read by kate conover
We are pretenders. Wait. Let me correct myself. We are a bunch of fake, faking fakers.
Iím sorry. Itís just that tonight is one of those bittersweet goodbye times where Iím saying, "Yeah! Iíll come visit you and youíll come visit me and itíll be just like itís always been!" but what Iím really saying is, "Donít stop being my friends!" because Iím worried that they will stop being my friends. Because they are going away, and I am not.
But for now we can hold our hands over our eyes and pretend that weíre in a suspended moment. This is a bittersweet goodbye time, but it could just be any other day this summer, where we pile into Lukeís basement. He gives us carbonated drinks, somebody sets theirs directly atop the "new" coffee table, Luke turns into the universal mother and his voice becomes increasingly higher in pitch, "Guys! Come on! Do you know how long it takes to scrub off water marks? Like, forever!" He insists that we locate a coaster and put it to use. There are pillow fights. There are pictures taken that will later be regretted and mocked. There are battles for couch space.
These nights are predictable and this night will follow the same pattern as all the others, but thatís exactly what I want Ė to hold on to a suspended moment.
We decide to go to the park, as per usual. Our sights and hopes are set on the towering, mast-like, merry-go-round piece of playground equipment, but there are soccer games on either side of it. The players in their day-glo jerseys are taking over the place. I feel like shouting something at them. "LAME!" comes to mind, so I say it within the safety of my group, but I mumble and it sounds more like, "Lame," smaller, with fewer capitals. I donít want to start a brawl. Soccer people are buffer than us and have those little spikes on the bottom of their shoes. So, we move on, in search of another park.
© Andrew W. Kamper
The next one doesnít hold our interest. We take a trip down the slide and leave. Weíre more restless than usual and canít seem to keep our feet on the ground as we follow Gregís lead to a new and, by his standards, exciting bush area. Iím suspicious of his calling it "bush area". We are in the middle of unadulterated suburbia, a real one-mini-tree-per-lawn situation.
And I was right to be suspicious, this place is as uninteresting as I knew it would be Ė a development lot with a primo view of No Frills. Once again, the word "LAME!" forms itself in the back of my throat. I shout it, big and fully-capitalized, to everyoneís amusement. We all recognize this as a distinctly Greg action, building up a completely average place/story/joke to the point where we know it will be completely average. Itís one of his personality quirks that we enjoy the most. He becomes almost childlike in his excitement. So we humour him for a while, poking each other in the face with the long strands of grass and admiring the greyed, late evening sky. But Hengameh needs to go home. To stay for the entire occasion would defy her "come late, leave early" philosophy. Four of us escort her on the walk.
Now we can settle into each other, into one of the few peaceful moments we find away from the chaos of our larger circle of friends. There are no boys here. There are only five of us, an intimate and manageable number. The sidewalk radiates the last dregs of todayís warmth, but we confuse the soles of our shoes by occasionally moving on to the dewed coolness of pesticide lawns. Those tiny rectangles of green framing the squares of concrete Ė geometry and chemicals.
I walk beside Lauren. The sound of our jeaned legs swishing against themselves mingles with the hissing of automated sprinklers. We talk about university. She wants to study dance. I want to study film. We are both nervous and unsure of how these artistic wants will turn into our realities, "I just want to be happy / You will be / You have to say that / Sure, but I mean it / Youíll be happy, too / Knock on wood / Correct me if Iím wrong, but your headís made of oak, right? / Youíre hilarious." Even with anxieties stewing just beneath our surfaces, we laugh. I am comforted. Someone else is worried, Iím not simply succumbing to my neurotic tendencies. The air feels lighter, tastes like a melted ice cube on my tongue.
For the second time tonight, we find ourselves on the outskirts of a piece of land intended for neighbourhood development. Weíre bidding farewells to each other, Hengameh facing us as we make some last jokes, us facing her and smirking at the familiar squawk of her strange laugh.
Hengameh stands with her hands clasped in a polite gesture she uses to signal that she wants to leave. I take my hand out of my pocket and wave goodbye, giving her the permission she is looking for. She steps away from us and our choir of voices, "See you later! / Goodbye! / Bye! / Bye." This feels like something weightier, something cinematic. We, in an unseen limbo, stare after the shrinking shape of a friendís body. The sky has subtly cycled through entire spectrums over the course of the evening: greys, blues, pinks, and now a combination of all three. This will be the first of many leavings to come.
Eventually the appeal of a larger group brings us back from our collective silence, and we retrace our steps. Several minutes later, we return to the now empty field. The towering, mast-like, merry-go-round piece of playground equipment is free for us to use. We run to it, leap, grip at the netting.
"Push us!" I demand, setting off a chain of whiny pleas from the rest of the girls.
This is one instance where we will encourage the boys to find their inner cave men, to let their usually tame competitiveness benefit us. This is a showing of strength. They push their sneakers against the dusty pebbles, slipping. I egg them on, "Faster! Ugh youíre so weak!" and tighten my hold on the netting as I feel the force of their something-to-prove pushes press my body inwards.
I spin wildly around, my hair flying too fast for me to control. I catch fleeting glimpses of a bleeding sky that shows through thick clouds resting on silhouetted rooftops. The merry-go-round slows before I stumble away from it, toppling to ground that my eyes wonít let still.
All too soon, we make our way back to Lukeís, to his basement. We are tired now. We have reached the point where every word that falls out of our clumsy mouths sends us into hysterics. We are the funniest people alive. Eat your heart out, Johnny Carson.
Friends begin filtering upstairs to leave, I rouse myself from the floor. I wrap my small arms around warm bodies and say goodbyes to shoulders in appropriate levels of quietness. Those who are leaving for school get a more solemn farewell. I realize Iíll be seeing them in the coming days, but there are fewer of those now.
"We still have time," is our catchphrase. We repeat this over and over at the sight of a saddened expression, "We still have time."
The sky has no colour when I am the one leaving, standing on Lukeís porch in my own, drawn out exit. Above me is a blanket sewn in an impenetrable shade of black. I canít see the stars from here. I take my hand out of my pocket to wave goodbye, the strands of a suspended moment stretching from the tips of my fingers to the front door. These ties will sever, but not now.
We are pretenders. We still have time.
Alie Lavoie is hatching an elaboroate plan involving Oregon, a series of bank heists, and the voice of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. In the spirit of good old fashioned double lives, she is also embarking on her first year of university in a program which does not interest her. http://entertaininglions.blogspot.com/