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Him (2nd Prize Winner - Group III)

March, 2011
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At three, we were best friends. We ate sand together and made messy finger paintings our moms would hang up on the fridge. Our lunch boxes matched and we always drank apple juice. Orange juice made us sick. Sometimes we would play hide-n-seek and run around the yard, diving into bushes and trying to climb up trees. His mom always got mad and dashed out of the house, picked him out of the bushes and told me it was time to go home. It was strange, but I was three so I didn’t whine. I lived next door anyway. Tomorrow was always another day. 

At five, we planned our marriage. He would be a firefighter when he grew up. When we made drawings in class, he always took the red crayon to draw his firetruck. By the time I had it in my hands to draw my flowers, the crayon was merely a stump the size of my pinkie. It didn’t matter anyway. When I drew our future house, we would have a purple chimney instead.

Mrs. Kat, our teacher, loved us. One day, she brought in a dress for me and a bow-tie for him and helped us get married. She was nice, but she never let him go out to recess. When everyone was lined up to go to the playground, he had to sit inside and color. At first, he threw tantrums everyday, but I think he started to like it. I could never understand. The sun beating down on my face and the thrill of swinging too high was all I could ever think of.

At nine, we decided to try out our new bikes. He got a blue one with a bell and I got a pink one with a white basket. My dad had taught me how to ride a bike so mine didn’t have training wheels. I was so proud of myself. His did and he thought it looked stupid. We went through my dad’s toolbox and found a screwdriver to take off his training wheels. When they came finally came off, we gave each other sweaty high-fives and ran down the pavement to try out the bikes. Five minutes later, he had turned the curb too hard and fell off his bike. His mom must’ve been watching from the window because she ran out like the world was on fire, picked him up and told me to go home. He didn’t come to school for the rest of the week.

At eleven, we started middle school together. We no longer had matching backpacks or lunch boxes. I bought a new one two weeks before school started. He still had his crummy old one from 4th grade. His parents said they didn’t have enough money to buy new school supplies because of medical bills. He came up to me the first day of school and showed me a piece of paper that didn’t make any sense. I told him it looked stupid and he told me he had something anemia. I didn’t know what it was so I just shrugged. He explained that if he ever fell or cut himself, he would never ever stop bleeding and then all the blood would run out of his body and he would be completely flat and dead. I didn’t like thinking about him dead so I told him that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. If he was losing blood, I would always give him some. I had plenty.

At thirteen, he started to change. He started to wear darker clothing that contrasted his pale skin. By that time, we knew what anemia was. His mom was always worried about him so she never let him out. He didn’t have any friends. He had me, but I wanted more friends. We started to drift apart. I started to hang out with Jessica, Mike and all those kids who sat in shopping malls on Saturdays drinking smoothies. I didn’t see him much that year. I wish I could’ve. We were starting high school next year and had promised each other we would be there for each other. I thought about him a lot. He lived next door, but I was too selfish to visit him. Jessica, Mike and all those other kids always made fun of him and sometimes I would go along with it to fit in. It was funny though, Jessica said he would be so cute if he weren’t such a loner. It made me jealous knowing that someone else was thinking about him.

At fourteen, I walked through the big doors of high school alone. My mom heard for his mom that his kidneys were failing. He missed the first three months of school. When he came back, he was still the same kid. Dressed in dark clothing and walking at the edge of the hallway. I said welcome back when I saw him. He gave me a nod and kept walking. I wondered what he was thinking. He must be terrified. I didn’t know what he was going through, and I wanted to help. At the same time, I didn’t want to know anything about him. He was sick. I wasn’t a doctor. We still didn’t talk. He would sit in the library and read. Sometimes, I think he was coloring. Maybe it calmed him down.

I tried out for the cheerleading squad. Somehow, I had made the varsity team as a freshman. Girls looked at me differently. Boys treated me differently. High school was going to be very different.

At seventeen, I entered my last year of high school. It’d been a long trip for me. I quit cheering in my sophomore year. It wasn’t the right scene for me. Instead, I ran for Student Council president. Made it. Started a tutoring business. Volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. I made a completely new set of friends. Jessica, Mike and all those kids who sat in shopping malls on Saturdays drinking smoothies were a different species. I didn’t have a specific friend. I just floundered. Floated. Wandered. On our graduation day, I was chosen to say the valedictorian speech. I looked everywhere for him in the crowd. Standing on that stage, I had the perfect height and angle. Everyone was underneath me. Everyone was under the watch of my eye. Just not him. He wasn’t even there for his graduation. He wasn’t there for my graduation.

At eighteen, I had my packed my bags. My future was set in New York city. Columbia University. I’d been a small town West Coast girl my entire life. I didn’t know what New York had in plan for me. The day before I left, he came over. I was shocked, to say the least. He apologized for not being there for the past four years and wanted to talk to me. It’d been years since I’d talked to him. Besides the occasion ‘hi’, we hadn’t spoken since middle school. We stood there, in awkward silence, for 10 minutes. Then I finally took a good look at him.

He had changed. Jessica was right. He was cute. Pale, nonetheless, but he had gotten rid of the extra hair hanging in his face. I could see his puppy dog eyes. His charming smile that made me blush when I was five. So we talked. He told me about all his trips to the doctor and how his anemia was getting worse. I talked about how much I missed having him there. We were such good friends. Remember when we planned our marriage?

It was the greatest four hours of my life. Before he left, he looked me straight in the eye and told me to never ever lose contact with him, no matter where I was. I nodded and gave him an awkward hug. It’d be a while before I would see him.

At twenty-one, I’ve graduated. I’m done. Four years and I was heading back to the West Coast for an internship. I wondered how he was. I’d visit every Christmas. Every summer. We would talk, we would laugh, we would discuss what was going on with our lives. I told him about the boyfriend who cheated on me. He told me about his doctor’s visits. His parents having problems. I felt like I couldn’t complain. He had it so much more worse than me. So I listened.

My parents asked me why I wouldn’t give that sweet boy a chance. What chance? We were just friends. Always the best of friends. I would never do anything to ruin it. Not again. Once was enough. They shook their heads and sighed as if I was the oblivious one.

He began to get worse. I couldn’t be there for him and that exacerbated the situation. Every time I visited, he was asleep. There was no laughter then. I spent hours at his bedside, talking to him. Telling him about my day. Trying to make him want to laugh so hard he’d wake up and talk to me.

His kidney began to fail. I was no doctor. I wished and begged him to get better. I could do nothing else. I wished at every 11:11. Every time I saw something that looked like a shooting star, I would squeeze my hands together and pray. There was nothing more that I wanted than for him to get better. To be in my life again.

At twenty-four, he was still alive. He had made it. Yet, even then, ever through all the heart-wrenching hospital visits, I still couldn’t make time for him. I was in graduate school, finishing up last year in psychology. He was always at home, helping his parents out, attending community college. It was like we were in two different worlds again.

At twenty-four, I collapsed. He’d been hit. He’d been crossing the road, felt dizzy, fell and was hit by an oncoming car. This was no time to be weak. I picked up my feet. I picked up myself and ran. I ran to my car in my grandmother’s sweater and last week’s yoga pants. I didn’t bother locking my door. All I had in mind was him.

There. I was there. His family was huddled around him. They lifted their tear-stricken faces as I walked in. My parents sat on the side, their grim expressions painting their faces.

It was done. He was in a coma. Stuck in a state of never-ending sleep. As I held his hand and sobbed, his mom pulled me aside. She said that he requested if he was ever in a vegetable state, he wanted me to pull the line. I looked at her in shock. Why did he think I would ever do? Why would I agree to such an abominable task?

It was what he wanted. It was his last dying wish. The death I thought would come from anemia, but no, instead he was hit. At his peak. At a period of time in which I couldn’t be there for him. But he wasn’t here. He was in a vegetable state. I could decide if I wanted his body here forever, to still be breathing and alive because he deserved it. He deserved to be on this Earth.

But it wasn’t my body. It wasn’t my decision.

The doctor came in. Shook his head. No hope, he said. It was time to say our final goodbyes. He told me which button to press once I was ready.

I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t even made my decision yet. Here I was. My best friend of over twenty years and I didn’t know what to say. My tears were gone. There was nothing left between us. All those wasted years. All these years I distanced myself from him. And he had still put the most important decision of his life in my hands. That’s how much he trusted me and I couldn’t be there for him.

I placed my fingers on the button. The moment I pushed down, it would be over. It would be like setting of an atomic bomb in my life. Shredding everything around it. Everything vanishing into thin air. My fingers, my choice. I could feel myself pulling away, but I saw the look on his parents’ faces. They were in pain. They wanted it over with. It was better to send their son off to a better place. I place with no anemia. With no laughing middle school children. With no jeering high school teenagers. No doctors. No hospitals. And a friend who would always be there.

That’s what we all wanted for him.

So I made my choice. I made the final decision.

And I pushed down. 

By Julia Zhu,

Shanghai Community International School

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  1. Wisegirl
    March 3rd, 2012 at 11:42 | #1

    This is an amazing story. It’s so well written I almost cried.

    –H.Girl Percy Jackson series fan

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