19Near Past #3
After Romaine left, Roosevelt and I stopped talking. A chasm developed with a bridge only half built; we could jump to the other side, but we weren’t willing to risk the fall. Roosevelt found friends faster than I, which I would never have thought possible. The preppy, Cape Cod-vacationing group took him in, and he started wearing polo shirts and embroidered shorts. I watched him from afar, wishing the transition were as simple as a change of clothes for me. I didn’t fit in as easily (or the others didn’t really fit in with me) until Megan and Will came along. Classmates asked me to sit with them at lunch, but I always declined. I would see only faults; I was always comparing them to someone else. They were too chatty, annoying, serious, gossipy, or, most often, boring. If I hadn’t romanticized the prior two years or hadn’t met her at all, I might have given them the chance. But things always look different in retrospect. Choices seem clearer. When Megan and Will became my friends, the three of us sat at our own table, mocking the others. They were easy targets, but we weren’t much better.
By the time we reached high school, Roosevelt and his group were well liked and accepted, if not popular. They were all on the crew, sailing or lacrosse teams. Roosevelt, due to his lack of coordination and fragile lineage, was on the debate team instead. Megan, Will, and I kept to ourselves.
One Friday, just before Memorial Day, Roosevelt and I found ourselves alone at our respective lunch tables. His friends were at sport matches. Megan was in Pennsylvania visiting her grandparents for the weekend. Will, who I had broken up with the Wednesday before, was “sick,” although Megan hadn’t looked me in the eyes when she told me. He didn’t return my voicemails.
The first few minutes of lunch, we snuck glances at one another, since neither of us had the courage to initiate anything. I didn’t mind sitting alone, but I hadn’t seen Roosevelt do so since elementary school. After a couple minutes, he cautiously walked over to where I sat.
“Hey Remma,” he said when he reached me, cracking a smile as if he’d just referenced an inside joke, which I suppose he had.
“Hey Rosie,” I countered. He grimaced slightly.
“Mind if I sit here?”
“Not at all,” I replied, hardly looking up from my lunch.
He placed his lunchbox on the table and slid into the seat next to me. His nanny, Greta, still packed his lunch in a puffy blue box, even when his friends had taken to bringing their lunches in brown paper bags.
“I saw you sitting by yourself and figured since I didn’t have anyone else to sit with, I’d sit with you.” He still managed to inadvertently turn a well-intentioned remark into a insult.
“Yeah, we haven’t sat together in a while,” I said. Seven years, to be exact.
Roosevelt suddenly became very interested in his cucumber sandwich. He’d eaten sandwiches usually reserved for tea for as long as I’d known him. I could see the corner of his Tupperware container filled with marshmallows. His nanny always packed them for dessert.
“You still have marshmallows with lunch?” I asked in hopes of changing the subject.
“Not usually.” He said a little sheepishly. “But I figured since I wouldn’t be sitting with anyone.”
“No one would say anything,” I finished. “It’s cute.”
“That’s not really a compliment.”
“From me, it is.”
He took the container and opened the top, glancing around as if his eating marshmallows for lunch was some big secret. Most people probably remembered it from elementary school.
“Sure,” I smiled and grabbed one. “Tell Greta thanks from me.”
He blushed visibly.
We sat in silence for a minute, nibbling at our treats. I reorganized my lunchbox to appear busy.
“I’m sorry we didn’t stay friends after, well, you know,” He offered, but never finished.
There was no point in ignoring it.
“Yeah. I kind of fell apart after it happened.”
Roosevelt looked down sheepishly.
“You did? I hardly talked to anyone for a month. I didn’t make friends again for years.” My voice grew louder.
In my mind, even as a teenager, he never had the right to fall apart. For those two years, she had been my best friend; my grief had every right to eclipse his. That’s what I believed all those years in between—that hurt existed in gradations. No one could hurt more than I had.
Roosevelt looked down. He gave me a minute to calm down.
“Do you still think about her?” He asked softly.
“Every week. You?”
“Every day.” He said, almost inaudibly. “You know when you look back and see the people who really mattered? The ones who changed your life? She was that person to me.”
“Me too.” I felt ashamed at how defensive I sounded.
“She listened and she cared about absolutely everything, even the trivial stuff.” It was like he was talking to himself, writing a journal entry in his head. “I still see things, think of things, that I want to tell her. Sometimes, I trick myself into thinking that, wherever she is, she can read my mind.”
I stayed silent. I had things to say to her, things only she could understand. But I had other people to talk to now. I’d gotten used to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to tell her things. I accepted it.
“There won’t be anyone else like her.” I said.
“She was my first friend. She’s still the best one I ever had.” He stopped to think for a moment. Then he started stuffing his Tupperware containers back in his lunchbox. “I should go; I have a history quiz to study for.”
He’d mastered the history materials we were studying now by the time he was ten. He stood up to leave.
“Hey Rosie,” I said. “I’ll bet she misses us too.” He grasped his lunchbox tightly and looked me in the eye.
“She’ll never miss me as much as I miss her.”
He walked off in the direction of the library. I stayed at the table, unconsciously fixing my eyes on a nearby tree. The bell jolted me from my trance. When I glanced around, my vision was blurry, I had been staring for so long. I packed up my lunch.
There were never levels of hurt, gradations of grief. We weren’t so different after all: both barely getting by.