Summer came to a close. So it goes.
The weeks came to pass and as they tend to do around this time of year, the leaves began to fall one by one. Like the leaves, my friends too began to fall away, one at a time. Thomas was the last to go. I went to visit him before he moved out. We didn’t talk about him going away, but instead focused on things we’d done over the last four years. The adventures were many, far too many to count, and still for a couple of hours we tried to recall them all. As Thomas left, he left me with this thought:
“We’ve been through a lot these last four years. But no matter how much we’ve seen and done, the best is yet to come. You’ll see.”
Then he was gone. Perhaps not forever, but there was still an air of finality as I drove home. A week passed after that drive without a word from anyone. One week turned into a month, and all I got were a few texts and calls. Once I went up to visit them in their dorms. It was fun, to be sure, but I was on the outside of it all. Amidst smiles and laughs, we explored campus, but it was clear that this was not my world.
At home I spent more and more time out in the woods. Classes were boring; it was like being back in high school, but without my friends, and where was the point in that? Soon I stopped going to them altogether. My relationship with the family was strained; I was seldom home, spending hours driving around from place to place, looking for all the spots where old memories still desperately clung.
It was an unfortunate series of events that put me in career services. That morning I had been sitting on the back porch looking over the foreboding note I’d received weeks ago. It was even more tattered now than it was when I found it, the words now barely legible. My father came out to speak with me about finding work. In retrospect, I suppose it was a reasonable request, but the timing wasn’t right. The conversation blossomed into an argument, breeding shouts and threats; before long I took leave of that space altogether.
I walked from the house to my car. I drifted for half an hour, from parking lot to parking lot, following backroads and main streets and highways before finally settling in a little park. There were kids running here and there, their mothers and fathers in hot pursuit. For a while I watched and that was nice. From my perch on a park bench, I went and took a seat by a curious child digging in the sand. He pushed the grains aside with nimble fingers, making little divots in the surface of the sandbox. Next to him, I pushed the leftover sand into a bucket. When turned up on its open side, the bucket created a castle, and in this manner of filling and flipping the bucket I constructed a wall of castles in the sand.
The walls were cracked. Soldiers stood at either side, preparing arms for war. The architects of the wall discussed in hushed tones whether it would hold against enemy forces, but the general consensus was bleak. Within the hour, the kingdom would be stormed, and the might of the Queen’s army would be tested against that of the brutal foreign patriarch’s. The smell of fear permeated the air. In the calm before the storm, the only sound to be heard was a distant shout.
The child’s parents were ready to leave.
Before the family left, one of the parents came over to me and thanked me for looking after their child. Though it was in part a joke, the parent thought it was really kind of me. I told them that I hadn’t been watching over their child, but rather we’d just been playing together. They laughed.
I went in the park’s rest area and stood at the sink, splashing water on my face. Looking into the mirror, I took stock of the years in my face. There was a sad, wordless recognition in the back of my mind; a small hand tugged at my frontal lobe, pleading, remember me.
Inside my car, I pulled a business card out from my wallet. It had the number of someone from career services who worked in the nearby city. When I’d snatched it, I hadn’t any intention of ever using it, it was just there and for no other reason than that I’d grabbed it. Putting the address on the card into my phone, I made my way into the city.