Harris to Barry to Reardon and back to Harris. Sunrise to sunset. My childhood kingdom. There were three of us; Nathan, Ava, and I.
Nathan was the oldest--two years older than Ava, so three years older than me. He had these round glasses that made his face look like a pancake. We always teased him for that. Even so, he was older, and he knew a lot more stuff than we did. Once he showed us how to light a leaf on fire with a magnifying glass. Wow.
I hadn’t seen Nathan in years, but then, a few weeks ago, I saw him in the corner store. I didn’t know it was him at first. And then all in an instant I realized. But too late. When I turned around, he was out the door with a brown bag in hand.
Ava. Ava had the best laugh, one of those laughs that rushes from rooms and greets you before you enter. And the biggest smile.
I still see her. She remains one of my closest friends, but I don’t see that smile as often as I used to. I sometimes see it when she asks my opinion of what photo she should post on Instagram. In the pictures, she is smiling her big, beautiful smile, but as she scrolls through them, she silently judges; her perfectly applied makeup isn’t good enough, the gap between her teeth is too big, her hair isn’t straight enough. The smile she smiles in the pictures vanishes from her face as she points out each flaw.
Me. I was the klutz. I don’t think I saw myself like this then, but, looking back, I was definitely the klutz. I loved adventure. The numerous battle scars covering my legs attested to just that; scrapes from sliding after missed soccer balls, cuts from not jumping high enough over fences, bruises from not being able to catch baseballs, etc. I was in daily need of bandages and ice packs. Luckily for me, the infirmaries of our kingdom were never too far away.
Between the three of us, we did quite the number on those streets. We played tag during the day, manhunt at night, and whatever games we made up in between. But as much as we loved running around those streets, some days were just too hot to move. Those days were spent talking on porch steps.
Porches. The places where I began to lose my childhood innocence. So the world isn’t all about ice cream and puppies. It’s also about divorce, financial problems, abusive home situations, body image struggles, eating disorders, substance abuse. I didn’t name these problems like this then. Then, these things didn’t have a name. I just knew there were things making my friends sad and that made me sad. Now I can attach names to their hurts, and more fully understand what they were going through. But that doesn’t take away from the true essence of what I realized when I was younger: the saddest thing in life is to watch the people you love suffer.
I remember this one time. We were sitting on Nathan’s porch, talking and laughing. His dad came out of the house with the recycling bin. It was trash day. The bin was full of those blue cans- the ones I wasn’t allowed to touch, the ones I still can’t touch, the ones that my mom liked to drink when we had pizza, the ones the register person at the corner store would put it in small brown bags to take home. My mom only drank one every few weeks, but there were a lot of them in the bin at Nathan’s house that day. I wondered how many brown bags his dad must have needed. Thirty? As his dad walked back into the house, I looked over at Nathan, and he had that face, the one people get when they are about to cry. I had never seen him cry, and I didn’t want to either. I got up as quickly as I could and ran across the street into my house. I grabbed the box of popsicles out of the fridge and ran back, not even pausing to look both ways. What I didn’t realize was the trash truck was turning around the corner. Luckily, before my foot hit the street, my shoelace got caught under my shoe, and I fell on the bumpy cement of my driveway. Safe. As I got up, the truck past, I collected the box, ran across the street and made my way to the porch steps. As I was trying to hold back the tears from my pavement burn, I watched the popsicle stop Nathan’s tears, at least for a little while.
I remember another time. We were walking around the block. It was one of those hot days where barefeet on pavement burn like stepping on black lava. That day we weren’t barefoot though. My mom always made sure I wore shoes after the time I snuck out without them and stepped on a piece of glass. On this day, the day the ground turned to black lava, we were walking to Ava’s porch, the sun beating on our backs. A car full of teenage boys sped by. They were making noises. It sounded like they were trying to imitate their car. “Hoink. Hoink. Hoink.” Their car slowed right down as they passed us, but seconds later sped up the street. I didn’t think much of it, but Ava seemed distracted and shrunk inside herself for the rest of the afternoon. When she caught her reflection in glass doorways, she would stop and stare and tug at her clothes. I missed her laughing and smiling and wished she’d come back. I kept trying to tell her jokes, but she didn’t seem to think I was funny anymore. Finally, at the end of the day, I managed to catch my shirt on the gate. That made her laugh. At least for a moment. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the gate scraped my stomach and gave me a wicked bruise for the next couple of days.
I am eighteen now. I’ve not managed to outgrow my knack for being a klutz and have a box of band-aids ever at the ready. But looking back I see that the klutz is the lucky one. While I was in constant need of band-aids for scraped knees and the like, my friends were in need of a different type of band-aid. I tried to cover their hurts with goofy jokes and smiles and encouragement, but some scrapes and bruises go too deep. The band-aid of a good laugh can only do so much. Someone told me not to underestimate the healing power of a smile, a joke, the memory of a timely popsicle. I hope they’re right.