We Began At Thirteen

By Felicia Jarrin

The night before our high school graduation, we drive into an abandoned parking lot next to the highway. You are wearing a blue sweater, the one I got you for your thirteenth birthday. I don’t know if you remember.

In three months, we will be four hundred and seventy-two miles apart from one another. We do not talk about it.

You tell me about your brother’s summer internship in the city and I remind you of the time last spring when we jumped into the lake by your house in our underwear and I sliced my foot open on a piece of glass walking out of the water. And as someone ran to get a  first aid kit you sat next to me, your hand firm on my shoulder and your eyes averted from the blood dripping off my heel.

My best friend calls to say that everyone is meeting up at the park next to the high school and we should come. You start the car before I even finish the sentence.

We used to go to the park after school freshman year, back when no one had driver’s licenses or part-time jobs. We would play soccer on the field and race to see who could swing highest on the swing set. It was here where boys and girls grew up, where we touched and laughed and grew into our new limbs.

When we get to the park I point out the front windshield to where people are running through the sprinklers, slipping and spinning on the dark expanse of grass.

I start running toward the field but right as my foot touches the grass the sprinklers shut off. Something catches in my lungs as fingers and palms and forearms press against my skin.

We set out blankets and eat red seedless grapes and drink alcohol stolen from parents’ liquor cabinets.

Your arm is cool pressed against mine. The blue sweater is now stuffed behind your head as you look up into the night sky.

I remember your thirteenth birthday party. You invited nearly the entire class because your mother thought it would be rude not to. I wore a striped shirt and stood in the back of the room through the cake cutting. When it was time to open presents, I hoped my father picked out something normal for you. I didn’t have time to ask him what he bought before he dropped me off at the top of your driveway, placing the box in my hands.

You opened my present and held out the sweater in front of you. The blue fabric pooled onto your thighs. It was far too large.

I felt my stomach sink to my knees. As our eyes met across the room, I saw that the tips of your ears were blushing.

Your mother swept in and said, “It’ll shrink in the wash.”

It didn’t shrink.

But it fits you just fine now.

We drink vodka and lemonade and pretend that we grew up somewhere where the buildings rise higher than five stories, somewhere where we don’t run into our elementary school teachers on Friday nights at the movie theater.

But we didn’t grow up in that somewhere.

We grew up here.

Here, where the stars spread across the sky like the map they once used to be. Where I called my home on all my college applications. Where I once vowed, staring at the town lights from the top of a mountain, to leave and never come back. Where I will walk across a sturdy wooden stage tomorrow with seventy-four other people—chemistry lab partners and former preschool playmates and best friends. And you.

Last month we visited the city with your parents.

They took us to a restaurant at the top of a glass skyscraper. Everything was dark wood and dim lighting, hushed voices and a waiter with white teeth. We sat side by side, trying not to reveal our fingers were brushing against each other beneath the table.

At the end of dinner your mother’s cheeks were pink. We slipped away to the back of the restaurant, where the wall was replaced by a single pane of glass, clear and clean, from floor to ceiling.

I put my hands on the glass. We were up so high.. I once read that if someone dropped a penny off of the Empire State Building, it could kill a pedestrian on the sidewalk below. I was almost positive I could do some serious damage up here, too.

Thousands of people below me. Lights from an infinite amount of places—art museums and hotels and fast food restaurants and tech companies and apartment buildings.

I looked at you. Your forehead was pressed against the glass and your breath fogged up the surface as you stared down, down, down. I knew you were thinking the same thing I was, about life and youth and how it was just beginning for us, as I said, “It’s amazing. Everything that’s out there.”

And you turned to look at me with a sort of absent mindedness in your eyes and there was a wrinkle between your brow as your face slowly folded into two and you opened your mouth and said, “I was just thinking about the fall.”