The Things I Wrote
By Jennifer Leigh Kiefer
In sixth grade, you stopped me in the hall by our lockers. You had noticed I was reading a book you liked. I was new to the school; you were my first friend.
By seventh grade we had a friend group that was inseparable. Bonded by books, bonded by the written word. We spent our time writing stories and acting out the ones we read in the woods by your house. Out there we could do and be anything. We would climb the trees like cats or fly out of them like birds. Those woods were a whole world to us then. You were so wonderfully adventurous, always convincing us to climb another tree, dream a little bigger. And when I climbed too high, you talked me down, helped me find my way back to solid ground and then we’d race back to your room with the big white bookcases, and you’d tell me your newest idea or show me the strawberry lip gloss you wanted to wear for your first kiss.
And by eighth grade, boys were lining up, without even knowing it was strawberry lip gloss they wanted to taste. While I was hopeless at flirting, you knew just what to say. Plus, you always were the prettiest of us. You’d flip your hair, figure out how to swish your hips when you walked… you didn’t need to turn around to know they were right behind you. We acted out stories less and less, but we still would fight for the main character when we did. Even though it should have been clear to me who the main character in the story of our friendship was. I would have followed you anywhere. Of course, I was your sidekick. At lunch our group expanded to include the guys who always fought to sit on either side of you. But that was okay, I sat directly across, the perfect spot to share a smile, or an inside joke, when the boys lost your attention. At the end of the school year, we spent a whole day racing around a theme park, no adults to slow us down. We imagined what high school would be like. We could never have been more wrong.
Instead of freedom we found our lives crowded by harder classes, more activities, and less time to visit the woods and our world away from all the stress. I could no longer keep track of all the boys following you, but maybe there weren’t nearly as many as I remembered. It took me nine years to figure out why they even bothered me so much and I’m not so sure I trust my hormonal teenage memories. But to me it seemed like they were always there. Even during the one class where there shouldn’t have been any, you found ways to go find them. I thought that was supposed to be our time. I worried our time would disappear entirely.
I don’t remember what precisely started our fight.
I don’t remember what caused me to write that letter.
But I remember that I cried as I wrote it. I remember one of our friends warning me not to give it to you. And I remember not listening.
However, for all the words I wrote about feelings in that letter, it has taken nine years to come to terms with what I was really feeling. It seems so obvious now. It’s crazy to think it took another six years to figure out that I liked girls. And it wasn’t until a date with a girl a couple years later that I really figured out that I always had. I don’t remember her name, but she told me about how she realized she had grown up with a crush on Meg from Hercules. Since that conversation, I’ve seen movies I’ve loved as long as I can remember in a new light. I didn’t only have crushes on Disney princesses though. I’ve been slowly rewriting my memories from before as well.
Do you remember when we pretended that we were our favorite characters from our favorite book series? I got to be the main character in that one and you played my love interest. We worked together to save the world against the villains we made up in the woods. Inevitably I would get hurt or captured and you would come to save me, playing the hero just like the hero you had become to me when you talked to me in the hall that day in sixth grade.
For a couple wonderful years, you played my love interest out there in the woods, until out in the real world, you found love interests of your own. In the real world I wasn’t the main character, but while it took me many years to realize, you were still my love interest.
In that letter I wrote that I hated your laugh. I wondered for many years why I wrote about something so trivial, so irrelevant. I didn’t hate your laugh though. I hated that I was no longer the one making you laugh that way.
I hated that I didn’t know how to leave the world we created, or that I didn’t want to. I hated feeling left behind in those woods. No one to talk me out of the tree. No one to convince me to climb in the first place.
You moved away the summer after I wrote that letter. Before I could realize what I had done. Before I could apologize. Did you find new trees to climb by your new house? Do you still climb trees today? Do you create new worlds in those trees like we once did together? Do you ever put those worlds on a page?
I’m not as good at it now, but I’ll still climb a tree here and there. And I often dream the day away. I’ve filled pages and pages since we last spoke…including pages and pages I’ve wanted to send to you.
But I’ve forever been haunted by the things I wrote. It took me nine years to understand myself, how could I ever ask the same of you?
You were the one that taught me to climb higher though, so I will ask anyway.
And you were the one that convinced me to take the risk and jump back down when I climbed too high, so…
You were the first girl I loved. I came out as pansexual last year, though I’ve always loved regardless of gender. I wish I would’ve known it then so I wouldn’t have written those hateful things out of a jealousy I didn’t understand. But I had a long journey of self-discovery to go through, one I wasn’t ready to take when we were friends.
You owe me nothing, but if you remember the world in the woods like I do, if you remember the sleepovers, the snacks, the strawberry lip gloss, and if you remember all the books we read and words we wrote together with a fraction of the fondness I do… please forgive me for not appreciating a friendship I cherished so much more than I showed. Forgive me for all the things I got upset by with no explanation I knew how to give. Forgive me for all the things I wrote. Both in that letter and the apologies I have written and left unsent since.
Forgive me because I know I’ve made far too many mistakes, but even though I have grown a lot and learned a lot and changed so, so much… I’d still really love to visit that world in the woods one more time.
The girl who still misses your friendship nine years later.