My friend Ben calls them peakers. Yes, Peakers. People who peak early. They seem to have it all. Looks, status, popularity. You know the type. The quarterbacks and cheerleaders who grow up to be perfectly respectable mechanics and waitresses. High school, their heyday.
"You won't believe who I ran into the other day."
"Yeah. He looked great but his wife, poor thing has Parkinson's, isn't that a shame? So young. She could barely walk..."
My mom keeps on talking, her voice slowly drifting into the background. She lost me at "Beau." It's been 17 years since I heard that name.
His full name was Beau Lawrence, the best looking kid in school. Hands down. Big brown eyes, freckles that were carefully sprinkled on the bridge of his nose, a disarming smile. But what had every girl in town swooning (and what earned him the nickname of "Samson") was his hair. Shiny thick black hair that moved.
He was so beautiful in fact that one day when a new teacher arrived and saw that he was out sick she asked, "Is it true? Is he as cute as they say?"
His was a formidable charm. One look at him and you fell in love.
Not sure when it happened or even how, but Beau and I were best friends growing up. Movies, parties, sleepovers, homework. Every memory I have of that time seems to include him. Good Memories. To this day when I think "happy," I think Beau.
We spent every moment together. At school, at home. Beau and Ethan, two peas. One pod.
Then one day, a moment. A mother walks into her son's room, her eyes down, her lips struggling to find the right words.
"Your father... He just accepted a new job."
"Oh yeah? That's great."
"It's in South America."
They say we can pinpoint the exact moment we got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. A split of a second after which nothing is ever the same.
For the next few months I tried not to think about it. Not when my friends got excited about starting junior high the following year. Not when packing our stuff into large containers that would take three months to cross two oceans. Not even when boarding the saddest flight of my life. But when that plane touched ground in Buenos Aires, it finally hit me. Warm wet tracks down the sides of my face. Eight thousand miles away from home.
Between the shock and the cluelessness that comes with being a foreigner, I passed the time writing letters. So many letters. In them, I'd tell Beau all about my new life, my new house, my new friends. Never mentioned any of the bad stuff, not one word about the loneliness.
Sent pictures too. Happy pictures. One with the hottest girl in my new Spanish-speaking school. One with my new beautiful Siberian husky dog. Snapshots from trips to Rio, Antarctica, Santiago, the Amazons.
Was passing it off as an adventure, something to envy. But not even a visit to The Land of Fire could hide the fact that all I wanted was to go home.
In class I'd sit there staring out the window, daydreaming about the day we’d see each other again, replaying the scene hundreds of times in my head. He'd give me a big hug, maybe even wipe a tear from the corner of his eye. Then he’d tell me how much he missed me.
Took four years before we finally got on that plane back home. When we arrived I dropped my stuff and headed out the door, not even stopping to take a shower after a 12-hour flight. I ran. I ran so fast I had to stop every now and then to catch my breath.
When I got to Beau’s house his mother greeted me at the door.
“You look so grown up, my God, how long has it been?”
That’s when I saw him.
Double take. When I left he was just a boy. Now he was 16 and, if at all possible, even more beautiful than before. He had broad shoulders, short buzzed hair, scruff on his face. A man.
It was nice to see him again, be with him. For the first time in years I was happy. I had my best friend back. I was home.
It wasn’t until school started a couple of weeks later that I realized things weren’t as I hoped. I’d been away a long time. Too long. Beau had new circle of friends now.
Four years I’d waited for this moment and now I was struggling. Again.
That’s when the anger came. Anger at my parents. Anger at the world. But mostly I was angry with Beau. He seemed to be too busy for me. He'd moved on.
One day as we passed each other in the hallway, he said hi and I just kept on walking.
We never spoke again.
I saw him once at a restaurant years later. We both nodded at each other from across the room but neither of us made an attempt to start up a conversation. Maybe we were both too proud, or maybe just insecure.
Don't think about him very often, but every once in a while I find myself wondering. What is he up to? Did he ever get married? Is he still beautiful?
“Are you listening to me?”
“I was telling you that Beau’s parents invited us to lunch. It was lovely.”
“They went all out. Cooked such a wonderful meal.”
“You know, they showed us some pictures. Family Albums. There were so many of you. Pages and pages of pictures from Buenos Aires. There was one of you in your room, one from your school, and quite a few from Brazil, even one in Antarctica.”
I take a deep breath. For so many years I thought he didn't care. I thought he was indifferent. He wasn't. He kept the pictures. Every single one of them, carefully placed them in an album and showed them to my mother during her visit.
I feel a tightening of the throat. A mixture of glee and sadness. I want to ask but I don’t. It doesn't matter anymore.
“You know Beau's still single. He’s gained some weight. Never went to college."
My mom. As though she's reading my thoughts. She knows.
"He's still working with his father at the shop,” she ads.
My friend Ben calls them peakers. The quarterbacks and the cheerleaders who become mechanics and waitresses.
“Oh, and more thing," she says. A gossipy schoolgirl. "He’s totally bald now.”