Do you remember how dark it was in the tiny room we shared long ago? You slept on the top bunk while Keith slept on the bottom because he would fall out of bed every night after waking us both to his night terrors, on his knees punching his pillow and pounding his head on the wall in front of him till chalky white dust lined his already chalky white forehead. He never saw the fear in our eyes when we thought he might kill himself from the nightmares we could not imagine a little boy would have. I still wonder what it was he saw at night. Do you know? Would you tell me if you did?
I slept on the pullout twin bed beneath the bunk beds that you both told me alligators lived under. I sometimes slept with one eye open towards the gaping hole in hopes that if the gator came I could run faster than the two of you even though you told me he would want my succulent flesh more than the bones that pierced through your extra small shirts as your ribs were pulled up and down while breathing. My ribs were hidden under layers of gummy bears and Happy Meals.
My mom and I moved in when I was almost five and you were so angry at first. You were angry that I would take the other bed that you saved for your friends for sleepovers, the one that had the extra teenage mutant ninja turtles sheets and got changed to princesses when I came along. You shoved me in the dark space with the alligators sometimes and laughed while cried and screamed for my mom, but I want to tell you that I think it was good that I saw the dark things in the dark spaces then because they don’t scare me now.
I was never mad at you Shawn, because the first day I saw you on that little playground riding the springy horse outside of the Saratoga apartment complex that smelled like pine needles from spring through winter, I loved you. You were the first boy I met that looked like me. Your skin was olive and smooth like mine. You had a superman t-shirt on with a pair of oversized jeans that barely fit your almost five year old body. Your hair was fine soft dark brown tendrils that wrapped around your ears and made soft ringlets on your forehead. You had a wide smile and a missing tooth and I knew that we were destined to be married one day, like in Sleeping Beauty. You might say now that when I was almost five I didn’t know what love was, but sometimes I think I knew more then than I know now. I knew that I would have given you all of my Barbie’s if you had asked for them, but you never did, so I asked my mom for Lego’s because I knew you liked those and would want to play with me then.
We moved our stuff in without your permission, though you knew I was coming. Your mom, Dorothy was the one that told you and Keith to put the new sheets on for me as a surprise. I can only imagine the disgust you felt as I invaded your room and your lives. I was only there because my mom had brought me. I wouldn’t have come if she and your mom hadn’t decided that they wanted to be more than just friends.
We had played many times before this, but because we had to not because we wanted to. You and Keith always wanted to play battle games while I wanted to play Cinderella, but instead we would compromise on Hot Lava. We would jump from the slide to the bars and sometimes onto those springy horses that you loved in order to avoid the lava sand. We knew it wasn’t real, but sometimes we would play for hours chasing each other around, trying to push one another in until one of us stood as the sole survivor.
Are you surviving now Shawn? Things aren’t like they were when we were almost five, when we didn’t realize how simple things really were. When sometimes I would swear and get my mouth washed out with soap and Keith would break things, and you would steal from neighbor’s mailboxes and Dorothy would find her belt for you both. We would all put up a fight and start crying before the soap or the belt came, but it didn’t stop anything, they would always come and be over with quicker than we thought. We would go to our room with the other two musketeers, climb onto our beds and cry because there was no place in our tiny apartment to be alone. Do you remember? Those were the days when you still thought it was okay to cry in front of people.
I always wanted to hug you when you cried, but I never did because I loved you and I didn’t want you to know, so I would say something like, “you know play dough tastes better than soap” or “do you wanna play with Michelangelo and I’ll be Leonardo?” to take your mind off of it. We would play and you would stop crying though your eyes would be sad for a while and I would smile because I helped and I knew one day when we were married I would never let you cry. Do you cry now? Does anyone hug you?
Eventually you grew to tolerate me, maybe even like me enough. We all played together, went camping together, learned to ride our bikes together. For a little while we were like a real family with your mom and my mom watching our every move, but then a couple years later it was over. One day my mom brought me to a new apartment and asked me if I liked it. I said, “it would be better with a dog.” She laughed with the “honey, that’s really cute, but it’s never gonna happen” laugh that I’m sure you remember well. Then she told me this was going to be our new home for a while, just till she could get the money to move us into a place of our own.
We were six then and it was just the beginning of summer. I had been excited about that summer because I knew we would get to spend all of our time together and camp and I would get to see you and your skinny, shirtless six year old body on the waterslides in Manteca. You would make me laugh with some funny story about a prank you pulled and I would follow you around and have my friends follow you around too.
We didn’t get to have that summer though. It’s not that I never saw you, but that I saw you less. Dorothy would bring you around sometimes, but mostly she would just bring Keith without you. I would wonder where you were and found out that you were with your biological family. I had met them once before, they were the black side of your family and I wondered what they were like and if they loved you like I did. You missed the time when Keith and I got to stay up and watch Nightmare on Elm Street with my mom and were permanently scared to get on her waterbed. You were probably watching something with your brothers in a house on the East side of town. The east side was the bad side of town, so I thought maybe it would turn you bad. Do you think that’s what went wrong?
A few months later my mom found a place for us to live in San Jose, it was even farther away from you. Dorothy found Keith, her, and you a place too in East San Jose. It wasn’t until then that I realized we were going to be living separate lives. I hated knowing that we would have to live separate lives for a while, but I just knew it would be okay because it would all be fine once we grew up and got married.
We’re grown up now and I really want to say something about that thing that happened when we were eight. Are you still angry at me for that? I hope I didn’t hurt you too much. Please write back and please let me know how everything’s going in prison. I just think it’s not fair that you’re there. Not fair at all.