Sandbox Blues

Mother swings me off her hips and gently places me into the box of soft white dust.

“Sit here and play a bit. Mommy is going to sit over there and have a chat with Suzie.” She points her painted red nail to where this Suzie woman is already sitting. Mother kisses me on the head but before she walks off she points again but this time directly in front of me and says, “Look, you have a play pal.” and with that she turns and walks off. I glance from my mother back to the kid sitting. It’s a boy and he looks as if he has black snakes slithering around his head, but what looks like snakes are actually his thick curls slightly swaying in the breeze.

“Lets make friends.” As my mother would say. Determined to not sit by myself any longer I get up, my legs wobbling a bit at first. I slowly and steadily make my way over, smiling to myself. My joy is cut short. As I finally make my way over to him I notice the trails of  moisture off of his cheeks sparkling in the sun. He’s crying. I reach him but I don’t sit at first. I’m just standing there staring at him and after a few beats he turns to look at me with his big blue watery eyes. He takes a couple of quick deep breaths, which gives away that he had been fiercely crying earlier, I know the drill. I plop down next to him and he turns to look away, bunching up dust in his tiny little fists and then slowly releasing it, allowing it to slip between his fingers.

That was the day I had met my best friend Henry. Now looking back I should have known then what was going to transpire later on in life. A relationship that begins on such a sad accord could only be giving clues as to how it would later play out, no? The day we met we spent the entire time doodling in the sand. His tears had eventually dried out and replaced by a tiny smile. Since that day, any time mother took me to the playground I always looked for him, and he was always there. Henry didn’t have a mommy. She had died while giving birth to him, a tragedy that he was never able to forgive himself for. His father was some big wig over at the DA’s office and was never home so Henry’s nanny was the one to really raise him. Henry only lived a couple blocks away from me so we ended going from playground buddies to classmates. As we got older we became inseparable. If we weren’t in the same classes, we met up at “our” lunch table and made sure we caught each other up on whatever we had missed out on. If we didn’t have the same lunch period that school year then it was on the bike ride home we played “catch up”. If either of us missed school, you better believe  that the other would show up after school with arms full of homework along with updates on the latest gossip. Of course we each had other friends but they didn’t come close to being as tight with Henry and I as we were with each other.

I remember it was sophomore year in highschool when my good girlfriend, Cherie, asked me, “Kira, why don’t you and Henry just date? He’s cute and you two get along so well. You’d never fight! Might as well!” She said enthusiastically. “Have you two ever done stuff ?” I slapped her arm. It was almost a natural reaction.

“Cherie!! No! Of course not!” I laughed loudly.

“So, No you wouldn’t date him or No you two haven’t done anything?!” she giggled.

What no one knew was that Henry and I had been each other’s first kiss. We had been in the 7th grade and it was a couple hours before before we were headed to our first middle school dance. We had dates and were speaking about them as I finished styling my hair for the night.

“The slow dances are going to be cool. I never really slow danced with someone before.” He said. “Well actually, ma and nana did a couple times when one of her favorite songs played. That doesn’t count though.” He then seemed to get a little distracted. I could tell he was thinking about her. Henry’s nanny died the year before and it was a tremendous loss for him. Since he never got to know his mother, his nanny was “mom” for him. To be honest, he probably missed his nanny more than his own mother.

“Well..” I tried changing the subject. “the last song of the night is always a slow song. It’s when you’re supposed to kiss your date.” The distraction worked for his full attention was now on me.

“Na uh! How do you know that?!” he asked skeptically.

“I heard the other kids talking about it in the hallway yesterday. They were talking about how you had to time it perfectly so you’d get done kissing before they turned the bright lights on.” I finished doing my hair with one final spray of my hairspray. I made my way to the bed where Henry was sitting. He was picking at a little lint ball that was holding on to my comforter.

“Well I wasn’t nervous about tonight until now. I’ve never kissed anyone before. What if I mess up? Or what if we kiss for too long and they turn the lights on!? Or what if she doesn’t even want to kiss me?” His mind was racing. It was pretty typical for Henry to get anxious. He was beginning to sweat a little.

“Dude! Relax! You’ll be fine! I happen to know that Amy is ecstatic to be your date tonight so why wouldn’t she want to kiss you?”

“I don’t know! What if I begin to stink or I’m not as decent as a dancer as I think I am?! Who knows! Girls are fucking weird!” He wiped away sweat from his brow. Any second now and he would start hyperventilating.

“Hey!” I shoved him.We both began to laugh and it wasn’t long after that my idea struck. “I have an idea!!!” I shot over to wear my CD player sat. “What if we practice?! I’ve never kissed anybody either and Brian’s like an expert. I don’t want to seem like a complete amateur. We could just practice on each other!” I was super excited. I mean, what are best friends for, right?

Henry thought about it for a moment, “I don’t know.Won’t it be a little weird?” Just like him, always questioning everything.

“How would it be weird?! We’re best friends! Who better to practice with?” I was rummaging through the stack of CDs that were shelved right next to the player.

“What are you doing?” He asked, still sitting on my bed but this time staring at me.

“I’m going to play a slow song and we’re going to practice kissing. It’ll help us to get the timing down too.” I found the CD I was looking for, popped it in and went to track 11.

“I never agreed to this. This is a really weird idea.” He ran his long slim fingers through his hair.

“Oh come on. Why do you find it so weird? Am I not pretty? Do I smell bad? Is there something in my teeth?” I walked towards my bedroom mirror.

“NO! You look great and there’s nothing in your teeth. I would have said something by now. He stood up and walked towards me. He stood a few steps behind me so that I could see his reflection in my mirror. “You don’t just find it a little weird two best friends practice kissing? It would make us each other’s first kiss! That’s not weird to you?”

I turned around and walked over to where he stood. I took his hands and placed them around my waist. I wrapped both of mine around his neck. The music had been playing and soon we began moving to the beat. We danced for a minute and once I felt like the timing was right I reached my lips up towards his. He met me halfway and we stayed there for longer than anticipated by either of us.

“Kira! Henry! Time to go! If you want to meet up with your dates and drive together we have to leave now!” My mother’s voice shook us apart like an electrical current. We began to laugh hysterically.

“Ok mom!” I shouted through my laughter. I ran over to the Cd player and shut it off and before running out the door grabbed my purse which sat on the bed. Henry was right behind me as we reached the door but before I opened it, I turned to look at him, “Honestly, I’m glad you were my first kiss.” and with that said, I turned the door knob and headed downstairs.

We had a great time at the dance that night and when the moment came, we each pulled off a spectacular kiss. Deep down inside, I felt like it was nothing compared to my first kiss.

The school years passed and towards the end of senior year we both found ourselves suddenly single. We went to our senior prom together and neither of us found it anymore appropriate. That night we ended up at an after-prom party. It was at our friend’s cabin right out on the lake and everyone was invited. We all partied hard and once the sun was about to make its appearance, Henry and I decided to end our festivities like any other normal teenager and headed to Denny’s for some early morning breakfast.

We’re sitting opposite of each other and spread before us was smorgasbord of breakfast foods, a personal buffet line. Except that we didn’t have to get up to get our food, it was all in hands reach. We stuffed our faces with blueberry pancakes, french toast, bacon, home fries, omelets, homemade biscuits, cinnamon sugar pancake puppies. You name it, if it was a breakfast item, we made sure to get an order. Halfway through our meal Henry takes a deep breath and leans back into the booth. This is one of his dead give-a-ways in letting you know that he had hit his limit. Me? It’s like I have a bottomless pit in my stomach so I just keep gorging myself. After a few minutes of silence Henry blurted out, “I’m joining the military, Ki” I was in the middle of chewing on some seriously stuffed strawberry french toast and hadn’t realized I had yet to swallow. There was sweet cream cheese stuffing on my lips, I could feel it. All I could was stare at him at first. Had I heard right? I was chewing so maybe I had misheard. The military?  “I know,” he continues,”You’re wondering where this came from and how it’s not “me” but…I really don’t know what else to do once we graduate. I hardly know what I want to do tomorrow let alone 5 years down the line. How could I dish out a shitload of money on college classes when I don’t know what I want to do for the rest of my life?” I slowly swallowed what I had in my mouth. The taste of the sweet strawberries and the deliciousness of that cinnamon battered french toast made my stomach feel much better. “I already took the entrance exam. I tested pretty high,” he smiled. “I passed the physical too. I feel like this would be good for me Ki. It’ll buy me sometime while I decide on what to be when I grow up. Plus, they’ll help me with school and great benefits.” He forked through the pile of blueberry pancakes.

“Hey! Don’t! Not unless you’re going to eat them!.” I fanned his hand away from the food. I take my early morning Denny’s sessions seriously. “So I did hear you right. At first I was questioning my hearing.” The shock of it all was still trying to sink in. “My best friend Henry is going into the military. That’s no joke, Hen. I’ve seen documentaries with kids just like you. They join for the money to fund an education they cannot afford. You know what happens, Hen? They comeback losing limbs or in a box, dude.” I was working myself up now. How could he leave? Off to fight other people’s battles for some extra time to think of what he wanted for his future? “Plus, who’s going to be my bestie while you’re gone? I’ll be stuck in this  town just going to college with no cool friends.” I protested selfishly.

“Ki, stop being dramatic. I’ll be fine. I’ll come back in one piece I promise and not in a box.” He picked up a strip of bacon and chomped half of it off. “You’ll make friends at school too, just watch. You’ll forget all about Hen.” He smirked at me.

“Those “friends” I meet won’t be half as cool as you so forgetting about you is out of the question. I am really going to miss you. I can’t believe you’re really serious.”

“Before you know it I’ll be back, Ki. I’ve just got to do this for me.” He just stared at me. I knew he meant business. He was that kind of person. Once he had made up his mind about something he stuck to it no matter how nervous or anxious it may have made him feel. It was one of the qualities I admired about him the most. Not like myself who was fickle and a complete walking contradiction. I grabbed his hand and held it tightly between both of mine.

“I’m going to write you all the time, Hen. I’ll keep you posted on everything. It’ll be like you’re not over in some weird and unfamiliar country. You’ll feel like your home.” I said.

And I did.

I wrote him, if not everyday, than every other day. I wrote to him about everything. I gave him every detail on the college life so to make him feel like he was attending with me. I of course kept him up to speed on the latest town gossip so he felt like he had never left. He would write me letters back talking about how awful the food was and how he was slowly adapting to military life. The years went on and the communication stayed constant and before I could even fathom the day was here. He was finally on his way back home.

He arrived a week after my college graduation. i drove 3 hours to go pick him up from the airport. I was so excited to see him. I hardly remember the last time I got to see his face in person. As I pull up to the curb I see him standing there. His curly hair was gone and although he looked more muscular, he also looked a lot thinner than what she remembered. His eyes wore dark circles and were a little sunken in. He smiled when he saw my car but the light in his eyes didn’t look so bright. I had barely placed the car in park when I ran out and over to where he stood. We embraced like we did that night of our first kiss, hugging tight like lovers would. A strange feeling hit me then. I stare up into his eyes and saw so much sadness that my eyes teared up. “Are you ok?” My voice barely more than a whisper.

“I feel much better now.” He said as he too stared into my eyes. At that moment we were frozen in time. It was at that very moment we both realized what was so obvious to everyone else all these years. To be there in his arms was exactly where I needed to be. Cars began to pile up around us, some of the drivers beeping for us to get out of the way. On the way home we were silent, only stealing glances at each other while the radio filled the air.  That night after we made love he said to me, “You were the only thing that got me through the dark times. You and your letters. It was through your letters that I soon came to realize how much I loved you and how I couldn’t wait to see you face to face again so I could tell you. I was a nervous mess when I was getting ready to fly back home, but once I saw you pull up and looked at that face, I knew it was going to be alright.” He smoothed hair away from my face and kissed my forehead.

“I love you too.” Were the only words I could get to come out.

I now stand here staring at Hen, thinking about all the beautiful memories we made together. I will make it my mission to allow only the good memories out weigh the sad ones, out weigh the final one.

When Henry came back, he was a truly changed man. Where as before he was an average boy with slight anxiety and nerves, he now was suffering from constant panic attacks during the day, and horrible nightmares at night. His moods would sway from one extreme to the other within a blink of an eye. We went to various doctors and psychologists but it wasn’t long before Hen was wrapped up in complete and utter depression.

I had just gotten home from work the day I found him hanging in the living room with a note at his feet that read, “I’m sorry Ki” and to this very day I carry that note around with me at all times. Some people carry around pictures of their loved ones around in their wallet. I carry my boyfriend’s suicide note. I always go back to thinking about the day we met in the sandbox and how since that very day we had become inseparable. We had grown to become so close and it took us so long to make our friendship into something more, yet it took absolutely no time for life to take it away. I lost my best friend and the love of my life in the same day and because of that I carry with me a heavy blanket of sadness. Beyond that sadness there does hide a bit of joy though because I knew Hen like no one else in the world did. I had the opportunity to not only know him but to love him and that is something for me to truly treasure. On a good day, when I close my eyes I can recall so many beautiful memories and I am undoubtedly so blessed to have them.

I give him one final kiss on his cold, pale forehead. I place my hand on his and let it linger there before I pull away from him. With every step I take my chest constricts knowing that he would be in that box forever, his final resting place at age 26.

I reach the church doors and push open. The sun beams immediately hit my face warming my cheeks and my soul a little. I take in one deep breath and as I let it out heads down the steps and towards my car. I unlock my car but before I get in  I take a few seconds to stare at what was across the parking lot in front of me, the park, and two little kids playing in the sandbox.

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