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For Rent MAG
I. THE PRESENT
The moving van is out front. And even though I’m trying not to, I’m looking back. I’m looking back and trying to remember the things that I’m leaving behind.
In the storage room there are several cardboard boxes containing childhood memories and useless mementos. At the bottom of the heap is a box labeled in an unrecognizable scrawl. Inside is a silk gown and a dusty album that hasn’t been flipped through in years. A stack of faded photographs falls to my feet.
We stand together, posing for a picture in matching blue dresses. Her hair and makeup shimmer flawlessly as she flashes a plastic smile. My eyes don’t match my happy face.
The truck is here and the boxes sealed, and soon I’ll close this door for the last time. I hate moving – you always leave behind the things that mean the most. The tire swing that’s too low. The broken wind chimes we made in second grade. The pouch of assorted beads from all the necklaces we broke through the years. The scraps and ribbons from our favorite clothes. The clippings of dresses for the weddings we dreamed about. The best stones we collected from the beach.
In front of Macy’s Department Store we stand while she poses with her new purse. Light reflects off her lipgloss. There’s a smile on my face, but it doesn’t quite reach my eyes.
In the attic, the air is thick with dust and things forgotten; a thin mist seems to spread across the room. I cough as I open the boxes. They bring back so many things I’ve struggled to forget. No one else will ever understand how much these memories mean to us.
She winks coyly into the camera as we drive back from the DMV, and I’m not even bothering to pose this time, my gaze trained determinedly on the stoplight as we wait for it to change.
I hate going into my new house – an empty house stripped of all, but full of someone else’s memories. A house doesn’t cease to be someone’s home even after they’re long gone. I stack the last few boxes and wish something could delay the final good-bye. But it’s all I have left. I don’t look back again. I promised myself I wouldn’t. The years I spent, the memories I made, have been sealed and forgotten like so many boxes.
At graduation we’re sitting at the same table, our chairs next to each other, but there’s a mile between us. An ocean seems to have grown in that space, an ocean that we can’t swim. The camera flashes as we’re turned away from each other.
That was the moment we started to forget.
II. THE PAST
For the better part of 16 years, we did everything together. We lived next door to each other across from the same Korean laundromat and took the same bus to and from various schools. We went through bad safety-scissor haircuts, scabby knees from playing soccer, matching pink-and-green braces, studying for the SATs, awkward school dances, cramming for tests, science projects that started off with a huge bang, sneaking into the movie theater to play “Dance Dance Revolution,” birthdays, holidays, any day – the best moments of our lives we spent together.
At the end of high school, I think we realized it was time for a change.
One day we were walking to class in silence. After years of memories, talking about anything and everything, after 16 years of being such close friends, we were seeing each other for the first time. Even though we were side by side, we’d never been further apart. Somehow, through the long high-school years, our friendship slipped through the cracks. A group of girls walked by and tugged her sleeve, saying they had news to share with her.
She turned to me with a forced smile. “I’ll see you later.”
I smiled back. The last secret we would share was … there would never really be a later.
III. THE FUTURE
She’ll invite me to her wedding for old time’s sake and I will watch her live the life I’ve only dreamed about. She’ll have a lavish wedding that includes everything 11-year-olds could dream about. She’ll walk down the aisle and I’ll look up and smile at the stranger she’s become. And I’ll tell myself that tomorrow will be different, but that will be just another lie.
IV. THE MEMORY
I always wondered why we called it friendship. Because friendship is the boat that never sinks, our cheery third-grade teacher liked to say. But if we’ve learned nothing else from the Titanic, it’s that there is no such thing as an unsinkable ship. All ships will sink at some point. Eventually, after years and years of drifting across endless oceans, they’ll start to fall below. Ships sink on principle.
There are some friends who are, in all respects, forever. But most hold a shorter lease on our lives. You’ll grow up and realize that the people you’ve become are too different from the people you used to be. And then there are times there is an ocean between you – an ocean you can’t possibly swim. Then it is simply better to let go than to stay and waste what once was a beautiful thing. Yet friendship is sometimes even more precious than family, because friendship is a wish, a promise, a choice to love.
Friendship, through all its phases and depth and beauty and tragedy, is really only for rent. It can never be permanent.
We are 10 years old, at my birthday party. We are surrounded by all our family and friends. Everything and everyone who matters is crammed into that tiny living room. We don’t have much, but we have all we need. For a long time, it was enough.
When I remember her, I’ll remember what she was like then. I’ll remember sneaking out to sled down the steep hills when we should have been doing chores. I’ll remember the creek where we tried to fish. I’ll remember the sunny days and spraying each other while hanging the sheets to dry. I’ll remember chasing the bees in the apple orchard until the sun grew too hot.
I’ll remember her at her best. Before she changed. Before she forgot the things that really mattered.
Our friendship lease is over, but looking back, we’ll see it for what it was – a brilliant, beautiful thing. There is no way to erase the times we spent together, and that will always be enough.
When I remember her, I’ll remember what she was like then. I’ll remember her at her best. I’ll remember us at our best.
We sit side by side on the same seat and blow out the candles together.