by Brianne Bannon

At 16 I was the best person I am ever capable of being. It was not a full peak, necessarily; I was shy and had bad skin and a tendency toward a slight stutter around new people. I had not yet learned to tame my frizzy mess of hair against St. Louis humidity, and my poofy, brunette halo is immortalized in dozens of unfortunate high school pictures. I am braver now, and recent years have lodged a glowing certainty in my chest that I lacked as a teenager. But when I was 16 I was wholly good—refuse to gossip about my classmates good, talk to my teachers about philosophy after school good, love nothing more than a walk around a park with my friends good. I used to put a mantra on a mental loop as I walked around school: be kind, be kind, be kind. The words thumped with the rhythm of my steps. I tried to bless the ground with my feet. These days, if anything is running on a loop through my mind, I am usually stressed or in a hurry, and the words are the four-letter kind.

On the weekends, my friends, about ten of us in all, give or take the few we would lose to cross-country meets or ACT tutoring, would play kickball in a nearby park. We never smoked, and our first experience with alcohol—it was a giggly circle of all of us, cross-legged on the carpeted floor of someone’s basement, passing around a handle of awful peach vodka—didn’t come until halfway through senior year. Until then, and even after, we played together like taller, more self-conscious children.

One July night, we were engaged in a competitive game of hide and seek around a playground when a stern ranger approached us and told us the park was closed. We apologized and got up to leave, but when the man realized we were sober teenagers playing a game for much younger children, he softened and let us stay.

When I wasn’t hard at work being the lamest, happiest 16-year-old in the park, I was drawing, or painting, or maybe watching TV in the basement with my dad. If I had time after school, I’d drag him downstairs with me, and he’d nod off while I worked my way through our recorded shows.

In warmer months, I took long walks around the neighborhood. I liked it best when the sun came out just after a good rain, when the tree trunks were dark as deep chocolate and light glinted off the pools of water that spotted my suburban streets. Sometimes the mantra would come back—be kind, be kind, be kind. I didn’t know it then, but it was a kind of meditation. I was 16, hopelessly optimistic and brimming over with love for everything around me: my friends, my teachers, silly television, the smell of my paints, post-rain puddles. I loved it all. Who was I, at 16, that I had enough love for the entire world?

I miss her. When I am in my parents’ backyard late at night I feel closest to her; back then I used to come home on the weekends just before curfew and stare at the stars, drink in as many of them as suburban light pollution would allow. If I have ever felt God, or anything like God, it was then, staring up at an echoing night sky with such intensity that my neck ached and my glasses were insufficient for the job at hand.

About the Author:

Brianne Bannon is a recent graduate of Truman State University, where she studied English, painting, and Spanish. She now works full-time in immigration law in Houston, Texas, but has a part-time job complaining about the humidity and traffic.