Memories of a (Former) Friend
Every time I'm alone and it's silent, I remember. I remember our cheery house on Roo Island, how the roof was blue, and how the walls were painted yellow. I remember how the waves on the beach near our house sounded, quiet shushing during the sunshiny days and roar-pound, roar-pound on the stormy ones. I remember my parents going into the water, the way they just seemed to glide through the water, and how I tried to follow them but my feathers just got soaked and I sank. I remember the joy on my mother's face when my father brought home the paint brush and told her we could move underwater. I remember how cold the paint felt on my feathers, and how strange my own body was after I was painted. But more than those memories are the ones of us.
I remember how I met you, how cold the water seemed on my first day in Maraqua. I was so scared I would drown! It was a week before Neoschool started and I was worried I wouldn't make any friends. We came out of our new house to look at the surroundings – I had never been underwater before, I remember how new everything looked, how clear the water was, like air. And there you were with your parents. You looked so mad, like you hated the entire world and everything that had the nerve to live in it. Like you had just been forced to go meet someone you really didn't want to. And your parents greeted mine, and you came over to me, and you looked so, so angry, and I was scared you hated me already.
You said, "They told me there was a new kid moving in, but they didn't tell me you would be a girl." And I was panicking and the only thing I could think to say was "I may be a girl, but at least I don't have tentacles sticking out of my head." And I was even more freaked out because I thought this is it, I'll never make any friends and maybe I'll get beaten up. And I'll probably drown, too. But you smiled – it was one of those slow spreading smiles – and you said, "You're pretty good. No one around here can come up with decent insults but me." And then we were friends.
I remember that first day of Neoschool – my first ever. We were so little then. I remember walking into the classroom, seeing all these unfamiliar faces staring at me. I nearly panicked and ran out, and the teacher's smile was too big, too happy, and she said, "Come on now, take a seat." And she sounded impatient and I was about to cry, but then I saw you, sitting alone, and you smiled. I sat in the chair next to you, and everyone stared, but it didn't matter because I had a friend, I wasn't alone.
Our first year of Neoschool is just a blur to me now, so many years later. I remember the name of the substitute teacher we had on the second day of school, Mr. Gomer, and I remember how he brought his Soreen and how it swam around the classroom. I remember when I got sick with Kikoughela and you came by every day after school to make sure I was getting better. I remember when I got in trouble because I was "a very naughty little girl, aren't you?" but I wasn't, I didn't do anything, the teacher just didn't like me, and so you called the teacher names and got in trouble, too. Most memorable – graduation day, you had NeoPhobia, and those sparkly pink Step Out Shoes matched your graduation gown so well, and you just glared at me as if to say go ahead, I dare you to make fun of me, but I was laughing so hard I couldn't speak, couldn't even breath.
The next years of school... mostly I remember doodling in my notebook in class and trying not to get caught. But I also remember the little things you did, surprising me sometimes in the ways that you helped. Did you realize that the only reason I volunteered to help with the little kids' Day of Giving party was because you did? I helped out at the nurse's office because you did – and I freaked out because someone lost a tooth and they were bleeding, and that was when I decided I did NOT want to be a doctor.
I remember trying out for debate team with you, and I was so upset because you got in but I didn't, but then you quit, saying that debate was stupid, who needed rules to argue when name-calling works so well? You would never admit that you did it for me. We were together on most of the sports teams. You called us equal, even though we both knew you were better than me. I was the only one that you wouldn't upstage. What happened?
Our seventh year, just before school ended. I don't even remember why we were fighting. You were so mad at me. And I was so mad at you! I never could beat you at insults. You called me a mutated freak, saying that beaks and wings didn't belong in the water. That I should go back to the land, where I still wouldn't belong, because there's no place for an Eyrie on Roo Island. That stopped me cold. The fears and worries that I had secretly harbored since moving to Maraqua resurfaced. What if I really didn't belong? I felt like I was at the front of the classroom again, my first day of school, all the students and the teacher staring at me. I went home thinking, that's the end. I have no friends. Later that night, I heard a knock at the door. When I opened it and it was you, I almost shut the door in your face. But the sadness in your eyes stopped me. And you said, "Jair, I'm sorry. Can you ever forgive me?" So I did. We never talked about that fight again. It's been over six years since I've heard you say sorry. Six years. I would forgive you if you asked, even now.
It wasn't long after that that we graduated Neoschool. When you made the graduation speech, you talked about true friendship lasting forever. I guess we were never true friends then, huh? Or forever ended six years ago.
We had been out of school for a few weeks at most when Altador was discovered. All of Maraqua could only talk about the portal in Faerieland. We were excited about it, too, but it wasn't until after most of the excitement had died down that we found the real joy of Altador's discovery – the new sport that came with it. I remember the look in your eyes as you rushed towards me with that flyer inviting the citizens of Maraqua to form a team. "It's called 'Yooyuball'," you said. "They gave us some equipment to practice with."
And practice we did. The two of us were the best – no, you were the best. You still are. We were the co-captains of Team Maraqua. When I put on that sling, I felt like it belonged on my arm. I couldn't imagine ever being unhappy playing this amazing sport. We were a perfect team, both passing when it was necessary and scoring when we could. And when we scored, it was the best feeling in Neopia.
But the unhappiness crept in. We were filling out the form listing the names and positions of the team members. There was only one spot for captain. I looked at you, and in your eyes I could see that you were going to take it. And you did – didn't even ask me if I wanted to be the captain, just wrote your name down. I would have been ok if you had asked me. I would have let you be captain. But you didn't ask.
We chose the best players from practice – us two as the forwards, Filo and Barit as defenders, and Tonie as goalie. That first day, when you addressed us, I noticed this strange look on your face. You said that you were the captain and we were just the players, that we had to follow your rules. Filo scowled and asked you if you thought you were better than the rest of us. And you said – you said that you were the captain, of course you were better than him, and you had played better in practice as well. That shut him up quickly, or maybe he just couldn't believe you. I would have challenged you, too, but I was in shock. What happened to you? You just turned into this selfish jerk.
That first year, we fought and fought. There were nights when I couldn't sleep because I was so angry. We didn't really work well as a team, did we? You yelling at Filo and me and us yelling back; Tonie telling us to stop and Barit trying to make himself as small as he could. It showed – tenth place.
The whole awards concept was a nightmare. I can see why they only did it the first year. Filo was sick of you. He took one look at the awards and told me, "I'm nominating him for all the negative ones, even if they have nothing to do with him. Maybe he'll see what a jerk he is if he wins." He was pretty disappointed that you only got nominated for Biggest Whiner, but he was thrilled that you won Most Selfish Player. You definitely deserved to win that one. I was the one who nominated you for Best Scorer. Despite some major character flaws, you were the best – still are.
After the cup ended, things didn't get better. I remember yelling and yelling. I asked you what had happened, why had you changed like this? And you said, "Winning is everything. I'm sorry if you didn't know that. But I wouldn't expect you to. You're just a girl – way too sentimental." And I said, "I may be a girl, but at least I don't have tentacles sticking out of my head." I don't know if you remembered that from the first time we met. I didn't stick around to find out.
Roo Island isn't home. I may have been born there, but I grew up in Maraqua. I don't fit in there. They're all nice to me, but I don't fit in. I wish with all my heart that I still played with you. Yooyuball is my life now, and I'm glad it was rediscovered, but sometimes I wonder if it was worth the friendship it cost me. If there was a way to have it all, I'd take it.
I wish I knew what happened. You were my very best friend for so, so many years. I've been told that winning is everything, more important than friendship, but I've never been able to feel that way. Even after all this time, even after all the yelling and tears, I still want to be friends. If you ever decide you're wrong, if you ever realize how you've changed and you want to go back to how things were, I'm still here. I'll still be your friend.
Elon, I miss you.
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