The first time I met you, I didn’t know how deeply I would love you, and I couldn’t have known, because we were only children. Yet in hindsight, those moments I spent with you were the only times in my life when I basked in the purity of love—the action of having hearts melt into minds, an entanglement of emotions and movements, without any expectations. It was carefree and freely given. But was it romantic? To me, it was beautifully so; to him…I couldn’t guess. We met in a third-grade classroom, where children ran around during recess, and all anyone could see were screaming, bright, baby-fat-faces dashing madly about. I was one of those bright and chubby faces, but…
I draw in another breath and scream, I scream from the eternal sorrow at having to be confined forever in a sea of unfamiliar faces when there are so many more important things to do; in short, I hate school, and I hate moving. Losing my father, leaving my friends, and coming to a shabby-excuse-for-a-town-in-the-middle-of-nowhere would drive anyone crazy. Nothing can console my grief, and the teachers only wanly try to get me to shut-up. I feel no sympathy for their tired, restless eyes that only waited for the end of the day; they only make a show of teaching—in actuality I have learned nothing from the two weeks of school I have attended. Perhaps they are bored of this institution too, and look to me for entertainment, because they do nothing as my sobs morph into contracted breaths of hyperventilation.
In the midst of stubbornly losing all air in my lungs and growing dizzy and faint, a tap on the shoulder jolts me out of my self-gratifying stupor. I whip my head around to see who the finger belongs to, and to my surprise, it is not another pale, lackluster teacher’s face, but a boy’s face of my own age, peering at me with concern. Through my blurry, red-eyed vision, I could make out a jovial smile, and clear, dark-chocolate eyes.
“There, there,” he says softly, while patting my head in short, gentle strokes. I can only hiccup in response as my breathing slows, but somehow, I feel pleased when he laughs. It’s a quiet laugh that encompasses his whole being, tenderly shaking him for a moment with happiness. And that happiness gives him a glow that radiates outward, enveloping those around him with singular, inexplicable warmth. By this time, the tears that had so casually streamed down my face, stop dead in their tracks, and as I continue hiccupping, I try my best to imitate his incredible smile. I suppose my smile came out as a grotesque rendering, much like a novice artist trying to achieve Van Gogh’s vision, because he frowns momentarily; I frown automatically too, because the warmth vanishes and I long to draw it back out; my hand twitches, but I try to sit still, hoping he will bestow that radiance upon me again. And he does as he asks, “Do you want to play a game?”
He reaches out and pokes my arm, sticks his tongue out, and whispers, “Tag, you’re it!” He runs off, pauses, and turns back to make sure I follow; I can’t resist his contagious smile, so I stand and run after him. For the first time in months, I manage to genuinely smile. That one phrase changed it all—at that moment, I felt that we could be friends.
And we are. He calls me Kitty, and pats my head often, which suits me just fine, despite my dislike for nicknames given to me. His name is William, but I call him Billy—somewhat out of revenge, mostly out of endearment—and he is the exception, the only force capable of stopping my tears as my mother leaves me at school each morning. He is the only one I can rely on without fear or hesitation; I tell Billy of events in my past life—before I moved here—and he listens quietly, offering consolation where necessary, or just remaining silent. We freely roam the school-yard, but we usually don’t play like other kids; we prefer sitting and talking. It startles me how mature he seems to be, and I often wonder how such an adult-like figure can reside in a child’s body for so long. I’m often afraid he will decide to leave that body, and I’ll never see him again.
It seemed like a silly fear then, but how would I know how short-lived our relationship would be? As fall blew away with the brown leaves into the snowy wonderland of winter, and winter melted into the dewy grasses of luscious spring sunshine, school was about to end, and we would all be freed into the carelessly scorching sun that meant our dreary days of multiplication tables, mindless and repetitive reading passages, and blurry history and science lessons would be over. But with it came the farewell owed from every friend to another. Ours was simple and sweet. A hug and the word “goodbye” were exchanged, and we parted without pomp and circumstance. Mostly this lack of extravagance was due to the false notion that we would once again meet just as the leaves would take on their golden hues outside the windows of our classroom. Nobody corrected us, because nobody knew, and that might have been for the better, because the unconscious thought made the sweltering summer heat all the more tolerable.
The blurred heat-wave-memories of summer fade into the long-forgotten and locked-away recesses of my mind, and fall arrives just as planned. But not quite how I planned, because Billy is nowhere in sight. I wonder and wonder, imagining the terrible things that could have happened. Maybe he died, maybe he was swallowed by a monster, maybe he fell sick, or maybe he just fell and could not make the distance to class, or maybe—worst of all—he had forgotten me. I cannot stand the curiosity and worry that overcomes my poor, small frame, so I swiftly send out a search party of one. I look in every crevice, even the one physically impossible for even the most flexible contortionist to fit into, but all the same, I check anyway out of a delirious hope for an improbability. When he is nowhere to be found, I sit and sniffle, refusing to cry, because he told me how unbecoming it was to cry at everything; I just sit and hold onto an intense hope for his return. But I never saw Billy again for the rest of my elementary school days…