The Crescent Woods Skate Park
Drake chants from teenagers’ Bluetooth radios, his voice reverberating against the hot metal skateboard ramps of this summer evening. Elementary school kids sneaker up the ramps and slide back down, all the while eyeing the ollies and drop-ins of their older siblings. You and I, clad in rollerblades, sit on the quarter pipes and swing our wheeled-feet waiting for the skate park to empty. We bounce our brake pads against the metal beneath us, and a deep gong responds. The kids laugh. You tell me a joke, a play-on-words, your specialty. I scoot away from the explicit graffiti carved into the paint: penises and words my mom had shielded me from, filigreed into the rusty edges of the ramps. We pretend it isn’t there.
The clock in the square across the street chimes 9 o’clock—curfew—and skate park becomes ghost town. We are the ghosts, and we delight in the night. We float on the concrete, dodging the searching beams of minivan headlights, and we add our own graffiti to the vulgar mural: you scratch in a sword, I write down a cipher. A message for when we come back. When you try to solve it.
The Fort Drum Woods
Identical suburban houses ring the cluster of elm and ash—barely ten acres, barely woods. But we call them woods anyway. A hike to the center of the grove gives only the illusion of solitude. Mothers could still stick their curler-adorned heads through the back window and shout: for the school bus, for dinner, for bedtime. And we would hear them, and maybe respond.
Gravel paths rimmed with wild dandelions and thistles snake through the trees, decorated with streaks of soil from bike tires and sneaker scuffs. Somewhere along a path is a bench, its seat wooden, its back metal and defaced with a red spray-painted question mark. Corona Extra beer cans litter arounds its legs. We used to pick them up, sneaking black trash bags from the kitchen pantry for our operations, but they always resprouted like the weeds along the gravel path.
We take to cloaking ourselves in elm leaves instead, scrambling up limbs and nestling ourselves in barked branches. We talk most days, sing some, but if we are silent long enough then the white-tailed deer visit the base of our sanctuary. They approach like spirits, hardly stirring the leaf-strewn ground. Their babies are less so, bounding around and knocking together their naked heads like children playing at war. You sneeze and they stare and then they run.
Dry Hill Ski Area
Homeschoolers ski free on Thursday nights from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. It’s impossible to be here without seeing a familiar face. We glide up the slope on the lift comparing our co-op to a cult, giggling in whispers when my parents take the chair behind us. Our peripheral vision catches them fumbling with gloved-hands for their cameras, and we face them with crossed eyes, scrunched noses, and wagging tongues. We know they will steal some candids later when we’re having too much fun to care, but for now we can obstruct their mission.
Our skis hit the top of the mountain and we speed to the edge of the slope before my mom and dad can catch up to us. We’re supposed to weave down the hill, our ski instructor made us promise, but we’ve come to homeschool ski free night at least five times now. We don’t need to slow our descent or make use of the friction, so we charge straight down. We pick up speed and almost fall at the end, but we didn’t so we do it again. We take turns wiping off each other’s goggles once the storm builds and blocks our vision.
We came bundled up, but after two hours of charging downhill through blizzards the snow has seeped through even our waterproof gloves, making our fingers red and chapped. And grasping for a warm ceramic mug. We kick off our ski boots and change into the fresh pair of socks our mothers brought when we forgot. We’ll be back next week.
Our houses look the same, but mine is white, yours is yellow. Based on our floor plans we have the same room, but we’ve arranged our beds and desks and drawers in different places. I remember the times I walked past your house—before I knew you—because I always heard the piano through the open window. I never told you, but I would sometimes stand on the sidewalk, just barely obscured by the birch tree, and listen. I didn’t know you, but I had caught a glimpse of you. A boy my age. But I was too young to care. I didn’t know your hair was red then.
Now we sit on your front porch obeying your mother and practicing our Spanish verb conjugations. You already know all of them, so you volunteer to throw yourself from the porch into a heap every time I miss a question, yelping in a different pitch each time and bruising your sides. I laugh and miss questions on purpose.
When the weather warms we wait on the ice cream truck, swinging our legs as they hang from the porch’s edge. I ask about the stack of paper next to you, since we already put away our Spanish homework, and you pretend to hide it. But you wouldn’t have brought it out if you didn’t want me to see. And you read me poems while we wait. You’re in eighth grade, so they’re all terrible. And I tell you so. But I also tell you I love them.
When it gets dark we move inside. I listen to you play piano, this time without a window frame and birch leaves to muffle the sound. You write me a song, an original composition—instrumental because I laughed at your poetry. I never told you I recorded the song with my phone. I listen to it now when I feel lonely, or when I want to feel lonely. Because that was the night your mom told us you were moving away.
It was the summer of vanishing. Not long after your family’s orders we received ours. You to Texas. Us to Tennessee. We googled the distance and pretended that twelve and a half hours wasn’t long.
You and I took turns helping each other pack. Across the room I eyed your methodical placement of my mother’s silverware into crates cushioned with sheets and cloth napkins. It was better having you here than the paid strangers who manhandled our memories and tossed them into cardboard boxes. And somehow worse.
The Fort Hood Track
Four years but I had seen you through it all. Daily reading your voice in letters and texts, weekly seeing your face through the computer screen, and yearly spotting you across the airport crowd. This time I don’t see your face right away, because everyone wears plastic and cloth masks, but I look for your height and your hair. In eighth grade I could never find you by your height. I often bragged that I—though a girl—was taller than you. But your hair is the same, and I see it now.
You and your mother drive me to your new home in Fort Hood. Leave it to the military to make your family move from New York to Texas to New York to Texas, in four years. You give me the tour: the coarse-grass backyard scorched with southern sun, the pantry you filled with Mott’s mango peach applesauce and Twinings earl grey tea for me, and your bedroom walls papered with my letters and paintings. I never told you, but every one hid a secret message. Some in cipher, some in invisible ink. A mosaic of things I had never told you.
Now it’s 3 a.m. and we’re on the running track, wheeled-feet once again. We race in the dark and you’re so much faster so I collapse on the ground before you can realize how far behind I am. I close my eyes and catch my breath and wait for you to come back. And you do. And we lay on the running track, count three shooting stars, point out Jupiter, and talk. About the future. About college. About us.
The Austin-Bergstrom Airport
Last time I had to park my Chevy Impala on the shoulder of the road because my eyes blurred and I couldn’t breathe. I never told you, but I had cried the whole hour drive home from the Nashville International Airport. This time I can’t cry as I walk away because there’s people around and a terminal to reach and a flight about to take off. And I can’t cry because for once this doesn’t feel like an ending, or even a “see you later, friend,” but a beginning. It’s the first thing I tell my mom when she picks me up that evening. You love me. And I love you.
But I would have never told you if I had known that was the last time we would search for each other in an airport crowd. After four years flying between Texas and Tennessee and sometimes New York, I would never have guessed that South Carolina and Ohio would be any different. All that changed was the setting.
Emily Vest is a junior English major with a creative writing and an editing and publishing minor at Cedarville University. She became the new Editor-in-Chief of The Cedarville Review in Fall 2022 semester after the editorial board lauded her published submissions and literary feedback.