It was spring.
I remember because we had been sitting on a bench in the park, laughing at something you had just said, when your face grew serious.
“What is it?” I had asked worriedly.
“I have news,” you replied. “And you may not like it very much.”
I sat still and listened apprehensively.
“Next year, I’m leaving. Not the town, we’ll still live here, but I’ve decided to go to public school. See what the world is like outside of the homeschooling bubble.”
I felt my heart sink like stone, no that’s not quite right, like an anchor in my chest. I felt it hit rock bottom, bouncing off my diaphragm. I knew it landed there because my breathing had turned kind of weird and fluctuating between deep breaths and hyperventilating.
You had just kept on sitting next to me, hands in your lap, staring ahead.
I was fine with that though, any talking on your part, and I would have fallen into pieces.
Any sort of apology would have seemed fake; I would have either broken down in tears, or lashed out in fury at anything you said.
So we sat in silence.
I watched a little bird flit through the branches of the neighboring oak tree as the wind blew through the newly grown leaves.
A few fluttered to the ground.
The earth was warming up, but my heart was growing cold.
It was summer.
We hung out as normally as we could.
I fluctuated between being incredibly mad at you and never wanting to see your face ever again, to wanting to treasure every last second I was able to spend with you.
We both tried out best to act like it was just another normal summer.
We went to camps and took walks and went swimming and had barbeques and it felt like it would never end. At the same time, it felt as though it was already over.
But we both clung on, knowing it would only get harder.
We were already drifting apart.
It felt like betrayal, but really it was the disreputable fact that I wasn’t good enough for you. That I wasn’t enough to make you stay. I was just not enough for you.
You told me you wished you had waited to tell me, so things could have been normal between us for longer.
I didn’t talk to you for a week.
We made friendship bracelets and lay on fields beneath the stars and sat cross-legged on each other’s beds and we tried to be the best friends we could be.
At least we were still trying.
It was fall.
You walked by my house every morning to hop into that big yellow tube that I call the Snatcher because it stole you from me.
From there you go into the Swindler to join all the other loot that you call your ‘friends.’
Every afternoon you walk by my house again.
When it rained, my heart was torn.
Part of me loved watching you walk the long way home, soaked through, holding your backpack under your jacket so that all of your textbooks didn’t get soaked through.
But another part of me wanted so badly to run out the front door brandishing an umbrella at you and walk the long way home with you.
I wanted to hear about how classes were at the Swindler and how the homework load was. I wanted to tell you what had happened the day before in the Biology class you were supposed to have taken with me that year, how the little model of the lungs had exploded all over.
I wanted to tell you how I had been chosen for a solo for the next violin concert I was doing, and how nervous and excited I was about it.
But I was scared.
There was still a part of me that hated you.
But once nearly all the leaves had fallen off the trees, I gave up and called out to you. I went running down the street with my huge umbrella, and then it wouldn’t open, so we just got soaked through together.
And just like that, I had my friend back.
And I realized how lonely I had been without you.
I had missed you.
But we were friends again, not the friends of the awkward summer, but the friends of the year before that.
I defended your name when someone made fun of you leaving in one of my classes and we helped each other with French homework while cooking Brazilian desserts in your stepdad’s kitchen.
We were inseparable yet again; the differences of school could not beat us!
It was winter.
We were falling apart again.
This time it was natural, two people that don’t hang out as much anymore, one of them in a completely new environment, the horrifying Swindler that is public school.
But we made it unnatural by ourselves.
We held on tightly, held on to that little string of friendship.
Neither of us really wanted to let go.
But that was all that was holding us together.
I missed being friends with you, but we never had anything to talk about. Things got too awkward too quickly if we talked about an activity that the other didn’t do, like classes, or violin, or drama, or marching band. An uncomfortable silence became our trademark, our default.
And what did we talk about if not for those things? As top students, they ruled over our lives. What little spare time we had was spent with uncomfortable silences or excuses to avoid those silences and do whatever we wanted instead.
And yet neither of us would let go.
It was a vain hope, that things might be fixed between us, but a hope nonetheless.
But exams came, and we were both shut in the house more and more.
Snow fell outside our windows, and we watched the other kids go sledding.
Neither of us could.
We had work to do, we said. We had mid-term exams coming up!
Really, we had no one to go with.
We couldn’t go with each other. The awkwardness, in what was once such an easy activity, would be too much to bear for either of us.
And so we just gazed out the window, pointedly not looking at each other’s houses, attempting to study.
It was spring.
You never really notice how much you have missed the colour green until all of the tree’s leaves began to reappear, and suddenly the world seems just a little bit brighter.
You and I used to take walks every spring and hunt for the most exotic flowers. We would present them to each other as though we were presenters in a commercial, trying to sell each other our cheap-obviously-fake products.
I took my walk alone this year. Halfway through I saw a pink blossom I had never seen in our fields before. After a few minutes, I recognized it as a Kalanchoe.
“I wish the little jerkwad was here now…” I muttered under my breath.
Then I waited for you to come along.
You never came.
You showed up a few weeks later, bursting out of the forest as I walked along.
I ignored you for a while.
But soon I looked over and you were looking at me with the face, not of a friend who doesn’t want to hold on anymore, but as a friend that found a stronger piece of rope.
You took a deep breath, and I remember feeling the same apprehensiveness as I had felt last spring.
“I’m… I’m coming back next year. To home schooling. Public school just wasn’t working out for me, you know?”
I didn’t know, not exactly.
But I knew that you had changed while you were away.
That change was a little scary.
The Swindler wasn’t just a thief anymore, it was a bad influence. You were cursing now, and talking about things that I never thought I’d hear you talk about. You had dropped so many good habits, and picked up so many bad ones.
But homeschooling would fix you again, right?
You’d come be and we’d all give you a few days or so, and soon you’d be your normal self again, as though the last year hadn’t happened at all!
False hope is my biggest fault.
I’m so talented at it, that I believe in it.
I believe that falling is the best thing in the world, and that it will just keep on going.
Which makes the landing even worse.
I realized I had been silent for longer than was normal.
But what was normal anymore anyway?
“You okay?” You asked me gently.
I clenched my fists and fought against the oncoming tears.
And this time, I won.
“I’m fine.” I said. “I’m so happy for you. Are you excited?”
Your eyes lit up and you started talking very animatedly.
I leaned back in my chair and just listened.
It was summer.
This summer was better than the last. Instead of holding on to something slipping away because you were leaving, we were trying to rediscover our old dynamic, and maybe even just make a new one, because you were coming back.
Now that I knew you were coming back, and I had hope that you would get better from whatever illness of character public school had given you, I was a smidge impatient.
It was hard. I wanted you back immediately.
But apparently these things take time, and the waiting was so difficult.
The biggest fear I had that summer was that returning to homeschooling wouldn’t fix you. That’s you’d retain all of the bad habits and the good ones were lost forever.
The worst fear was the one that told me you didn’t even want to change, that you liked these new habits, and were happy to be rid of the old ones.
I was so excited for you coming back, but I was torn between wanting it to be fall already, and never wanting fall to come.
If fall comes, and you change back, well then I hoped fall would come as quickly as possible.
But if fall came and all that came with it was the knowledge that you weren’t going to change… I would rather still have summer, where there was a chance of you changing.
So the best thing was to just let fall come at it’s own pace.
It was fall.
Classes started up again, you joined me for our first class of the year, 9am Biology.
You walked in the room a few minutes after me, and I tried my best to make it seem like I wasn’t too excited about you coming back. Happy for you, sure. But not jumping up and down out of my chair excited. No one was allowed to know about that. Especially not you.
But as you walked in, I hear the other people at my table whisper “Look at that. The betrayer returns,” and I realized that you wouldn’t be getting the welcome either of us had anticipated.
And so you dealt with a day or two of good, healthy, get-it-out-of-your-system resentment.
After all that had cooled down, all you saw was excitement.
Once they got over you leaving, everyone was delighted to have you back. None of us would admit it, but we had noticed your absence, and we had missed you.
But you were back, so you would never know.
And I guess we’re gonna see how you change this year.