From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

For Claire

We giggled like the children we were as we balanced on the ledge of the girls’ bathroom and dangled our fingers out of the open window, trying to catch the snowflakes. We were supposed to be in class, but the teacher had left the room, and we’d run away for a moment to get a better view of the whitening world outside. Minutes later, we ran out of the bathroom and right into the principal. He’d seen our arms flailing around from his office in the building across the playground.

Wiping the snow from our freezing hands onto our navy blue V-neck sweaters, we were marched back into our classroom and reprimanded loudly in front of everybody. I twiddled my pigtails around my trembling fingers. You glanced at me nervously with beet-red cheeks. That’s the day we became friends.

I’ll always remember how we crashed that go-cart into your horrible neighbor’s fence. How we stood there as the paint chipped off and the white post fell broken and twisted into the garden. How each of us waited for the other to laugh first as we ran away, each of us shocked at the discovery of a conscience, at the realization that what we’d done wasn’t funny, it was just wrong. We hid in your bedroom behind blankets that hung from the top bunk, waiting for the inevitable ring of the doorbell—as long as we were invisible, we were untouchable. Your neighbor was angry. We wished we were cooler kids who didn’t care.

That same summer we stole a basket from a farmer’s field. We didn’t even need it for the miniscule amount of blackberries that grew along the roadside—we only wanted it because it wasn’t ours. The farmer caught us and shouted and screamed as we snickered shamelessly behind our hands. By then, we were far too cool to care.

We found a ripped-up page from an adult magazine scattered in a hedge and put the pieces back together with sticky tape. It was a male sailor in a compromising position, probably thrown out of the window of a passing truck. We’d never seen anything like it, but we both said we had. We took The Joy of Sex from the bookshelf and hid it behind a book of cartoons so that when your brothers came in the room where we sat, we wouldn’t look as naughty as we felt.

We had an argument once about some yogurt. You had two left in your fridge. One was banana and one was blackberry, and you asked me which I’d prefer. Of course, I wanted the blackberry—who likes banana? But you wanted it, too. I said you should have it. You told me not to be stupid. I said, don’t call me stupid, I don’t even like blackberry. You called me a liar. We didn’t speak for two days.

I had my first kiss before you did, and when I told you, you burnt the rice pudding you were cooking on purpose. We were supposed to have our first kisses on the same night at the school dance, with boys who were best friends, too, so we could be couples that double-dated. You had a real boyfriend before me. I always wished we still lived in the same town, so we could double-date. And I could burn your dessert like I said I would.

You rescued me from my first job at a fish shop for which I was getting paid so little. You asked your parents if I could be a waitress at their hotel. I learned to serve potatoes with fancy silverware and lock people in the refrigerator for kicks.

We used to have gymnastic lessons in the sports center every Saturday before we went swimming. We thought it was cool to wear bikinis to the local pool, even though it was full of granddads and mothers with babies. At the pool you showed me how to do a backward flip into the deep end and wouldn’t give up on me until I did it. I felt so proud of myself. Once I showed some people I had never met my new talent. The force of the water pulled my bikini bottoms down to my feet, and I still go red when I think about it.

You taught me how to ride a horse. I was always scared of them, but because you were my best friend, I followed you to the riding school every weekend and watched from the fence. You always looked so calm and controlled. Eventually you got your own pony. He was really tiny and always smelled like poop. You taught me how to trot. I was really bad and always afraid, but I grew to love that smelly pony almost as much as you did.

A few months ago I wrote you a letter with some of these memories and all my gossip on four long pages. I sent a photo of me smiling and wrote a big “Hello” on the bottom in black Sharpie. I realized that too much time had passed between us. I really hope you read it. We went our separate ways in our quests to conquer the world. Life got in the way. But everything we did, in ways both big and small, led to this very moment. It’s so easy to forget why we do what we do, or why we are where we are. I never want to forget.

You never wrote back.

Today I heard you’d died, and I went shopping. I don’t know why I had to go shopping. I left what I was doing and went straight into Herald Square, lost myself in the clothes racks, emptied my brain of meaningful thoughts and filled it with passing snippets of other people’s mindless conversation. “How’s your dog?” “Do you want chicken for dinner?” “No, Tommy, you can’t have an ice cream!” It all seemed so trivial. Everything they said seemed invalid. Didn’t they know the world was different now?

Back in school we had a friend who died. She was fourteen. We took flowers to the scene of her car crash and remembered her smile. We never understood how God could have taken her away, but maybe now she can tell you. And you can tell me one day why you had to go, too.

Claire, I hope you’re as happy now as you are in my memories, laughing and smiling and chasing your dreams. I’ll remember you whenever I jump into a swimming pool at the deep end, whenever I see a kid ride a go-cart, and whenever I stick my hands out of a window to touch the falling snow.

Rebecca Wicks

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