Letter to K
I heard that you died today. I was at work when I heard the news, and I could feel my heart slide all the way from my chest down through my stomach and my legs onto the floor of my cubicle.
I do not know the 33-year-old woman you were yesterday. I do not know how you spent your day, who you thought about, what you wished for. When I think of you, you are 13—forever stuck in my brain in those uncomfortable, awkward teenage years with Juliette and me.
At your house, we used to go down to the basement in our ballet slippers. I remember watching you practice fouette turns. Your shoulders pulled back with an easy grace; your face so pretty in concentration. I hoped talent like yours would come naturally to me but you realized long before I did that it came from work and discipline. Dancing or not, you walked with your toes turned out. You often wished you had a traditional dancer’s body. Even with your curves, you were still the best dancer in the class.
We used to dance upstairs in your bedroom, too. This time we cranked up the punk music loud and tried to keep up with the tempo. We mimicked the moves from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special and crashed to the floor laughing. On the pink walls, the tattooed musicians in the pictures on the walls stared us down. A bundle of old pointe shoes hung at the edge of the bed.
Waiting at the bus stop on McNab Ave. You walked down the hill in your blue and white cheerleading uniform. I wished I had one, too. Arms formed a circle around a trapper keeper. Snapping gum. Small hands with perfectly filed nails. You filled out your homework on the bus in your ugly handwriting. All capital letters scrawled in pencil.
You wore a bracelet and ring attached by a chain. It was called a slave bracelet. With a name like that, it seemed like a very bad thing, especially yours with the skull. Juliette got one, but I never wanted to wear one. You ate open-faced turkey sandwiches at lunch every day, your fingers pressing down on the bare lettuce leaf and sliced tomato, a silver ring for every finger on display.
Car trips to the Jersey shore. Your mom, her sweet sugary voice, behind the wheel. Chirpy in his cage strapped in with a seatbelt in the front seat. You and me in the back. You always sought out the longhaired boys on the boardwalk. They were older. Misfits with cute faces. They never paid attention to us. You expressed disappointment; I secretly relieved. Back in Cedar Knolls, we headed to Alwick Records in the Morris County Mall and talked to the sales clerk. We called him Chris Alwick. What was his real name? He wore long hair, too. One time you were so nervous around him you dashed out of the store clutching a poster you didn’t pay for.
You explained to me the meaning of selling out. Green Day sold out. This was upsetting to you. I didn’t understand. If they were your favorite band, then what did it matter that everyone else liked them too? It mattered to you. We watched MTV in the room with the cushy sofas and brown fold-up tray tables. You used to tape heavy metal rock videos. Juliette and I borrowed the tapes and never gave them back. We didn’t have cable at home.
You would always be the first to point out how beautiful, smart and talented I was, but you never believed it for yourself. You were wrong. I saw you. I knew you. I was sick of arguing.
Where were you in high school? I am not sure. The hair got more colorful, the skin whiter, the eyeliner blacker, the tights holier, the mood darker. You were obsessed with Marilyn Manson. You would drive to the city to see shows and meet up with people I didn’t know. Didn’t you crash your car in Hoboken? That sounded scary, so not cool. Your wild stories bewildered me. Another tattoo? I was working toward straight A’s, discovering the Beatles, acting on stage, pining for a boy to pay attention to me. I didn’t want to sneak around and smoke cigarettes with you and Juliette. Could we have another dance party at your house instead? Just like we used to? I snapped a picture of you and Austin Scarlett going to the prom. You wore dark sunglasses and a black feather boa. I can’t remember anything we did together. Did we do anything together anymore? When did it stop? A blank.
You called me once in college. Freshman year. You got my number from my mom. I was so unhappy. I didn’t want to talk, and let you discover that college sucked. That I sucked. You seemed annoyed that I dropped off the face of the earth. I am sorry. I didn’t know what to say. I said good-bye, and I never heard your voice again.
Many years later, you found me on Facebook, and I was thrilled to see you looking so good, so sexy, so full, like you had grown comfortable in your skin. You had steered your life in an opposite course than me, toward a different coast, becoming a different kind of person. Only now I was glad, delighted even. You seemed to be enjoying yourself, and I finally liked my own life, too. I didn’t poke or write but sometimes I browsed through your photos or I let your status updates comfort me in knowing that you were around, out there, somewhere, okay.
When I came home from work, the tears I had been holding back all day finally burst out. Thoughts of you, of your life, of my life, swirling in my head. A pure love buried deep inside revealed. I had forgotten about it. It could have been years since I last saw you or just the other day. I wish I had paid attention. I am not sure if it would have mattered. Does childhood disappear just like that? You must have been so sad.