“You can’t come with us when we go inside to see him. Find something else to do,” Mother said.
We’d driven to our old neighborhood, where I hadn’t been in several years. Our family moved the summer after my fourth grade to a town ten miles away. Not far apart, but different worlds. The past was rural and designated by the government as a poverty area. The present was a well-educated, middle-class community without tract homes. I cried myself to sleep for weeks in the new but unfamiliar wallpapered bedroom. I missed my life.
Now, everything looked as it had before. Ed lived near the end of a road unofficially named after our family. It was a small white house with a swinging bench under an enormous green weeping willow tree in the backyard, its branches and leaves cascading onto the ground. The lawn was a little unkempt, perhaps because Ed had been sick for quite a while.
I walked to the main road, a couple of blocks away. It seemed like a good time to visit my used-to-be best friend. In an odd twist, her parents had bought our house when we left. My father had built it, one room at a time, right after he married my mother. It was my first home, where I’d lived longer than anywhere else, and it too looked the same as I walked down the gravel driveway to the entrance.
Mrs. Collins, with the same teased, bouffant hairdo as before, answered the door.
“Is Diane here?”
“She’s on the phone talking to her boyfriend.” A pause, then: “Susan, is that you? You really haven’t changed! Diane,” she called out, “look who’s here.”
She has a boyfriend?
Someone I’d swear I’d never seen before peered around the door, still holding onto her phone: a buxom blonde with bright red lipstick and tight black clothes.
I was still a child—no breasts, no lipstick, no boyfriend. Suddenly feeling inferior, I wanted to be invisible. How had she grown up when I hadn't?
“Hey,” she said. “Wow! It’s good to see you.”
I was speechless. Nothing came out of my mouth.
Diane carried the conversation, telling me about school, dating, and playing her slide guitar, the one I remembered in the corner of her bedroom, used for the country music the Collins’s loved.
I left as quickly as I could.
Retracing my steps, I saw my parents walking out of Ed’s front door, closing it carefully as they made their way toward the car.
Their visit was as short as mine.
As we piled into our sandy-colored Buick, a sadness hung in the air. The silence was noticeable. We careened together down the empty road as I thought of my current inability to find my place in the world, and they thought of their friend, the one dying of cancer.
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