Joseph was my best friend and I was his. We had fun together and that was probably why. We stuck together. Every year Toronto French would rip us out of our pot and plant us with new seeds, but Jo and me always grew in the same crop. It was beautiful luck and we didn’t think much of it. I read him in a way others didn’t want to. People would glance at his cover, sometimes read the blur, but they wouldn’t get in skin-deep, sitting up in bed reading his chapters until 4am and then just stare at the ceiling with a feeling of emptiness and satiety at the same time. You know, that feeling you get when you know you should feel something – something meaningful – but it’s just so much it’s nothing and everything at the same time. That’s the story I like remembering.
I don’t remember him coming to my house, but I know he must have. There are pictures and everything, so he must have come over. I remember going to his house a lot. His house had two floors – each floor had something to appreciate. You walked into the first floor and there was the stairs. Never straight in front of you though, because Joseph or Naomi or his brother Gabe would always welcome you so the staircase would be behind them. To the left was his parents’ office. I never really went in, but it always had this stuffy congested feeling that made you turn right. To the right were the living room and the kitchen and the dining room all mashed up in one same space. Beyond that, if you kept straight, was the garden. You could see it through the glass doors; green and glowing in the summer, white like just another wall in the winter.
The second floor had more personality. It was forced to: they lived there and woke up there and each morning, their stories started there. Personality was one of the responsibilities of being a second floor. You walked up the stairs and were at the heart of it. No more sock surfing on waxed wood, sonny – you had a carpet under your feet. Leaning on the railing was the couch. Beside the couch was a bookcase. It had board games and very likely, books, but I didn’t pay much attention to those: the Hasbro Operation game Simpsons Edition was all I ever saw there. Jo didn’t watch the Simpsons though. His parents didn’t let him watch more than Treehouse TV, a channel that I adored, but I have always been a Simpson fanatic. It’s an Argentine thing. Parallel to the couch and the Hasbro Operation game Simpsons Edition pedestal was a computer with a desk underneath it. We used it to make our Codename: Kids Next Door ID’s and creates our own Ben 10 aliens on Cartoon Network’s website. Cartoon Network used to have good games, my favorite was Big Fat Awesome House Party, but now they’re mostly all the same. That’s how I like to remember it.
Of course, there was his room on the second floor. That was the panache I talked about earlier. You start living, but I mean really living and you can’t help to give the world a taste of yourself. You walked into Jo’s room and you walked into the world of a guy fascinated with life beyond Earth and Lego and sometimes even life beyond Earth modeled with Lego sets. Off his ceiling hung the planets and each lump of furniture was the base for some Lego construction site. He lived here and woke up here and each morning, his story started here.
This is a story I told my best friend from Argentina before writing it:
maky: so Jo and me wanted to grab a video game from the top of the bookcase, right?
and I was like
bugallo: important thing first:
bugallo: duh, I know
maky: umm dunno
some Mario game
bugallo: which console?
maky: can’t remember
maky: probably game cube
bugallo: you are missing the important details!
maky: cause that was what all the cool cats had
So we were trying to grab some Mario game for probably the Game Cube – because that was the console all the cool cats had – from the top of the bookcase. At the moment, Gabe was at a friend’s house, his dad wasn’t there which meant he was most likely at work and Jo’s sister whose name I never recall but was Maddy according to my mom was at a place I don’t remember. His mom, Naomi, was down at the kitchen reading a book. Us? We were at the heart of the second floor, the place where all of Jo’s stories started. This one started with boredom, a bookcase and a riddle. Okay, so it didn’t start with a riddle, but wouldn’t that have been awesome?
These were times when we were so innocent we didn’t even Google answers. Instead, the bookcase was the Wikipedia of games.
“What about Operation?” I asked with high hopes.
“We played that last time.”
Then he looked at me and suggested we open an old Lego set.
“We play that every time.”
We scanned the bookcase up and down. We skipped the books and the Legos and we weren’t left with much. There was a cute book holder with the shape of a blonde bear. The bear had overalls on with one of the shoulder straps loose and was holding three books: one red, the other green and the last blue. Those books I did pay attention to. Highlights were painted onto it and even though it was made out of ceramics, you could feel the spaces between the patches of fur if you pressed your finger against it.
Then Jo saw it. I knew he did. I heard he did and I saw he did. He pointed at it and breathed in through his mouth. His eyes were wide open and his nostrils were flared and his chest rose. It was graceful.
“Some Mario game!” he exclaimed.
It was up high on the top of the bookcase and we were down low at the bottom of the bookcase. Joseph elevated himself on his tiptoes and stretched his arm as if he were about to tickle the sky. Close, but no cigar. Realizing he wouldn’t reach, his body dropped onto his heels and made a heavy bounce.
It was my turn to give it a shot. I could have climbed a chair. I probably should have climbed a chair. But I didn’t, of course. I put one foot on the second to bottom shelf and my hand on another. I felt the dust stick under my fingers. I began to climb. I would get that Mario videogame and we would play it and we would not be bored. I would be a hero. I would tickle the sky and we would hear it laugh. I would feel the dust stick under my fingers and I’d brush it off on my jeans. That’s what I would do. That’s what I would remember.
Then the bookcase fell forward. I didn’t hit my head. I must have hit my back, but I didn’t really feel it. The bookcase fell on top of me, so I must have. I don’t remember pain. I remember panic. I remember heat. I crawled out from under the bookcase and looked at Joseph. I felt the heat. It was in my head and my hands and sizzling in my ears. We dropped the bookcase. It was a big large bookcase. It had been so organized. It had had a cute book holder with the shape of a blonde bear. It had been made out of ceramic. What if it had broke? We should have climbed a chair. We didn’t. Well, I didn’t. It was like dropping a cupcake with icing on the floor with the icing side facing down. It was that bad and worse. What would we tell his mom?
I was panicking but Jo was cool. Both of us forgot about how I could have died or hurt myself badly. That was in the past. The bookcase on the floor was in the present. We weren’t bored anymore. I looked at Jo again. His poise was as chill as a Toronto morning. He knew what to do. I knew he did. I hoped he did.
“We should leave her a message.”
He really meant it. We would pick up the red telephone on the desk where the computer was, call his house and leave a message for his mom. We would explain what happened and the problem would be solved. Presto! The idea was smart and easy nice, cowardly and appealing. We did it. Joseph picked up the phone, dialed his number and left a message. He said we were having a teeny tiny problem upstairs. I couldn’t believe it. I felt a combination of shock and awe. We could get away with it. I wasn’t thinking or feeling, I just accepted it and was glad that Jo had a chapter for me.
We slowly sneaked down the stairs, walking on hands and feet. We stuck our heads through a pair of balusters and peaked at Naomi. She was reading. Her smile was a graceful curve. She hadn’t heard the message. We had time.
I left that day before I knew the final verdict of our accident. I was happy I left unknowing. I was even happier that when I returned, I remained unknowing. I didn’t ask questions but when we went off to play Big Fat Awesome House Party, the blonde bear was okay.
Joseph was smart. He was good at math and a keener reader than I have ever been, but it was more than that. His reaction to the mess we made always makes me chuckle, mostly because it was unexpected. Perhaps it wasn’t the wisest measure to take, but you can’t expect two little kids to be wise yet. Jo was smart in a special way that I don’t think others would catch on quickly about. The way he stayed cool, how he took control and he provided a solution, it was all so elegant.
Joseph was my best friend and I was his. I read him in a way others didn’t want to, and that was probably why. I’d read his chapters until 4am and then just stare at the ceiling with a feeling of emptiness and satiety at the same time. You know, that feeling you get when you know you should feel something – something meaningful – but it’s just so much it’s nothing and everything at the same time. Jo liked being understood. We all do. We had fun together and we stuck together. When I went back to his house after the incident, I remained unknowing of the facts after the matter because our friendship was more important than a blonde bear to his parents. Every year Toronto French would rip us out of our pot and plant us with new seeds but Jo and me always grew in the same crop. Magical, wasn’t it? It was more than beautiful luck; it was a mother who wanted to see her child happy more often. It was a mother who went to request an exception. Beautiful luck may exist somewhere over the rainbow, but for those still in search of a pot of gold, I recommend you make your own.
How long has it been since I have used crayons? Too long. It was a fine morning at Toronto French School and I was coloring a dog. I was lying down on my belly and my shins were dancing in the air. I was coloring it orange. Jo came up to me then.
“Will you be my printing buddy?”
This was a common thing at my school – printing buddies. They wouldn’t want us wandering off alone to God knows where that printer was, so we would take a buddy with us and that made it all better. And all more fun. It was an adventure and an excuse to stop practicing your calligraphy.
We left the classroom and began to hike our route. To be honest, I don’t remember the exact pathway. I don’t even remember reaching the printer. I do remember however getting very lost and quite giddy about it. It was a mystery, a sheet of paper in distress, and a good printer gone evil, two friends who would save the sheet of paper from that goon. Our quest must have lasted over twenty minutes -- like a TV sitcom! We said hello to the friendly peasants on our way and asked for directions. We totally saved the sheet of paper from the printer like PROS.
When we got back to the classroom, the teacher wasn’t there. Unfortunate. I didn’t know where to put my orange dog. Everyone was bewildered to see me, but didn’t make much of it. They told me the teacher was looking for me. They told me she didn’t know where I was.
“Didn’t you ask the teacher if we could go print first?” I whispered to Jo.
“I thought you did.”
Great. Oh great. The teacher was looking for me. When she found out we forgot to tell her I’d gone with Jo she’d be so mad… What was I going to do? I could only wait and see what would be of me. So I colored. It didn’t take long though. Minutes later, she rushed into the classroom; eyes open, breathing heavy and twitchy. She saw me. Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no, no. My time had come.
It wasn’t an angry “Makena!”, it was a relieved “Makena!” like “Makena, it’s so good to see you, have some ice-cream” sort of “Makena!”. She suddenly loosened up like a balloon that just got popped. She said she had been looking for me. I said I was sorry, that I had been Jo’s printing-buddy, that I thought he had told her. I said it fast and all together throwing it out there before she could say anything else. She didn’t seem to care much. She was in this lax state of relief. She didn’t say much more. I was too scared to ask where to put the orange dog, so I just put it in my cubby.
What I didn’t realize then is that whenever I was obsessing over having done something wrong, the important thing was actually that I was okay. That I was not utterly crushed by a bookcase. That I had not gone missing. Over the years, my parents have taught me that I can come to them with any problem, none too big, and none too small. I might have screwed up, I might have done something horrible (which is never as horrible as I think it is, or as they put it, “human”) or I might have made a really stupid mistake and they will still love me. They will help me and they will continue loving me. They really will and they constantly prove it. It’s always easier to let them help me than hiding my lead-like dilemmas, heavy-feeling but quite small in reality.
It was recess. They’d always make us go outside during recess. Outside was cold. If you got to school early, you couldn’t go in. You had to play outside. But if you got to school late, well then, I don’t really know. I wasn’t late. I was cold and playing outside. I was on the green playground that was beside the soccer field, unlike the red one that was by the basketball hoops. The green one was smaller than the red one. It had monkey bars, but I didn’t climb them. I didn’t think I could. Whenever I held on to a bar was when gravity missed me the most and asked me to stay on the ground. I was scared that if I let one arm to reach out to the next bar, gravity would get me, so I stuck to moving on my feet. The playground had a corkscrew ladder that I was afraid of going down through. I thought I would fall and that if I fell, it would hurt. Vincent always told me I was being childish. Little did he know I was a child. There was a slide too; it covered all three-sixty degrees around you, that way you could slide even when it was snowing.
I was crouching at the top of the green playground with Jo. We weren’t using the monkey bars or the corkscrew ladder or the slide or nothing. We were using our voice. I was using it soft and low, I was whispering, you see. Whispering a secret. I leaned in to speak to Jo which was kind of hard because I was crouching. It had just rained or snowed, either or, the green playground was wet and I didn’t want to sit on it. It was cold after all.
During class, I had told him to meet me at the green playground during recess. I was excited. Big news, I told him, big news. What news? he would demand and I’d tell him to wait for recess. There we were at the top of the green playground, him sitting and me crouching, with the chitter chatter of recess as a soundtrack to it all. I was about to play my symphony. I leaned in. Twice I made him promise not to tell anyone and then, finally, I spit it out.
“You’re moving to Argentina?” he asked.
“Moving back to Argentina.”
I finished my song and when I did, the chitter chatter grew louder and the cold began to hum. I reminded him not to tell anyone. He said he wouldn’t for the fifth time.
He promised for the sixth. It was cold outside, but I could feel the heat of Argentina budding inside me.
The Argentinian heat was no budding flower: it was a tropical jungle. When my family and I got to the airport, my grandma had rented a school bus to take us home. That trip in the bus was the hottest heat I have ever felt. I’m not sure if it was because I had just been playing in the cold for the last forever of my life or because the sun kept illuminating my window, but I was sure I was melting. Upstairs in our apartment, there were toys all over the place, an unfinished drawing of an orange dog on a red-and-yellow-and-blue plastic table and my bed was tidy. I’m sure my parents had made it before we left for Canada. I didn’t recognize any of these things, but in less than a week, I made them all mine again. It was as if they were just waiting for me inanimately and when I came back half a decade later, they just turned on again.
Joseph didn’t get it. This was an adventure! Stop looking at me like that; it’s just like the printing incident – an adventure, I told him. I was so excited I didn’t realize he was not. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get that this was where our stories parted; that I wouldn’t see him as often as I did then. I didn’t get that when I came back, Toronto wouldn’t be waiting for me lifelessly until I returned. I didn’t get that things change, but the fact eventually caught up with me.
I visited him often. The last time I visited, not long ago, when our Skype calls had become truncated, things had changed. Others hadn’t. He was taller, his features, more distinct and his voice, lower. He looked different from what I remembered or what I liked to remember, but he also looked the same. He had changed schools. His room was less showing. No more space theme. His Lego sets were put away. I walked into Jo’s room and I walked into the world of a guy I didn’t know. I knew the panache was hidden somewhere: in a notebook, a pocket or maybe even himself. I was glad that the new talisman he carried around was his personality, even though he was too shy to show it to me. He tried to teach me how to play on Minecraft and later we played some videogame from some new console because that was the console all the cool cats had. It was an awkward afternoon.
When I walked into his house that day, Naomi, Jo and Maddy greeted me. I could see he was nervous. He stayed afar and was fidgeting with a pencil. What surprised me the most was how Maddy greeted me. As soon as the door swung open, she hugged me. Her smile glowed. She told me she had missed me. I didn’t know I had made such an impact on her, or any impact on her for the matter. The experience made an impact on me. It was the kind of speechless impact that leaves a feeling of emptiness and satiety at the same time.
Before I left that afternoon, they told me they were moving houses. It was closer to the new school.
Things changed. Others stayed the same. I thought I should have felt sad when Jo changed schools or was moving, but all I felt was empty. Life moves on, I guess, I told myself. It would be unfair to be mad at him for living just because his adventures don’t involve me. After all, he didn’t do that when I left. Even though we rarely speak and see each other, he is still my best friend. I will always remember the card he sent me for Valentines Day the year after I moved. It said that a friend is someone who makes you smile when they aren’t even there. He had translated the sentence into some sort of secret hieroglyphics of a language he invented. Still today, I cannot find a better definition for a friend or a better example than Joseph.