Fourth grade marked the year I started staying home by myself before and after school, riding my bike to school on days the weather cooperated, and going to the neighborhood park without my parents but with friends. I had regular sleepovers with a neighborhood schoolmate, and we’d often spend Saturday or Sunday morning riding the neighborhood, eventually ending up at the park.
One such Spring Sunday, one of the first clear days after a lot of rain, we ventured beyond the playground equipment, to a small wooded area with a creek. The creek created an island, or at least a peninsula, which we claimed as our magical domain. We went to her house for lunch, chatted briefly with her brother who warned us it might be private property, and then got back on our bikes and returned to our island. Constructing dams, we formed a refuge for magical creatures. We jumped between stumps and rotting logs, searched for crayfish, and eventually realized we ought to go home for dinner.
The next morning, at school, another classmate rushed to tell me some news.
My friend’s brother had died over the weekend, by suicide. The world slammed in on me. When? I had seen him not 48 hours earlier. I later learned some more details. She had learned of it as soon as she went in the house that day. I’d said goodbye to her on the driveway, because her house was between my house and the park. My fourth grade mind tried to comprehend what that must have been like, knowing the my shock and sorrow at that moment were nothing compared to what my friend had experienced, seconds after I waved goodbye and said, “See you tomorrow.”
Not long after, I tried to take another friend to the island on bikes, but I couldn’t find it. I guessed the creek had dried up.
At least that’s the way I’ve always remembered that period.
About a month ago, I decided to read Bridge to Terabithia. It’s a book often suggested to children coping with death; a book everyone reads but I somehow had missed out on. I remember my friend telling me about all the books people were giving to her in the months following her brother’s death. I remember teachers talking to us, giving us books to read, having class meetings in the library pit with counselors. I don’t remember what anyone said or what books we read.I have no memory of reading Bridge to Terabithia, but now I wonder. I’d like to try to find the spot again, but if memory serves, someone long since built a new subdivision back there.