I remember because I was sitting there next to her, on a summer afternoon, watching the city. The air was thick and oppressive, even for August—the kind of heat that made your skin melt so your hands felt sweaty even if you weren’t nervous. God, I was nervous.
We sat on the dry dead grass at the edge of an empty park, next to a pair of lonely swing sets, motionless in the stagnant air. Neither of us said anything; we were too busy watching a young mother nearby, scolding her son for running in the street. The silence built around us in excess, and I felt my hands sweating for real. Not the sticky sweat of heat, but the slick, slippery stuff you get when you have a fever.
Next to me, she was oblivious; serene. I felt the right words rising in my chest, bubbling up from the deepest, darkest part of me. You can feel it too: when you’re playing truth or dare and they ask you who you like, and you sit there for a minute and that secret name starts filling your chest, choking you, it’s so desperate to get out. But you’re too embarrassed, and you can’t, so you shove it back down to that deep, dark part of you and make up another pretty name to tell them. You’re sitting there next to your best friend, the person who trusts you most in all the world, and you want to trust her too, but you’re afraid.
It must have been the heat that started getting to me. People were walking by on the sidewalk that I knew but had never seen before. The young mother across the street approached with her son and told me to stop running away, but her son was already halfway down the block, and his father stooped down and whispered that I shouldn’t be afraid to take risks. The homeless man at the bus stop stumbled up and said to look before you leap, but also to go with the flow and chill out, man. I saw the gay couple that lived next to us when I was little, and the old lady from the flower shop when we went to Mexico; the man at the corner store, and all his customers, and the rowdy kids from the Catholic family on Saint Serge’s Street—seven so far, with another on the way—and I could see a line forming in front of me and stretching out and out and still growing. The gym coach from middle school, my racist piano teacher, the police officer who bought me an ice cream when I got lost at the zoo in the first grade; everyone was there, like they were all lined up to vote. Everybody had a piece of advice. The people kept coming and coming, giving me their wisdom and hard smiles and dirty looks and bible verses, and I saw my old friends from grade school, who had changed so much but still looked exactly the same.
The hot words bubbled up to my tongue.
“Sarah, I have to tell you something.”