When did we become classmates, not friends?
Was it when I turned twelve and let someone stab a needle through my ear
After we promised we would never be adorned,
Never become “pretty”
Was it when you chose to swim and I chose to run
So you swam to the top but I couldn’t keep up,
My legs too weak to wade through the sea
Or when you became smart, and I became creative,
When I picked up a paintbrush and you grabbed a calculator
Is that when?
I bet it was the night I shared so much, and you shared so little
You were too quiet, too hushed
It must have been then.
Did I not listen,
What did I miss?
I strained my ears, I swear, but heard nothing except,
“I’m good, thank you”
I still remember your birthday, do you remember mine?
Do you remember when we ate great bowls of ice cream with Skippy on top
And later you let me hold your favorite chicken
She clucked and you smiled,
Do you remember?
I run by your house, we’re neighbors, you see
And when I see four cars lined up,
I stop and my hand hovers over the door
But I hesitate.
Is she busy? I ask.
Am I imposing? I fear.
I imagine you opening the door, face alight, happy to see me and invite me in
So that I can hug your cats and shake your dad’s rough hands
And forget that my eyes are brown, not blue
That I wear glasses, not goggles
I want to see your face and chlorine-green hair and nails bitten down to nothing
I want to make art with you, lots of it, orange and blue, yellow and true
Do you want to make art too? I wonder.
So I put down my hand and walk backwards,
Brushing cool fingertips on the walls of the house
Tracing back to when you protected me, and I, you.
Is that when we became peers?
When I couldn’t knock and you couldn’t answer
When I only saw three cars, not four
When we began to spend more time in classrooms than in bed, sleeping
And we both got nervous and “busy”
Oh, we knew how to bicker.
I still can see that face of yours: the eyes went mean and that lip would curl
You could go from pleasant to so prickly your gaze could puncture a rock.
Little did I know I had the same face, same challenging eyes
Our fights were glorious
Set off by one word, one glance
In the first grade you wrote: “I like Camille, except when she doesn’t listen to me”
It was true, your love was selective but I knew it was constant
You were a tiger, no, a killer whale
You had thick skin and knew how to cut mine
But the next day my wounds were forgotten,
Like they are now, for I don’t know when, or how,
We became associates, not friends, not foes
Students who can’t breathe above the surface of textbooks and schoolwork
Sports and stressed families,
Students who can’t take the time to say
How are you?
No, I mean how are you.
Tell me everything.