That’s What Friends Are For
Oh here she comes. Why is she by herself? She’s never by herself. Should I talk to her? Would she want me to talk to her? Of course not. Why would she? Don’t be stupid, Stupid! She’s May Hendrickson. May Hendrickson doesn’t want anyone of my stature to ever talk to her. Just keep your big, lousy head in your locker and don’t come out til she’s gone. That’s good. Just fidget around as if you’re looking for a pen or someth…
She spoke to you! Pull your head out and say something!
“Barlow, ha. Yeah. That’s my name.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I pronounce it wrong?”
“No no, that’s right. You’re right. Right you are, May.”
May. May. May. May. You’ve whispered her name countless times to the glow-in-the-dark stars above your bed. It’s a sound that seems so cheap coming off your lips but so precious when it fills the room. And she knows your name. She said it. She spoke it. And as hideous as it is, she makes it sing.
“Did you lose something in there?”
“Lose something? Oh, in my locker. Ha. Ha. No. I was um just scratching my head against the door because, you know, I had an itch.”
She’s smiling. May Hendrickson is smiling at you!
“You’re funny, Barlow.”
Barlow. Barlow. Barlow. I may just have to keep it now.
“Well, it was nice talking to you. Don’t be late for class.”
“Yeah, late. OK. Bye.”
She’s gone. There she goes. Watch her go. No don’t. That’s creepy. You’re a creep. She’s so far out of your league. You could dream up some imaginary girl who would be way closer to your league. Did that make sense?
Oh my God, she turned around. Are you waving?! Why are you waving?! Don’t wave! Wait, she’s waving back! What the…
“Hey. Um. Hey, Johnny.”
“Better hurry or you’ll be late for…”
“Yeah yeah I know. Johnny, did you see that?”
“I just talked to May Hendrickson. May Hendrickson just talked to me. And she smiled at me. And I made her laugh.”
“Shut up. You’re a liar. Why are you lying? What are you even talking about? I don’t believe you. Shut up.”
“OK, man. But it happened. As sure as you’re talking to me here. It just happened.”
“Whataver, man. Keep dreamin’. I’ll see you later. Don’t forget the Cheetos.”
As if I would ever.
The final bell rings and I hustle into third period English down the hall. I squeeze in through the door just as Mr. Benchley is closing it.
“I’ll let this one slip, Mr. Touring,” he says. “But next time the bell tolls, it tolls for you.”
“OK,” I say and slip into my seat.
We spend the majority of the class discussing Chapters 6-10 of To Kill a Mockingbird. And although I’m usually an attentive student with a decent appreciation for classic literature, my head is elsewhere. I’ve read the whole book ahead of schedule but for the life of me, I can’t even remember Scout’s name. Oh right, it’s Scout. As interesting a character as she is, she pales in comparison to the one who smiled my way. The one who’s blessed name is May. Am I thinking in poetry? I should write some of it down.
“All right,” Mr. Benchley slaps his hands together to announce the end of the day’s lesson and transition to discussing our homework assignment. It begins with the next five chapters of the book and continues with an unseemly task.
“As you all are aware, Valentine’s Day is next week. Because we are so behind, we will unfortunately have to postpone our reading of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet until March.”
Groans fill the room as I tamper my excitement.
“Save it, please. Shakespeare is a right of passage. But, in the meantime, I don’t want to leave the romantic holiday go unnoticed. Your assignment, if you choose to accept it (and you must because it is mandatory) is to write a love haiku. Who can remind the class what a haiku is?”
Sally Purt raises her hand and answers correctly. But she has more to say on the matter.
“Why do we have to write a love poem? Isn’t it like, illegal or something to expose our feelings in an open forum like that?”
The class agrees and this time, I am with them. I’m terrified of my feelings. They will surely be the death of me.
“If you are uncomfortable sharing your emotions about another person, you may shed light on the love you have for a pet or a toy or a location. Whatever moves you. It’s only three lines, guys. I have faith in you. And who knows? Some of you may even want to use this opportunity to profess how you feel about your significant other or romantic interest?”
I scan the room. As far as I know, the only kid in here with a so-called “significant other” is Blake Pomeroy and he’s not exactly the type to wear his heart on his sleeve. But then again, you never know. A couple other kids are looking in his direction and for a split second I swear I think I see him blush.
“What are you jerks looking at?” he says and punches a fist into his other hand. Becky Ludlow is such a lucky girl.
Everyone immediately looks away and the bell rings, letting Mr. Benchley off the hook of addressing Blake’s obvious, awkwardly violent reaction to his own relationship.
We file out. Most of us grumbling about 17 lousy syllables.
“Yeah,” I mumble along with them. “It’s so stupid.”
But in my head, I’ve already composed my heart’s words.