazing up at the darkening sky. I knew we’d have to go back soon, but I didn’t want to leave this moment behind. The wind blew my fair off my face. I smiled to myself. At least we hadn’t come upon the house of a witch.

“Awesome,” you said breathlessly. The place really was beautiful. It looked straight out of a movie. I walked over and sat down on a tree truck that must’ve fallen over. You sat down next to me. We didn’t say anything. I dug the toe of my shoe into the ground and picked at the decaying bark of the tree with my fingers. I listened to you breathing raggedly beside me. We had been walking for quite a long time.

We stayed like that for awhile. In a comfortable silence. We really were all alone out there. It was the first time I ever really felt solitude. I wasn’t completely alone. You were there. But, for some reason I felt more alone than I ever had. Maybe it was because I could feel us slowly growing apart. Or maybe because I was too lost in my own mind. I didn’t even notice when you were standing above me. “I think I heard something,” you said softly. “We should go.”

I never heard anything, but I trusted you enough to stand up. You began leading us back through the way we came. I kind of wished we had left the bread crumb trail. The fear of getting lost loomed in my mind as I matched your footprints with mine. It seemed like you were older than me, with the way that I always listened to you. I was a year older. Grandma used to tell me that when we were a little younger, I would push you around a lot more. “Come on. Let’s go. You’re too slow. Hurry up.” She told me that I yelled those at you all the time. I don’t remember it. I’d never imagined myself being that assertive. It seemed as though the roles had reversed at that moment.

I didn’t question much if you were going the right way. Nothing looked familiar, but I hadn’t really paid much attention on the way down. My feet sunk into the mud, and the trees seemed to blur together in flashes of green.

When we emerged from the woods the area surrounding it felt so big. Bigger than it had before. It seemed like we had the whole world ahead of us. I stepped onto the green of the golf course and tried to catch my breath. We’d been moving faster than I thought we were. You stood beside me. “Well, that was interesting.” I nodded and smiled. “We should probably get back before they call the cops or something.” The “they” he was referring to were our families. We were up North. We came here every summer for as long as I could remember. Recently, we stopped going. You brought your friends with you now.

I turned and began walking. We made it to the bridge. The old wooden bridge that centers around a lot of my memories of up North. It wasn’t so deteriorated at the time. The trees around it were still green. Cattails still grew in the water underneath. The old boat that was stuck under it was barely visible and most of the boards were still intact.

Nowadays, it’s worse off. The boards are decaying just like the bark on the trees. Underneath, the water has dried up, and the old rowboat is clearly visible, covered in dirt, moss, and mold. When we walked on it the last time, you kept trying to say funny things to make me laugh. But, I couldn’t. Our foundation had changed, just like the bridge had. It deteriorated. I wasn’t as comfortable as I used to be. The silence was awkward. I couldn’t talk. Maybe we’d both grown. Grown older, and grown apart.

I remember the time that I fell off that bridge. It was a funny memory. We’d both known that I shouldn’t have been walking on the edge, but when I fell, you scrambled over to the side and held out your hand. “Are you okay?” you’d said urgently. I was fine, but I felt comforted by your concern. You helped me up, and asked me if I had any broken bones. I laughed and told you that I survived with my body still intact. “Told you you shouldn’t be walking on the ledge,” you said. I smiled and you did too. I miss that happiness. It wasn’t forced like it seems to be now.

I wish I could go back to the night after we explored the woods. We walked side by side on the bridge, me on the ledge like usual. I’d felt much better. We told jokes about our families, and made plans for the next day. If I could go back, I would’ve made sure to not let go of those memories. Those memories of night walks, soaking wet from just swimming in the lake, or sweaty and hot from running around, playing games that nobody else would understand, talking about things we wouldn’t dare talk about with anybody else. We were each other’s rock. I trusted you with my life.

I think about it now. I can’t even remember the last time we talked about anything meaningful. But, in the back of my mind I still see your pudgy, red face smiling at me after you tell a joke. We’ve both changed. We’ve changed just like the place we loved to be every summer has changed. The memories will continue to fade, and I’ll lose track of when the last time I even saw you was. Grandma always said that we were best friends. She always told me you’d be sad if I wasn’t around. She told me about how people will grow apart, and how she’d hoped that would never happen to us. It makes me feel bad that it has. She loved our friendship almost as much I did.

Even though everything is different, I’ll never forget following you through the woods while you picked raspberries for me, because you didn’t like them yourself. I’ll remember the time that we came in second for the sandcastle making contest, because some other kids included fish in theirs. We celebrated our second place finish eating ice cream in the hot tub, complaining about how fish shouldn’t make you the winner of a sandcastle contest. I’ll remember sitting inside on the rainy days, both of us sitting side by side in pajamas, watching old cartoons and the rain droplets chasing each other across the glass on the window. You’d sit by me all day if I’d asked you too. Someday I hope that it’ll be like that again.

For now, I’ll across the room from you and think of the days of Hansel and Gretel, and chase myself through a forest filled with memories of me and you.

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