I caught up to Andrew after school. He was sitting in the caff next to his giant book bag, writing in a notebook. In middle school, kids used to call him Zippy the Turtle because he always ran from class to class with this giant book bag. We had a Spanish class together in seventh grade, and every day he’d jet out into the hall. And Tom Bowman would yell, “Go, Zippy!” at him every day.
And Andrew would shout back, “Asshole!” It was such a stupid thing to do because then Bowman would get all fired up and try to chase him down the hall. And it was stupid for Bowman to try to chase him because he never caught him, but it was this weird game of chicken they played every day.
I hadn’t seen Andrew much since we started high school, and last year, kids finally started just ignoring all his weirdness. But he still had that book bag.
Andrew stashed his book. “Yes?”
“Uh . . . did you know Jeremy died?”
“What sort of a question is that?”
“Just . . . did you know, I wanted . . . to make sure.”
“Of course I knew. I was his friend.”
The way he said it, I wanted to hit Andrew. I had hit him once before, in sixth grade. I’m not even sure why I did it. He was sitting there next to me in math class, and his arm was just there. Just sitting there, and he was so weird. I didn’t hit him because he was weird; it was more like I was compelled to reach out and touch him because he was weird. When I hit him, it wasn’t even hard; it was more like how you’d hit a buddy. But since Andrew didn’t have any buddies, I guess he didn’t take it that way. He completely flipped out. We hadn’t been on the best of terms since then.
“Okay . . . just wanted to make sure.”
I turned and started for the door. As I walked away, Andrew called behind me, “You didn’t know, did you?”
I swung around, ready to say something, ready to defend myself. But Andrew was right, and I couldn’t find a way to justify it.
“Typical,” he said.
I wasn’t sure what he meant by that; I didn’t think I’d interacted with Andrew enough over the years for him to surmise what was “typical” of me. I wanted to say something back at him, but I didn’t think I’d be able to get it past the lump that was forming in my throat, so I just headed back toward the door.
Though I’d had very little idea how the exchange between Andrew and I was going to play out, that was not how I’d imagined it going. Most of what I imagined was some bro-hugging and maybe a tiny tear or two. The reality was there were no hugs and just one tear I quickly wiped away.
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.