Aside from the obvious bonding over our mutual love for the original Star Wars Trilogy, Double Stuf Oreos, and The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, Kayl and I had very compatible families. Dahlia adored Sam; Sam enjoyed making someone else be mailman. Our parents adored each other, and because Sam and Dahlia’s half brother, Jake, was a senior in high school and adored making extra cash from babysitting, Kayl and I not only spent our recesses, lunches, and after school time together, but nearly every weekend night as well.
My memories of our friendship before everything changed come to me in spotty, unraveling, blotches where the center of the blotch is clear and intact and everything surrounding it is murky and elusive:
We both started violin lessons the year we started first grade. Although I quickly fell in love with my instrument and all the things it could do, Kayl soon realized he’d rather drink paint than spend five minutes practicing. He had no issues with listening to me practice, though, and our after school time merged into me practicing while he listened and did his homework. He would then help me with my homework, and, if there was any time left, we would build Star Wars spaceships out of Oreos, devouring them completely only after the other had guessed which specific ship it was.
Kayl’s mom had told him that important things needed to be ‘marked.’ I think, in retrospect, that his mom was probably referring to a mental marker, but Kayl was far too literal a kid for that description, and honored his mother’s advice by scratching our sidewalks anytime anything big happened to us. Not long after our initial meeting scratch, a ‘Now We Can Do Division Scratch,’ ‘Asa Memorized Suzuki Books 1,2, and 3 Scratch’ and ‘Kayl Built His First Robot Scratch’ followed. Once, when Kayl had had a particularly frustrating day, a ‘Jake’s the Meanest, Smelliest, Older Brother in the World Scratch’ was angrily scored into the ground, and, at my prompting, a ‘Sam Smells Too Scratch’ marred the concrete next to it. Kayl and I looked at those scratches and laughed till we ran out of air and Kayl had forgotten why Jake smelled.
Kayl’s first robot had two functions: forward and backward. He liked to use it to destroy his Oreo ships before I had time to eat them. It would have upset me had his robot’s wheels not been so easily clogged with Oreo goo. Kayl would frantically try to unstuck his creation’s gears while I happily demolished his Oreo ship and gleefully licked up all the filling from the stolen, dismantled, ship parts.
When I started to lose weight, it was already weeks after I had turned into a sleepy, thirsty, shadow of my former self. The nearly imperceptible commencement of my body’s betrayal probably started during the summer before 4th grade, when I was nine years old. By the time school had begun that fall, my parents had been told by four different pediatricians, including our own, that my body just needed time to fight off the virus. At the completion of the third week of school, they had received complaints from all my teachers about my lackluster participation and ever-more-frequent class-time napping.
Kayl and I completed our biggest, most extravagant, Oreo cookie ship in our history on the Saturday two weeks before Halloween. It covered nearly half the dining room table and rose for several inches off the surface with nary a wobble. We’d used two entire packages of Oreos – way beyond our paltry daily allotment, completely disregarding our imminent demise. And we knew our demise: the last time we’d been punished for excessive Oreo use, we’d had to build ships out of carrots for a week. It was awful.
As we put the finishing touches on our masterpiece, he suggested that we take turns picking which parts of the ship to eat first based on which parts we liked best. I shrugged and told him he could have it all because I wasn’t very hungry.
“You’re not hungry? For Oreos? You? …Aren’t?” Kayl stared at me from under lowered brow. He looked at my empty water glass and then back at my face. My Oreo refusal appeared to have pushed a sort of befuddled resentment button of his; a secret one that he didn’t know he had and couldn’t figure out how to unpush. He said,
“You’re just going to drink water all day? You might as well just go live in the bathroom.”
“Well, I don’t want Oreos, and you know what? I AM going to have another glass of water!” I glared pompously at him, and stomped off to get one. When I came back, I saw that Kayl hadn’t touched the Oreo ship. It rose from the table with crumbly black and white belligerence, and I winced from the sting of its unspoken judgment. Kayl glowered at me while I gulped down the entire glass in three big swallows.
“You’d think with all that water, you wouldn’t look like such a skeleton.”
My jaw dropped in wounded disbelief. Kayl pushed his chin out in vehement Anti-Apology, and I, with no other rebuttal to offer, balled my fists and scrunched my face. In a burst of embarrassed hurt, I flung my boney arm at the Oreo monstrosity and sent cookies flying everywhere. Kayl jumped up and ran out of the room and my house, while I yelled after him; “How’s THAT for a skeleton?? Huh?!”
Then I tried to run to my bedroom. But on the way there, the world spun away from me, and I collapsed, the effort of keeping the ground under my feet too intricate and physical a task for my shriveled body. I lay in a crumpled, half-conscious, heap on the floor, until my mom found me mere moments later. I was rushed to the ER where the nurses told my parents that, at four feet, five inches tall, 32 lbs was excessively malnourished. There ensued a rather heated exchange (aka scorching rhetorical lecture) as my mom detailed all the ways in which the medical field and its ‘professionals’ had let her down, and expressed in minute detail every example of responsibility being an obligation for the general populace, but particularly for those in this group who professed to be experts. I passed out just after a mental unclench of relief that I was in no way a part of said field or an expert of any kind.