I caught crickets with the boy you would marry. “I’ll give you a quarter for the Queen,” I offered, and he dispensed the prize insects in glass Coke bottles. My cousins got to keep theirs on the fire escape but aghast at the sight of black crawlies in her home, Mom threw mine down the incinerator chute. I was so mad. T’s breathing had a restless purpose and he contrived guns from wooden clothes pins and soda can tabs. Who knew he would find and love my dear friend someday?
You were in a different class in elementary school but somehow I liked you. I was the bathroom monitor during lunch in fourth grade and we still get a kick out of the way I told the girls in line to get in size order – because you were short.
Even if I’d journaled the way we clutched bellies aching in laughter, how does one record the telepathy that provoked it? I could’ve noted all the times you found me waiting on the stoop of your building after school but the smell of your home, of worn leather couches that invited me to stay? I showed you how to make Jello and bake out of Betty Crocker. You taught me generosity. Whether from sugar or hormones or real profundity, we cried harder than we laughed. The peals of hilarity, tears and confidences – a million signatures of friendship. You saw the dumbest, boldest, smartest things I did and the words that spilled from my pen; were moved by the poem I published in the eighth grade yearbook but asked in high school what the point was to the vignette. We wore honesty like skin and tread a hundred thousand steps between your place and mine, passing apartment buildings that boxed in the sky when we looked up. And you told me to make something of myself. The encouragement, acceptance, breakfast and TV dinner rituals. They are the muscle and fiber of a childhood.
If I erased you from those early pages, I’ll end up with more emptiness than story. We didn’t expect to follow our hopes, heartaches, regrets to two lives on opposite coasts full of joys of family and the tiredness that is our inheritance as Korean moms. I could not have guessed your boy would one day walk the shiny halls into my science lab and think, eyes on the girl by the window, that his parents never felt what he has with such density. We are startled by time because we feel younger than we did when we knew everything at fourteen.