“What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.”
By junior year
I was quoting Paul to my friends: “Bad company
corrupts good behavior.”
Ashley’s brother Jason dated
this girl we said corrupted his behavior.
He would say things like ……… “oh my god”
and puffed cigarettes and drank on weekends.
I found myself quoting the rest of Paul to him—
“Come back to your senses and stop sinning”—
with my own addition, “because she’s a slut and you can do better.”
Not much before then
Ashley, my best friend, cussed
after we got Chinese food—
she said she was pissed—which pissed
me off for weeks.
I thought: how dare she say that word around me?
I was also thinking:
Have I failed her? Have I failed
her that she would cuss, skip church, try drugs ……………… (or so I heard)?
Haven’t I collected her
from the edge of the cliff, grabbed her
with my butterfly net
as pebbles rolled beneath her heels?
We were youth group kids, all of us,
from middle school till graduation.
But something ……………. snapped ………………. in my friends,
somewhere around everyone’s junior year.
Obediently waking at 8 on a Sunday became
impossible or holding tongues when 4-
letter words tried hard 2 escape.
I blamed their friends. I blamed
the city high schools and their parents who sent them there.
But mostly I blamed ……… me.
Katie and I became friends when she was 13, swinging
her chicken legs off the side of the bunk, belting
Veggie Tales songs while Ashley and I talked boys.
Katie’s the only one I still talk to. Two
years ago, I asked her, “What happened? Are we the only two
She still has that sing-songy optimism. When I wanted to blame
the youth pastor, the church, she said, “Oh well.” She asked me
if I’d heard from Ashley.
In college, I cried
when Matt said he and Ashley had sex.
That she was spotting—I rolled my eyes.
That just happens sometimes; she’s not…………….. pregnant.
He called two months later to say they broke
up again. She’s back with that girl,
her first same-sex……… love.
Jason went off to war, came back horrified.
Another friend joined so he could carry
a gun, like killing zombies in Xbox games.
They would see things.
They would…… see…….. things.
I imagine standing with Katie on the far
edge of that cliff, holding hands.
Goodbye, Ashley. ………..Goodbye, Jason.
I see them all topple off. They’ve run
under my arms, through my fingers, like Red Rover.
They’ve landed in the sea. They’re falling
through the air.
I see Katie when I’m home.
We sit on swing sets, thermoses of coffee
sloshing in our hands.
We’ve talked through every one
of her boyfriends and crushes. ………..This newest one,
he’s the one.
She said, “Someone asked me
why I wanted to have sex with only one
my whole life.”
I wondered, is this what I taught her,
after 7 years of friendship? To have sex
with the one you love?
Katie told me she was …………pregnant.
I woke to her text, before it an “oh, by the way.”
I imagine her blonde hair, blue eyes, chicken legs, baby belly,
tumbling off the cliff.
But Katie won’t fall;
she floats. Her white dress—a parachute.
While I stand at the edge, waiting for another to ………..slip
through my fingers, Katie flies away and takes
with her the cliff. Calling back, she rephrases
Paul: “Peace, peace.”