By Sara Ritchey
We were seven when you sang “Happy Birthday” to me all by yourself, holding a purple balloon in your left hand and my pinky in your right. The sky turned foggy, so we released the balloon and you accidentally let go of my finger. You apologized after I slipped my hand back into my pocket. You didn’t mean to break your promise, and I knew that I could trust you.
We were nine when you asked me if I wanted to go to the park with you and your family. I tried to impress you by doing the monkey bars all by myself, but I landed on my stomach, but your mother and father didn’t seem to notice. You rubbed my back gently and I realized that even after I caught my breath, I couldn’t help but lose it again when I looked at you.
We were twelve when you started skipping class. I left notes in your locker during study hall. They were filled with poetry and things that made you smile, because you said you liked how I could turn my thoughts into words. I always told you how much I loved to see you smile — I’d do anything to make it show. You grabbed my wrist softly and told me to stop worrying. You told me that you were okay. I tried not to worry, but when I hugged you, you smelled like smoke and too much cologne. It was hard not to worry when I saw you hiding away your pack of cigarettes when we came in from lunch.
We were thirteen when you kissed me in the back of your parents’ car the night it broke down. Your parents were in the gas station, and I watched your eyes from the seat next to me and they seemed to lighten, from a dark sky to a subtle ocean. You put your hand on my thigh and told me you loved me. We were sitting at that damn gas station for over two hours, but I couldn’t seem to bring myself to say it back. I wanted to. I swear, I wanted to.
We were fourteen when I had to visit you pale-faced and breathless. I never got to tell you how proud of you I was, or how I regretted not hugging you longer; not loving you longer. I didn’t know that kissing you goodnight translated to a final goodbye. I didn’t know that touching your chest meant feeling your heartbeat pitter-patter for the last time. I didn’t know that when I failed to say I love you, I would never get the chance to say it again. I should have loved you a little longer.
Sara Ritchey is a Freshman at Barbara Ingram