|Me, the year I kissed my first boy, and my sister.|
At my 20 year high school reunion, I heard the same news everyone always hears, that some of the classmates who were absent, were not able to be there because they had passed away. One of the deaths was a shock. He was one of my oldest friends, a childhood playmate. It hurt. It hurt to find out how he died.
Some people were surprised to discover the depth of my hurt. I get it. We stopped really socializing in the tidal influx of new students in Middle School and in High School, no one would have known we ever knew each other. We didn’t speak until the last semester of senior year, when we worked on the senior show together.
We had a moment.
It was always weird before then. When I got to high school I was trying to reinvent myself, to start over emotionally, in a sea of people who didn’t know my early struggles, who didn’t know my secrets. But he knew mine and I knew his. And it was weird.
He lived at the end of my block and we knew each other best when we were still learning who we were, still basking in the promise that we could be anything, anyone. That meant a lot to both of us. I knew a boy who was quick and creative, who was cleverly inventive. We would figure out what we wanted to play and he would figure out how, as if he had mapped the landscape of our neighborhood in his head.
We reenacted Star Wars often. I was Leia and T.J. was Han, because he had dark hair, and another boy, Derek, was Luke, because he had blond hair. We were crafty five year olds, using the back of a garage as a detention center and the secret room beneath a tree fort as a trash compactor. We didn’t know the whole story yet, but we made up our own versions.
He was clever and bright and thoughtful, and once he knew you, he was a good-natured trickster. He was also a boy who liked to do things for shock value, or because he had already deemed them to be another way to get it done, even if it wasn’t the same way everyone else was doing it. Or because he was owning something that was hard for him, before anyone could make fun of him for it. Little kids can be little bastards sometimes.
I know what his home life was like. I was there. He was sometimes in a dark mood, even when we were small, and it always seemed to come from somewhere outside of our wild pack of children running around. But even when he was upset, he was never mean to me. That matters.
In middle school, I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been instead of where I said I was going to be. And so was he. Our paths crossed and we acknowledged each other with surprise. See. in a crazy way, we grew up a family of about two dozen kids on our block. Even though we weren’t friends, we were cousins of a kind. He always kept my secret and I kept his.
We didn’t speak again until the last semester of senior year. I was performing in the Senior Play and he was working stage crew and tech for it. We were on a short break.
“Why did we stop being friends?” he asked me backstage. I shrugged.
“We knew too much about each other. It was awkward.” He nodded thoughtfully. I could see the little boy in his face. Sometimes for me, the time and distance falls away so easily, and I squeezed his hand conspiratoriously. “We had a good run, playing at war in the summer time. We had fun.”
He laughed. “You were really good at rescuing prisoners from the fort,” he remembered.
“I never got caught.”
He said he got involved in the play because he wanted to be part of something fun before he graduated. He said he understood why I liked it, that it was good people. And, as was usual with him, the weight of what he didn’t say, the weight of what we knew about each other spoke volumes.
The last time we saw each other, I was walking my parent’s dog home on break. He waved and smiled at me, walking over to catch up for a moment. Leather, my parent’s dog, loved him. He was always good with animals, especially frightened ones. It wasn’t something he lost when his eyes flashed dark, so many thoughts fighting for dominance. The last thing I saw was him smiling, the boy I used to know flashing across that smile.
He’s the first boy I remember kissing. We were five years old and he was my first boyfriend. But I hadn’t seen Return of the Jedi yet. In my version of Star Wars, Leia dumped Han for Luke, and Derek became boyfriend #2. We were still five.
I hope you are at peace. I hope you are getting to do all of the exploring you always wanted to do. It’s a vast system of worlds. Happy hunting, TJ.