Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Token

He glared at me with such anger, such disappointment; I could barely keep myself from bursting into tears. With sadness in his eyes, he walked away. Twelve years old, in tan corduroys, a plaid button-down shirt and worn loafers, this boy who’d been so kind to me, couldn’t look at me again. I’d betrayed his kindness. And I lied to him.
Arch was my friend.  He was a Mormon boy, tough as nails, sweeter and kinder than anyone else I knew. Me, I was lost, broken and mostly friendless. We couldn’t be more different if we tried, but we somehow managed to forge a friendship. I adored him.  Seventh grade me, in hand-me-downs, often teased, mostly ignored, loved Arch. But I also feared for him.
Arch was a bit sweet on me. Of course, I didn’t realize this then, when I was still too obtuse and young to know these things.  But later on, it came to me, far too late to figure it out; far too late to come out with the truth and to somehow try to erase that disappointment in his eyes that to this day still remains vivid in my memory.
There was this other boy, my mother’s friend’s son. Chris was the kid everyone made fun of, the kid that wore elastic-waist-band jeans and who was often found wedged bottom-first in the garbage can, thrown in there by bullies.  He was the kid nobody would help. They would walk by laughing. It was decided between mothers that we should be friends.  During that time, I was absent from school quite a bit. Chris’s mother offered for Chris to bring my books to my mother’s work so I could have them when I was home.  My locker combination was winkled out of me. My schoolwork followed me home to my dismay—not as if I ever really did anything about it anyway.
The locker combination. It was what caused everything.  It started with a Valentine’s day surprise. I opened my locker to find chocolates and a flower.  Arch was with me. I exclaimed my annoyance at it. I grumbled about Chris having my locker combination, and about Chris's mother colluding with him to make this gesture.  Arch was angry, but of course, I did not know this. All I did know was that during science class, it was announced that Arch was suspended. That he’d thrown Chris into a locker during gym and given him a concussion.
Sometime before then, Arch had given me a dried starfish. A little token. It was pretty cool. I kept it in a little box in my locker. I had showed it to Chris before the whole locker-incident. So it was inevitable that I came in one day after Chris’s face had been made black and blue, and opened my locker and found the little starfish crushed to bits. A little piece of it fell out when I picked up the box, unbeknownst to me at the time.
Arch was back in school by then. I didn’t want to tell him about the starfish, because he already got in trouble for attacking Chris. So I didn’t tell him.  But he found that little piece of starfish somewhere, and he came and stood before me and asked me about it. He thought I'd broken it, discarded it. He thought I didn't treasure it. I lied to him. “It’s fine,” I told him. “I took it home.”  He said he found a little broken leg, and I declared it couldn’t be the one he gave me. It was safe at home. The idea of him getting suspended again for his temper, for his ire against Chris, it was too scary.
He didn’t believe me, naturally. It was insulting to his intelligence, I know, but when you’re a kid you just grasp at straws. He never spoke to me again. I went to a Catholic intern school that next year and I don’t know where he ended up. There are days, when I wish I could send him a little starfish. An apology. I wish I could go back in time to tell him the truth so I could fix the disappointment in that boy’s eyes.
But what can you do. He’s a grown man now, somewhere, probably with a healthy crop of kids and a successful life, a stunning wife, and happily ensconced with the LDS somewhere in Utah.  A good soul—maybe with a bit of a temper issue, but he was a kid, it’s forgivable.  He probably doesn’t even remember the stupid starfish. Here *I* am, at forty, still finding myself sometimes lamenting that lost childhood friend. How pathetic is that? LOL.
To my friend Arch. I’m sorry I lied to you.  And I’m sorry for Chris too, wherever you are.

1 comment:

Theodosia Rowan said...

thank you for sharing this, Stephanie. it's lovely, and sad. Like so much of youth :)


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