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Creative Nonfiction Drama Friendship

September, 2011

There was a space, behind the bookshelf, where heat spat through the vent. It was tucked away from the rest of the classroom and my favorite spot to read. 

Spiders would knit webs through the nooks and crannies and dance onto my finger if I had the courage. Dust flew through the air like blind flies but I ignored it, sneezing into my elbow. I thought I was safe and alone but one day he showed up. 

He was sharper than all the other boys I knew. Kohl always had a plastic fork in his pocket and dimples carved into his face. On the first day, we sat together and he asked me if we wanted to be friends. He’d skipped a grade and left all his buddies behind. 

I held his hand and later told my sister about it in the pool. She splashed water in my face and dove beneath the surface. She didn’t believe me and neither did anyone else. 

We’d have Reading Time everyday. I’d race to the spot behind the bookshelf but he was already there. I’d settle down next to him, our shoulders pressed up against each other, and flip open my book. 

By then I was only reading Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. A magical book where the words sailed across the page, holding telescopes, but I could barely focus. The book faded into a kaleidoscope of letters and symbols and all I could feel was the tickle of his breath down the back of my neck. 

His hair was snaking around his head and slithering onto my shoulder. I glanced at his book for a moment, a romance about some superhero who saved long-scarfed ladies, and his eyes met mine. 

“I have a girlfriend, you know,” he said, and I felt my throat wave as I swallowed. “Ella. We’ve been together since the second grade.” 

“That’s . . . cute,” I remarked, blowing my breath into my book and seeing the pages scream and rip from my pressure. The cover fluttered and touched his hand. “I was born with a leg twisted around.” He blinked little outlines of hair out of his eyes and closed his cracked lips. I continued. “It’s called hip dysplasia.” 

Kohl hit his forehead against his book. “I’m so sorry.” It made light dents in his skin. “I was born with this thing.” He paused. “I haven’t really told anyone about it.” A hand raked through his hair. “When I was a baby, I needed everything to be perfect. I couldn’t spill a drop of food or dirt on my skin or else I’d get so angry.” The afternoon sun combed through the sky. “I needed a therapist for a while, but I’m over it. It was only when I was a baby.” He chuckled into his palm, and traced the red letters on the covers of nearby books. 

I knocked my knee against his. “I’m sorry.” 

He smiled, snapping his book shut and shoving it back onto the shelf. “Thanks.” He crossed his legs and dug his chin into them like he was forming a cocoon. Like he was the prettiest butterfly but was still scared and young. 

And I was too. 


March, 2012

Before our friendship fell apart, he was spinning deflated balls on his finger and tying his hair out of his maple eyes with pink elastic bands so he could watch the colors blur into a globe. He was my friend and his toes barely grazed over the grass when he ran. 

We had met with books folded over our faces like origami masks and our breath tickling the pages. He didn’t spend much time in the library, though, reading books below the grade level. He spent time outside, tripping over the breeze, drowning in the sun, and that’s what I learned. 

He was playing soccer when I first witnessed it. It had rained the day before and the ground was a sticky tongue of caramel mud and rainwater. His legs were his instruments as they sang through the air like starlings in time-lapse. 

But his shoes imprinted squares onto the ground before slipping out from under him. Good thing he had his palms out, even though the dirt cut through his skin. It also sprayed over like the home-made face paint from spotted rocks swallowed by the ocean. 

At first we gasped. I was hanging limply from the jungle gym. I let go and heard my feet collide with the tan bark. He pushed himself off the ground. The other kids and I laughed then, a sound like thunder that echoed through his ears. It wasn’t mean, just a giggle. 

Kohl screamed. He noticed the mud and grass sprouting from his arms and curling into a clay statue. He stumbled backwards and clawed at his clothing, tearing holes through his shirt so we could see his scarred skin underneath. His fingers acted on their own while he scratched at his neck and drew blood down his throat. 

The world seemed to go silent while he mouthed chipped sentences. People with neon vests flooded through the yard. They tied him with towels and he limped back into the building. 

I did not follow. 


March, 2012

I did not follow. 

But I bent my fingers in odd directions until the knuckles blossomed with bruises. I was worried about my friend, locked in a room, surrounded by Janet, the school nurse, in latex gloves and photoshopped cat pictures. She’d slap band-aids over his eyes and chatter about her weekend, not pausing to breathe or ask him about his. 

Janet was blind to the world and Kohl was not. 

So that’s why I visited him after school. His hands were tied to the arms of the chair with bloodstained towels. He looked asleep but his hands clenched into fists every minute or so. I waited patiently outside the door, admiring Janet’s display of succulents on her desk, and tapping my foot to an unheard rhythm. 

There were also bobbleheads. With their faces pinned up with smiles and heads that rocked back and forth like a child’s swing. Its eyes were barely black dots but it filled me with a sense of insecurity. 

Janet returned. “Oh, dearie!” she mumbled, and whipped open the door for me. 

Inside there was barely anything. A bed, a chair, a table, a lamp. On the walls, there were mood posters taped up. Five different colors: blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and little labels to go with it. Kohl had one of those, laminated, on his backpack. Put there by his therapist. 

Janet bounced over to Kohl and set ice packs on his knees. She patted them twice and he winced. Clouds of air billowed off of them and that’s when he noticed me. 

“Janet, could you find me some water?” he asked, clearing his throat and giving her puppy eyes. 

She grinned with her yellowing teeth, “Yes, dearie. And your parents are on their way.” The door shut behind her. 

I stood with my white pants. They were covered in four-legged ladybugs with red, round tummies. My hands rested on the cold metal of the doorknob in case Kohl threw an ice pack at me for whatever reason. In some way, I was scared of my friend. 

“You shouldn’t see me like this,” he said after a moment. “Just return to class.” A slight pause. “What you saw was what I told you about, behind the bookcase . . .” 

I crossed the room and sat in the armchair. It was decorated in palm trees and coconuts. The stains on it were unimaginable but I bet there were boogers and snot and spit. All mixed into one disgusting, forty-year-old school chair. I tried to block his words from my ears. 

I looked at his face. “I’m not going anywhere.” A twig was stuck vertically in his hair. I wanted to laugh. “Did Ella—” 

“She came by a few minutes ago.” 

I nodded, focusing my gaze on the pictures of birds I’d drawn in permanent marker on my palm. How were they supposed to help me? “That’s great.” 

The door burst open. His parents rushed in. His mother with the weathered face and his father with the cracked glasses. They were divorced but they held hands with their son and murmured sweet thoughts like the ribbons had been sewn back together.  

I’d heard about his parents—a regular topic at my family’s dinner conversation. His mother pretended to be ill with cancer and his father was a strict professor. He was an only child. 

Kohl was rolled out of the room. He didn’t even look at me as he crossed over the frame. I saw the lumps and rivers of feathers through his bed and only the glow of the lamp illuminated them. I was alone.  


December, 2016

I was sitting on a bench. My lunch was in a paper bag beside me and it crinkled in my hand. I was admiring the balding spots in the ground and how the naked trees grew in diagonal lines like something from a linear graph. 

Suddenly his lips were curling in my direction. His hair grew like twisted roots and pine needles over his forehead and tiptoed onto his shoulders. Kohl walked over, brushing it away. It had been four years since the incident and now he had the films of time wrapped around his fingers. Black and white and shiny. 

“Harper,” he called. “Long time no see.” 

His voice was lower than I remembered, like it had been grounded and whisked into granite. I smiled, tugging on the backs of my earrings, “Kohl, way too long.” 

In another world we would’ve hugged. But he sat on the bench and sucked in a breath of smoke-smudged air. His eyes were lighter than I remembered, too, with interlocking rings of gold and blue. The same eyes filled with fear that morning. And he was so beautiful. 

“How’s Ella?” I asked, pressing my thumbs into my thighs. I didn’t wear star-speckled leggings anymore that stretched across the sky. I wore dark jeans that licked my ankles and split at the seams. 

His girlfriend was usually a sensitive topic. She looked sculpted from gold with a chipped front tooth and when she was angry the world crumbled away. Her frowns were painted in Rose’s Kiss lipstick and she hated the fact that Kohl and I were friends. 

Kohl sighed, “We broke up.” 

“What?” Maybe if I pretended to be sorry it’d be true. 

“It’s okay.” He looped his fingers through the green holes in the bench. 

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s better than okay.” He ignored me. “Ella is gone! And I’ve gone to therapy almost every week. I haven’t had an incident for four years. It’s been my resolution and I’ve kept it up.” He stood, waving his hands in circles and treading words from his mouth faster than ever before. “I’m not a monster. I’ve learned to control it.” 

The pavement peeled from underneath my feet. I thought about him and his secrets buried in his nail beds. He cleaned his forehead with the back of his hand and stared at my ears. 

“Look at you, Kohl, a good little boy.” I stood, taking my lunch with me. “And I’m sorry about Ella.” 

My steps could be measured by a ruler, quick and even. I kicked rocks with my toes and saw Ella’s pretty face fused to the back of my mind. Her face was like candle wax and while she dripped away she held out her hand and showed me her bitten nails. They were violet and sparkly and smooth. 

She was gone and he was unhappy and it was partly my fault. 


December, 2016

“Harper, wait.” 

He was still on the bench. The wind swam through his clothes in ripples and he clasped his hands in his lap. There was something so peaceful about this angel of a boy, sitting there with an inner beast that had been hushed by weeks of therapy and meditation. Weeks of tropical candles and men with earrings that looped through their cartilage.  

I wanted to run into him and kiss his cheeks and cry. Because he was strong and he had tried. But there was something about the way he slipped his fingers in the back pockets of his jeans and see-sawed on his heels. 

“Why can’t it go back to the way things used to be?” His voice was the same, though. Like he’d sucked in a breath of helium at birth and couldn’t seem to exhale. 

But his eyes were different. There was a sort of craze, now, that stretched them wide and unfocused them. He held out his hand. 

“Watch your mood,” I said, my back to him. He took a step forward, his hand washing in sunlight and becoming a lemon color. “It just can’t, I’m sorry. Things have changed and they can’t go back.” 

There were students all around us but the world felt silent. Like we were both whispering in walkie-talkies disconnected from the server. But by the second, the noises were fading and the car honks were quieting. I didn’t want it to be dramatic, though. We both knew what was coming so why couldn’t he accept it? 

I sighed, “You were never a monster, Kohl.” 

And I barged at him. Our shoulders bumped like they did when we first met and it was a comforting feeling. I rested my head in the crook of his neck and because I was slightly taller, he stood on his toes and did the same. 

His fingers weaved and tangled in the hood of my sweatshirt. Nobody said goodbye and we tore apart when the warning bell rang. 

I never talked to him again.

January 07, 2021 04:57

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29 comments

Ru .
13:49 Jan 07, 2021

This is deep. Disorders like these can be jarring to people with them and those around them. But they aren't monsters, their inner beasts just try to provoke them. I wrote a bit about OCD and PTSD this week too so I know it can be hard to fight the demons. You showed the struggles well. The order is a wee bit unbalanced (it's completely fine to me but others might be confused) but overall, the story is well executed.

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Scout Tahoe
14:20 Jan 07, 2021

Yes, fixing the order now. Thank you, Ru.

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Scout Tahoe
04:59 Jan 07, 2021

True story. I'm Harper. Slightly unedited. Don't ask me about the dates. Just give me feedback if it's confusing (which I bet it is) so I can make it better. Thanks for reading.

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Batool Hussain
10:38 Jan 07, 2021

True story? This is far from good. Perfect should be more like it. The confusing part is that you go from 2012 to 2016 and then back to 2011. You then go from 2011 to 2012....You should probably go in ascending order. At first, mention the part where you meet Kohl and then your friendship falling apart, him breaking up with his girlfriend and so on... This is actually really good other than the order in which the story takes place. Kudos!

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Scout Tahoe
14:35 Jan 07, 2021

Thank you, I edited. You can read back over if you like.

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Batool Hussain
18:10 Jan 10, 2021

I did. Much better!

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Zilla Babbitt
00:03 Jan 09, 2021

I relate so much to this story. I love it so so much. It's filled with real life and that's why I love it so much. The dates make sense, no worries about that. I think it's a bit unlikely for Kohl to say "Ella and her purses lips are gone" because he's so poetic and it's not natural for casual dialogue to be so poetic. Other than that, great job again!

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Scout Tahoe
00:20 Jan 09, 2021

Agh, thank you so much for the critique. Fixing immediately.

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13:20 Apr 17, 2021

You told me to pick a story based on a title and the first line, and so I did. And I can't really articulate how much I love this. Stories that reflect on childhood friendships always get me, because even in the happy ones, there's something a little sad about growing up and growing apart. I'm not sure if the part about reading Bridge to Terebithia in the beginning is true or an element you changed, but it's the perfect choice. And I know you wrote this months ago, but I'll chime in to say that the dates make perfect sense to me. The repeate...

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Scout Tahoe
18:32 Apr 17, 2021

Thank you so much. I really didn’t like it after I wrote it but I just reread and now I think it’s better. I’m glad the dates made sense because my first draft had the time periods all swapped.

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Julie Ward
16:10 Jan 10, 2021

I read this earlier and I had to step away for a minute to let it sink in. It's so good, Scout. The fact that it comes from personal experience makes it even more touching. I love how you've held your friendship with Kohl in your heart for so long and how you've poured it out on the page in such a descriptive and beautiful way. Amazing story.

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Scout Tahoe
16:48 Jan 10, 2021

Thank you so much, Julie.

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N. N.
18:36 Jan 08, 2021

Wow, this is really deep. And sensitive to talk about, especially when it's a true story, so kudos to you for finding that courage and weaving it into such a beautiful story. The story felt quite fine, and wasn't confusing, except perhaps the starting part where it's slightly muddling to know who's speaking. But then again, that might just be me.

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Dorsa S.
17:55 Jan 07, 2021

this story leaves you in tears; that's how powerful this piece is. i truly cannot explain my emotions over this. all i have to say is that i adore it. it's unique, well-written, just all of it. perfect, absolutely perfect.

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Scout Tahoe
18:01 Jan 07, 2021

Thank you so much!

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Maggie Deese
14:55 Jan 07, 2021

Wow...that was beautiful, Scout. I really loved this and I can feel how important this person is to you. You did a great job with conveying your real life emotions; whenever I try to write something based on a true story, it ends up being all jumbled. But this was perfect. Well done, truly.

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Scout Tahoe
14:57 Jan 07, 2021

Thank you, Maggie, I'm so glad you enjoyed reading. :)

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Maya W.
14:13 Jan 07, 2021

Wow, Scout. While I was reading this, I had a sinking feeling that it might have been a true story. I agree with Batool - the dates were a little confusing, and going in either ascending or descending order, but other than that, I really thought this was a great read. It reminded me of a few months ago before I joined Reedsy when I tried writing out my feelings in the form of a letter to someone who was very important to me. But enough about that - wonderful job.

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Scout Tahoe
14:21 Jan 07, 2021

Wow--and that's one way I could've solved this friendship crisis. Thank you, Maya, and I'll rearrange the dates.

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Maya W.
14:24 Jan 07, 2021

I don't think it really helped that much, but I think you've inspired me to try writing out my feelings again.

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Scout Tahoe
14:35 Jan 07, 2021

Great to hear! And I edited it, by the way.

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Maya W.
14:40 Jan 07, 2021

:)

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Aman Fatima
06:09 Apr 09, 2021

Its such a deep story. Its full of emotions and it just feels so real. I loved reading it.

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NK Hatendi
05:47 Jan 14, 2021

Its a genre I have little experience of. My imagination went on overdrive, but I found it fascinating.

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Scout Tahoe
14:24 Jan 14, 2021

Good to hear!

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Vanessa Marczan
22:00 Jan 13, 2021

Hey Scout! Reading your piece as part of the Critique's Circle this week - what an immersive story. Very vivid, you have a gift for description and some of the language you've used here reminds me of The Virgin Suicides, which I feel is one of the loveliest and saddest pieces. Definitely same vibes! Some hopefully constructive feedback (and please, this is all just my personal opinions so please don't be offended) The dates did throw me a little bit at the end, where we have December 2016 twice. It could have been just one large chapter, or...

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Megan Sutherland
22:23 Jan 11, 2021

No no no no no Why couldn't it have been a sweet, lovely ending? Honestly, as heart-wrenching as it was, it was amazing. Completely random, but I loved the spelling of Kohl. I never thought to spell it that way, I've always thought of it as boring old Cole. Super cool. :D Your golden retriever pic is sooooooooo cuteeeeeeeeee -Meg

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15:29 Jan 07, 2021

So I found this lovely. It sits well and just makes me feel all the emotions. It's great. The end feels final and it just makes me want to cry.

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Scout Tahoe
15:33 Jan 07, 2021

Thank you so much. This might be a different version, though, because I changed the order. :)

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