The doorbell rang in three quick bursts, then stopped abruptly. It was the first time the house had been silent all day. The pre-adolescent boy, still wearing his basketball uniform from the YMCA game earlier that morning, jumped off his bed and raced down the hall toward the front door. He had played well, scoring nearly 10 points, hustling hard on defense, helping his team remain undefeated with only two games left in the season. He was particularly elated that morning when his sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, came to see him play. In fact, as he drank hard on the cold can of Orange CRUSH that he rewarded himself after each game, he could see her reflection in the glass doors as she approached him from behind. She was congratulatory, genuine as she put one chubby, caring arm around his sweaty shoulders.
Mrs. Brown was older, pear shaped, and utterly delightful. Her husband was a paraplegic, she had two adopted teenage children, and taught a raucous group of six graders, but almost always came to the boy’s games at the YMCA. Her class was filled with laughter, levity, but she somehow still commanded the respect of every single student. It was a diverse group of kids, encompassing more racial, socio-economic people then the boy had ever been exposed to before. It was the first time he ever had a black friend; a boy named Steven who lived with his mother and three sisters. Steven loved to talk on the phone, and the boy enjoyed talking with Steven after school; partly because they discussed things the boy had never heard of before, like the the rank way chitlins smelled when cooking…but mostly he enjoyed his conversations with Steven because he seemed genuinely interested in the boy, always respectful, never braggish or competitive like most of the other pre-teen boys in his class.
He had started at a Lutheran school with his younger sister midway through the previous year, and hated most of his time there. The boys at that school were mean spirited and ridiculously competitive. His teacher in the fifth grade was Mrs. Mueller, a tall, masculine woman who always wore long khaki skirts with brown shoes. She was also kind, complimentary; especially in regards to the boy’s poetry. That year, he had begun a daily ritual of writing poems in a notebook that had accidentally been a duplicate when buying school supplies. The cover of the notebook was a cartoon image of a boy playing goalie in a soccer game, in motion with the ball bouncing comically off his head. In fact, he had drawn a pair of thick glasses onto the face of the soccer player that echoed his own brown, rimmed spectacles. His poems were simple, mostly humorous rhymes and stories about his life. He liked telling stories, making rhymes about his pets, sister, and sports…the boy maintained his affinity for storytelling even as he became a man. Mrs’ Mueller doted on the boy, praising his creativity, even taking the book of poetry to a professor friend at the university in Norman. The professor sent it back with warm kudos, and a note that said, “Well done, young man…you have the makings to become a great writer someday. Keep it up.” A few months later, on one particularly sad morning, the boy put the notebook in the trash that was laying by the front driveway of his home. He regretted it immediately, worrying about it all day at school until he jumped off the bus that afternoon to retrieve it, but instead found the metal, corrugated trash can turned upside down on the lawn.
He loved the YMCA in Enid, busy with kids and families; the smell of chlorine from the indoor pool reminded him fondly of the pool from his hometown. The boy and his family had moved to the small city in western Oklahoma the previous year, and it had taken nearly that amount of time for him to become acclimated to his new life. The YMCA had been a welcomed break from his new kid loneliness, offering daily summer camps, soccer, football, and now basketball as spring brushed away winter. He was a good athlete despite his thick glasses, and sports had been a way for him to excel and make friends. The games were also a rare glimpse into his parents sitting next to one another, feigning happiness as they cheered him on from the stands. He loved them both, but was acutely aware, even then, of their mutual hatred for one another. He felt loved, but his stomach turned when they fought aggressively, which was happening more than ever.
The boy was a little girl crazy, despite the embarrassment he had endured on the first day of sixth grade in Mrs, Browns class. Again, he was the new kid, and even though he had made two quick friends before lunch, Chris and Steven, he was harshly reminded of his low level status before the final bell of the day. Amy was a cute, tan, long legged girl with straight brown hair, crooked teeth, and a nose that turned up ever so slightly. The boy hadn’t spoken one word to her, but asked his friend Chris to ask her to “go with him.” Chris obliged, but no sooner had he posed the question then the girl barked loudly, “GOD NO!” The boy was devastated; but felt fortunate to have made a couple new friends. The semester continued in Mrs. Brown’s class, and before the Halloween season arrived, it was clear to the boy that Amy did indeed want to “go with him.”
Amy and the boy became good friends. Sharing a similar quirky sense of humor, they sat next to one another throughout the Fall. In fact, because they both liked to doodle, together the devised a cartoon character they called “Minerva” who was drawn with big hair, beady eyes, and a knack for saying socially awkward things. They both quietly fell In love that semester in Mrs. Brown’s class, even though they never once held hands, kissed, or actually went on any kind of date. Once in the back aisle of the school library when they were alone, she had made eye contact, nuzzled his neck delicately for just a moment; but they were interrupted by another kid looking for “The Bridge to Terabithia.” It’s the kind of love that kids felt innocuously back in the early eighties, before it got serious, before it could actually hurt.
His parents had been fighting all day. It was also his sister’s birthday weekend, so there was much happening in addition to his basketball game at the Y. Amy and her friend Libby called the house during one particularly loud exchange, and both girls, recognizing the boy’s sadness asked him to come over to Libby’s house, which was just a couple blocks away. They were making Rice Krispie Treats with food coloring, and it sounded like they were having fun. He desperately wanted to go, but knew he needed to stay close to home for his little sister. The girls did their best to make him feel better over the phone, even promising to bring him something special that afternoon.
The doorbell had startled him; it seemed curious to him since the house had been rattling with shouts of resentment, blame all afternoon. But now it was quiet as he approached the vestibule.
He opened the front door to find no one; just the cold, gray sky and a small, shiny, rectangular parcel sitting on the welcome rug in front of the door. He bent down to pick it up, then slowly unwrapped the aluminum foil layers that revealed a bright blue Rice Krispie Treat that was attached to a small piece of paper signed by Amy that simply said, “I love you.”
That night, when his mother left his father for the final time, the boy rode quietly in the back seat of the car; the only one not crying, but his heart was broken nevertheless. He contemplated eating the Blue Rice Krispie Treat that was now obscured by the darkness of the highway. He would never see Amy again….and to this day, breakfast cereal of any kind turns his stomach.