October 19, 1997. Transcribed from memory.
. o . o . o .
It is a typical late October day in Snohomish - overcast and cold. I am Steve Largent, the greatest wide receiver of all time, and I'm sprinting down the right sideline, two steps ahead of my defender. I reach the second orange cone and turn to look for the ball, and as usual it is thrown too short and now I have to come back for it and knock it away to prevent an interception. I am furious.
"God, Teddy, why do I go deep all the time when you can't even throw the ball?"
"Shut up, Amanda, it slipped out of my hand."
"It's drizzling. It makes the ball wet."
"Fourth down!" Brandon happily chimes in, "Are you kickin' or stickin'?"
"We're going for it," I say, before Teddy can wimp out again and punt the ball away. "Huddle up."
I am two inches taller than most of these boys and I am faster than all of them and if Teddy could just throw me the ball I would be in for six every time. He draws up a play on the grass that involves Pete and I criss-crossing to confuse our defenders. The ball is snapped to Teddy and we do our criss-cross and it works to perfection. Brandon falls down and I am free and open and ready to run to the end zone but I look back and Teddy is flailing his arms as Mike runs by in the opposite direction with the ball. I'm not positive what has happened but I'm pretty sure it's Teddy's fault.
"Suckers walk!" shouts Mike from the end zone.
. o . o . o .
Fortunes turn when Teddy is forced by popular vote to become a blocker. Now I am a weapon, running fly patterns and slants and in-cuts and giving the defense fits. But it is too little too late. The final score is something like seventy-seven to thirty-five, and I say goodbye to everyone except Brandon and we walk back to his house for my birthday party. My birthday was four days ago but the party was moved to the weekend and it's at Brandon's house because most of our stuff is on a truck somewhere in Idaho or something on the way to South Dakota where my family is moving.
My party is just Brandon's family and my family and Kerry Kelly whose parents forced her to come for part of this party before going to Jessica French's. Jessica's dad got a moon bounce and I would rather be at her party, too. My sister's friends all went to see I Know What You Did Last Summer but my parents made her stay here and so she's angry at me like it's my fault for being born in October.
Brandon and Kerry and I are playing Wave Race while the parents all sit around the table and my sister sits on the sofa reading The Golden Compass. It is completely unlike a birthday party in both atmosphere and energy.
. o . o . o .
My birthday dinner is pizza from Papa Murphy's and pop. My parents are freaks about pop and anything with sugar, really. I don't even have a preference between Coke and Pepsi like any normal ten-year-old does. But it's my birthday and they asked what I wanted and I said "pizza and pop" so they got some take-and-bakes from Papa Murphy's and some generic cola from QFC that has hardly any fizz.
When the pizza is ready we grab slices and try to get back to the TV for more Wave Race but we are forced to sit at the table instead. Our parents are droning on and on about this company called Amazon that Brandon's dad works for and it is all market share and stock prices and boring business stuff.
"What's so special about a bookstore?" I ask Brandon's dad.
"It's more than just a bookstore," says Brandon.
"That's right," his dad says, quite pleased that his son has come to the defense. "It's an on-line store. You don't have to walk through the whole bookstore looking for a book, or worry if the book is sold out. You just search for the book on your computer, order it, and then we mail it to you. It's cheaper than buying books at store, and we sell other stuff, too, like CDs and movies and--"
"Can you buy anything? Like a car?"
"You can buy lots of things, but not a car. At least, not yet! Who knows, maybe one day we'll be selling cars, too!"
"You can't sell clothes, though."
"Because you have to try them on. People will want to try them on."
"I suppose you're right."
At this point he is through entertaining a ten year old's business ideas and steers the conversation back towards the adults. They are talking about my grandfather's death and the circumstances surrounding it and the consequences of it. My family will be moving to South Dakota but my father will staying behind to sell the house. He is always traveling for work and so it hardly matters where he lives permanently, and he worked something out so that he can work from our house quite a bit but he'll also need to go back to Seattle quite a bit.
. o . o . o .
After dinner they bring out presents. I get some new clothes, a discman and some CDs, and a copy of Goldeneye 007. A check from my aunt yields $50 and I get a couple of savings bonds from my grandparents, presumably purchased before one of them died. Kerry's parents show up to get her before I start opening presents and they give me a gift certificate to a local ice cream place which I will never use.
"There are more presents, sport, but the movers packed them by accident," my dad says. "We'll open them when we get home."
"Right. Home." The thought disgusts me.
"Do you know anything about your new home?" asks Brandon's dad.
"You mean the Poop Motel?" Brandon erupts into laughter.
"Well, I've only been there twice and it smelled like poop so I call it the Poop Motel."
"There's manure on the ranch, Amanda, but the house doesn't smell like--"
"It smells like poop. It's like that all the time. It's always hot and you can never get clean."
My father presumes to speak for me. "She's been there twice, in the middle of the summer. They don't have air conditioning, just fans and open windows, and the smell from the manure comes into the house every now and then when the wind is right. She's exaggerating."
"Well, even with the smell," Brandon's mother chimes in, "I'm sure everything will be fine."
"That's what everyone keeps saying," I say, growing more angry. "How do you know that? Maybe everyone there is a jerk." I turn to my mother, "How do you know? You only visit them three times a year and then one of them dies and we have to move all the way out there? To stay in the Poop Motel?"
"Amanda, that is enough. Do you want to have your birthday cake or not?"
"Why, so I can blow out the candles and wish that I could stay here and not have to move to stupid South Dakota and live in the Poop Motel? If I wished that would I get my wish, mom? Would I?"
I manage to make it away from the kitchen table before I start sobbing uncontrollably and I lock myself in Brandon's bedroom. There is a pause, followed by knocking on the door from concerned parents but I yell at them all to go away.
. o . o . o .
I can hear conversations going on in the next room but can't make out any of the words. I am reading a comic book where Bill Clinton is at Superman's funeral when the knocking resumes and this time it's Brandon's voice.
"Can you open the door? I need to get my glove."
I ponder this request.
"The World Series is starting. I need my glove."
"Why do you need your glove to watch a baseball game?"
"I don't know, I just need it. Do you want to come out and watch it with us?"
"Baseball is stupid," I say opening the door, and it's true, not just at this moment but in general.
"Whatever." Once again my standard comeback.
He grabs his glove and starts to leave but then stops and sits on the bed.
"Do you go to school right as soon as you get to South Dakota?"
"No, I get the week off. It takes a few days to drive there, and we're going to stop at Devils Tower. I wanted to stop at Yellowstone but my dad says that it's closed for the winter. Anyway we don't get there until Thursday and so I start on Monday I guess."
"I know everyone says this, but I bet you'll make plenty of new friends. It just might take a while."
"I don't want new friends. I want the friends I have."
"We can still be friends."
"But when you go away you lose your friends. Remember Peter Lavoie, that kid who wore brown pants to school every day?"
"He was on my tee ball team. He didn't wear brown pants at tee ball though."
"Do you still talk to him?"
"Well, no, he moved away."
Brandon gets defensive. "But I was never friends with Peter Lavoie! He was weird!"
"The point is that people move away and then you forget about them."
"Do your parents have e-mail?"
He repeats the question. "If they do, we can talk to each other all the time." I have only a cursory understanding of what e-mail is but I know that it's like writing letters except they get there immediately instead of waiting for them to be delivered. I promise to e-mail him all the time and I sincerely mean it. The idea of keeping at least one friend makes me happy. I hug Brandon.
"Are you going to try to kiss me?"
"What? No! Why?"
"Hugs and kisses go together. Like XOXO on a Valentine's card. The X is for kisses."
"Have you ever kissed anyone not your parents?"
"No, have you?"
And without any further ado, Brandon kisses me. Somehow I half expect it and manage not to recoil. It's strange but not altogether terrible and thoughts rush through my head, like whether or not I'm doing it right and what to say if we get caught and whether or not my sister has done this yet. It's far from romantic and it's over quickly, and I wipe my mouth on my sleeve.
"You're not supposed to do that afterwards!" he says, and I laugh. "How do you know?" I counter. "And what was that for anyway?"
"You're leaving, and I don't know when I'll see you again," he says, adding in a horrible fake accent, "Zat's how Austrians say goodbye."
Chuckles. Then awkward silence. Then Brandon seems to remember why he came here in the first place.
"Game 2 is on, let's go!" he says, heading towards the TV room, and like that, the moment is over.
. o . o . o .
That was the last time I saw Brandon. The few times I returned to Washington while my parents were still together passed without any sort of reunion, and once I went off to college at the UW he was a distant memory, a fond but fragmented scrap of nostalgia. I hadn't thought about him in who-knows-how-long until last week, when my sister mentioned him as an afterthought, between talking about her new boyfriend and an upcoming television show featuring Elijah Wood and a man in a dog costume.
"Oh, hey, remember that kid Brandon Willits from back in Snohomish who was always over our house?"
Of course I do.
"He was killed in Iraq like two weeks ago. It was a... what do you call it... not an IUD..."
"Yeah, an IED. Inside a car. It blew up and killed him. That's really messed up, huh?"
"I didn't even think there were troops in Iraq anymore. What a stupid war. Anyway, this TV show with the dog..."