He was a year older than me, my two-door-down neighbor. His sister was supposed to be my friend, because she was a girl. But his sister was a year younger than me. She wasn’t as mature as he and I.
We would stand atop the backyard playground set made of wood. Our fathers built it, nailed together the way only young dads could, meaningfully and fatherly. We looked down the slide, shining yellow and plastic. This was our game, pretending we were on a different planet, with an exotic name. The sun was high in the sky and bounced off the slick glaze of the slide and the swings. Sure, the sky was above us but there, we were above everything we knew, higher up than we could ever be otherwise. His sister, my sister, the grass and the little bugs that crawl in the grass, even our parents: we towered over them all.
Here in our position of power, we were friends. He bullied me, pulled my hair, called me names. His clammy hands would clasp my shoulder-length straight hair, boring and brown. A swift yank was all it took to rattle my brain and force angry words out of my mouth.
There were no rules, however, when he met me on the side of his house one day. We were playing as normal, when he ran off and I followed. There was something about the way he nodded. I knew I was supposed to follow, but I didn’t understand why. Then, it was just he and I and the scratchy bushes surrounding us. Brought back to earth, amongst the bugs and the grass, the tone suddenly felt serious. This time his hands were not yanking my hair, but holding my hand. When he looked at me, his face contorted into something I hadn’t seen before. Looking straight into my eyes, he whispered quickly and assuredly, as if he had practiced.
“When we get older, we’re going to get married, right?”
“Right,” I nodded.
He looked satisfied, and his freckles danced as his face stretched into a smile. He stood up quickly, his jeans dirty and grass stained; the only evidence of our meeting. Looking both ways, he ran to his backyard, back to the playground as I stayed hidden within the bushes. I didn’t know quite what he meant. He was a year older than me, after all. I thought, “Maybe when I turn five I’ll understand.”