I slip quickly out of the classroom where a group of second graders wave goodbye to me. I silently wave goodbye back to them and step out into the hallway of the Catholic school at my church.
“Such sweet little kids,” I say out loud to myself.
A brown-haired boy with thin-framed glasses comes out of the classroom across the hall. He walks out slowly and then suddenly slams the door behind him. He looks the total opposite of how I feel. His expression is more of the “if-those kids-don’t-stop-yelling-I’m-gonna-explode” variety.
He straightens up at the sight of me and we stand in awkward silence. I can see him looking around in a pattern, like he always does when he’s nervous. First at the wooden lockers to my right, then down to the end of the hall, then behind him to the screaming 3 year olds in his classroom, then quickly to his shoes.
Then he suddenly looks over at me and I realize he’s staring at my Elijah costume, a brown robe with a thin white rope tied around my waist and knotted at the front. I look at him and I know we’re thinking the same thing. How, just how, could we have let this friendship die?
I think back to the summer before, in this same place. At snack time, no one spoke a word to me as I sat down to eat my cheese and crackers. I said something aloud to myself, not expecting anyone to answer, and certainly not expecting the dark-haired 12-year-old boy beside me to answer. I spun my head around and came face-to-face with a boy so skinny you could see his ribs.
“What a weirdo,” I heard some people whisper.
“Who’s he talking to?” I heard others say.
“Oh, he probably thinks he’s all that just ‘cause he’s the youth administrator’s son.”
I ignore these rude comments and keep talking to him. And pretty soon, we’re talking as if we’d known each other for years.
“I’m Eric.” he said, extending his bony hand. “Eric Speelman.”
“Paulina Diaz,” I answered, taking his surprisingly warm hand.
And we go on talking all through the week. On the last day of camp, he comes up to me.
“See ya ‘round friend,” he said.
But we wouldn’t really be friends anymore. Over the next year, he would become too busy helping his dad to spend time with me, and when we finally did start to see each other more often, I got shy and let other people’s rude comments about him get to me and cause me to ignore him.
I suddenly snap back to reality. I hear a constant mumbling and I know that’s him. Eric always mumbles to himself when he wants to talk to someone. And that’s when I realize..
He still wants to talk to me.
All those times I’ve ignored him and he still wants to talk. And here I go, running back into the classroom I just came from. Trying to avoid him.
I step inside where Eric’s mother and sister wait for me to help them clean off tables and refill water bowls. As I sweep, I finally admit the harsh truth to myself.
Our friendship dying isn’t because of the kids who said mean things about him or because he spent too much time with his dad. I ignored him each time I saw him, and just now ran away from him. He tried to fix it. Tried to keep the friendship alive, but all I did was kill it.
The three words that are often the hardest to say: It’s my fault.