He and I stood on his front porch with tiny paper cups in hand, the kind that you use to rinse with after brushing your teeth. Cartoon pictures of Snoopy and Charlie Brown decorated the sides. His mother had filled them halfway with powdered Tang, an artificial orange drink mix, distant step-cousin to Kool-Aid. I dipped my tongue in, letting the crystals dissolve there, sweet first then puckering my cheeks with tartness.
“If you give me the rest of your Tang, I’ll marry you.”
Cary stepped close and I saw that his now-empty paper cup was crumpled in his hand, Snoopy’s round face folded in on itself. I could not look at him, this boy who was my best friend. We spent long days together roaming the woods that stretched between our houses. I would come home at dinner, cheeks smeared with dirt and arms marred with cuts like roads on a map. He and I had planned to open a restaurant in his backyard tree house, sure it would be a wild success. Who wouldn’t want to eat in a tree? I was five; he was six. The fact we didn’t know how to make more than pop-tarts in a toaster mattered little.
For Cary and only Cary, I was willing to take the blame I didn’t deserve. The time he turned on the washing machine with us standing inside, shaking and giggling through the spin cycle until his mother came rushing in and shooed me home. I remember the walk across the asphalt cul-de-sac, my velcro shoes spurting water with each step, soaked jeans tight and heavy.
The time we glued furniture down to the carpet in his basement with heavy-duty wood glue from his father’s workshop. I remember being at the bottom of a step-ladder, watching Cary reach for it on the top shelf. I didn’t even know what it was. Yet I was the one punished at home when he told his mother it was my idea.
Of course everyone believed it because normally, I was the one with such ideas. The girl who threw mud pies against the siding of our house one afternoon, loving the splat and not thinking of the cleanup. The girl who knocked the wind out of the neighbor boy behind us (more than once) with a swift punch to the stomach. (In my defense, he always started it.) Taking the blame for the washing machine and the glue cost me little and kept Cary out of trouble. These are the things we do for those we love.
I would have traded much more for the promise of marriage, held out before me like a shiny gift, better than the bike I got for Christmas some months before. But if I handed the cup over too soon, it would reveal so much of my heart, beating wildly in my chest, reddening my cheeks. So I waited, an exercise in extreme five-year-old patience, before giving him the last of my Tang.
He tilted it back, emptying the whole of it into his mouth, my someday-to-be husband. After he swallowed, he crumpled the cup and began to laugh in a way that filled me with dread even before his next words: “Just kidding!”
As I began to cry, he pointed and laughed harder still. I ran the hundred yards home, feeling heavier than the time I made this trip soaked halfway through with my waterlogged pants.
Love when you’re five is less like adult love and more straight-up adoration. You aren’t aware yet that people have flaws. Your skin is as thin and delicate as the shell of an egg, cracking a little more with each disappointment: each time you realize that a person you adored is human, when you begin to understand that human really means imperfect. The later heartbreaks go deeper, but the first ones are not merely striking the surface.
I don’t still carry the hurt from that first heartbreak when I lost my best friend. But afterward, neither was I the same girl who would let someone else’s blame rest on me. A little more broken, but a little stronger too. My shell cracked perhaps for the first time that day and yet I walked away more resilient, less likely to be crushed—all for the price of some powdered Tang.
Linking up this week with so many out of the box love stories! Come read more or join in. Open til midnight on Feb 12, back next week for more.