BY MELISSA GRUNOW
You were my friend, Billy, but only for one month of one summer. I was nine and you were eleven that year—I think it was 1984. You would let me follow you around on my pink bike, pedaling across the uneven concrete that unfolded in front of the rows of metal trailers. We would ride together into the woods where we would dig for worms and crush stink bugs.
You won’t remember the July morning you knocked on my door before breakfast because you wanted to play a spying game with your new binoculars you stole from 7-Eleven. You won’t remember kicking my left shin with an impatient foot, because I always struggled to get the prongs to line up with the holes on the straps of my sandals.
You wouldn’t tell me where we were going, and I wasn’t allowed to ask. We braked hard, trying to make skid marks with our tires, and tossed our bikes on their sides. You grabbed my wrist, led me behind a bush and pointed a skinny, dirty finger at the trailer barely visible through the loose clutter of branches. I stretched my body out next yours, resting my stomach on the ground. The metal siding on the trailer refracted the sunlight back into the sky and into our eyes.
You placed your binoculars against your eyes. “That’s the one,” you had whispered. “That was where I saw them doing it.” You pointed again. “Through that window.”
I squinted in the sun, chewed on the inside of my cheek, and giggled. I didn’t really know what you meant by doing it, but I didn’t ask. I didn’t want you to think I was a dummy.
“Are we going to stay here all day?” The sun was getting higher and brighter, and I could feel sweat on my back underneath my T-shirt. I scratched the mosquito bite on my thigh. “Let’s go run through the sprinklers.”
“Amy! I’m older. I get to say what we do.” Your pout slid across your face, while you adjusted the binoculars against the sun’s brightness. “It’s fun to watch. You’ll see.” I remember you smiled then, and spit collected at the corners of your mouth. I had never seen you smile like that. “There they are!”
“Let me see, Billy,” I said, reaching for the binoculars, which you handed to me. “That’s gross,” I said. I felt like a bad girl. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there.
“It’s not gross,” You grabbed the binoculars away from me and looked through them again. “It’s cool.”
“Yeah, cool if you’re a grown up.” My voice was quiet. I wanted to leave, but I knew you didn’t care. I couldn’t go without you; I couldn’t do anything that summer without following you first, Billy.
You were breathing hard while you watched those people. You looked at me. “Do you want me to kiss you?” Do you remember saying that? Your eyes were like the windows on the trailer.
I ran my hands over the grass, letting the blades tickle my palms. I looked away from you. “Stop picking on me,” I finally said.
You sat up and inched closer to me. “I’m not kidding around,” you said. You put your hands on my shoulders, and gently shook me back and forth. “I’ll kiss you, just like he kisses her.” You rubbed your hands along my shoulders, down my arms and back up to my neck. You pushed on my shoulders, gently at first, then harder. “Lay down,” you said. You thought I would listen; you thought I would obey you, follow you, like always.
I shook my head. “I don’t want to.”
“Come on, lay down,” you pushed me harder. I threw my arms out to balance myself, and I felt my palm scratch against one of the branches.
“Stop it, Billy.” I tried to push you off me, but you were straddling my waist. Do you remember this? You pressed your butt into my stomach and I couldn’t move; I could barely breathe.
“Let’s play pretend,” you said. This was a different pretend; this was a different kind of dress-up, a different kind of playing house. You held my arms above my head, and I could feel my hands being pressed into the dirt. “Let’s pretend we’re doing it.” Your smile, your dirty, spit-covered smile, was close to my face.
I started crying because I didn’t know what else to do.
You squirmed against me, pressing your body into my stomach, only our thin summer clothes between us.
I struggled against you, but you were too big for me. I could feel the dirt on the back of my legs and through my shorts. I would get spanked if I got grass stains on my clothes.
You grunted, making noises like the ones coming from Mom and Dad’s bedroom in the middle of the night, except yours were different; they were fake noises, pretend noises.
“Crybaby dork,” you said and spit on me, rubbing it into my face before disappearing through the bushes. I didn’t move until I could hear you pedaling away on your bike, the old chain clanking against the metal frame.
I stood up and tried to brush myself off. I started to walk to my bike, when I heard plastic crack under the heal of my sandal. I looked under my foot, and saw your binoculars, split right down the middle. Do you remember losing them? I jumped up and down hard on the binoculars until they were broken into a thousand pieces, until they were like dirt under my feet. Then I got on my bike and began to pedal home. You weren’t there this time to make me feel like I wasn’t going fast enough.