I moved in two doors down from S. when I was nine. Her house was white with brown beams around the windows like in Shakespearean times, and her parents actually owned it and two Volvos and a vacation home in Sun River, and she had an older brother who was tan and bad and did things big brothers in movies did, like throwing popcorn at our heads or pretending he was going to hurl us down the stairs.
I was in fifth grade by the time I finally got my invitation to a week in Sun River. Nevermind that S.’s mother yelled instead of talking, or that in the preceeding weeks, S. had been giving me the cold shoulder, nevermind that S.’s father didn’t know my name, or that every time I thought about sleeping apart from my parents for a whole week my stomach lurched; I was finally in. I would get to know what Sun River was, and ride in the Volvo air conditioning, and maybe S.’s beautiful big brother would say something besides “outta my way” once we were spending twenty-four hours a day together.
But then one Tuesday S. and I were standing in line for gym class, debating something vital (of course, I can’t remember what that was). It was infuriating how she always had to be right (it didn’t occur to me that the reason I found it so infuriating was that I always had to be right), and, as I tried to explain how absolutely wrong she was about whatever topic we were debating, she grabbed my clenched fists tightly in her hands and pushed them up into my glasses. It was a slow motion double punch, my own hands turned as weapons against me, but I couldn’t stop them even as they came slamming into my face.
What happened next was even worse than my bruised eyes and ego—the rescinding of the Sun River invitation (I wept to my mother that since S. was the one who’d committed an act of violence against me, her parents should just let my family go to their vacation home in their stead). The immediate stings of rejection and humiliation were replaced by the awful, dawning realization, as days turned to weeks, that S. and I wouldn’t, couldn’t, ever really be friends again, even though we were in the same class and lived two doors apart, and her house always had a pantryful of Cheetos bags and Coke cans and Fruit Roll-Ups, and nobody asked twice if you watched soap operas all afternoon.
S.’s mother had never smiled at me but her brother had, once or twice. In the months before my family moved, whenever I spotted him out front, watering the hedge, or shooting hoops, my heart would skip a little. Maybe an errant baseball would beam me, or he’d accidentally hit me with the lawnmower, and, to make up for it, he’d offer me lemonade, or to watch a movie on their VCR, and twenty minutes later S. would find me wedged into their big, brown reclining couch in their family room and slump down next to me without a word and we could go on like nothing bad had never happened.
Once, on a warm evening when I was supposed to be watching my baby sister as she ran through the sprinkler, I even said his name across the intermediary lawn. But if he heard it, he didn’t let on; just lifted the crammed bags of groceries his mother had left for him in the open hatchback and carried them inside.