Author’s Note: I composed this about a week ago and have hesitated to post it due to the high volume of truth tucked into this piece of fiction. However, it has met with positive reviews in my writers group, so I’m sharing with this word of caution: The characters in this story, aside from the narrator, which is mostly just the author as herself, although they may resemble people from real life, are all fictitious. While the story is inspired by real events, many details have been changed.
Fused bones in my feet at birth provided significant challenges for me growing up. Although with determination and intense orthopedic care I learned to walk, keeping up with everyone else was usually an unattainable goal. While other kids lagged behind adults because they were dawdling, I lagged behind because my legs simply couldn’t move any faster. Most of the time, my dad just broke down and carried me.
At school, I often resorted to sitting on the steps in front of our classroom rather than attempting to join in fast-paced playground games. Talking with teachers or daydreaming helped me pass the time.
As a teen, I worked hard to keep up with others my age. I poured my energy into youth activities at church. I traveled on mission trips, acted in dramatic productions and toured the Midwest with a puppet team. When it came time for fundraisers, I worked alongside more able-bodied teenagers, waiting tables at charity dinners and slinging Cokes at concession stands. When my swollen feet could no longer bear my weight, I laughed the pain away and found something productive I could do from a seated position.
My determination earned the respect of other teens. One friend who had been like a brother to me growing up decided there was no reason for me to fall behind or miss out on adventures when he could do something about it. I don’t remember the first time we made the arrangement, but throughout high school, we traveled as a team. I would walk as long as my legs allowed. Then Andrew would carry me piggyback for the rest of the excursion.
Andrew carried me around the Smithsonian museums in Washington, across the boardwalks of several old cow towns in Kansas and around the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I rode on his back through Silver Dollar City and Branson, Missouri. We enjoyed Orlando together as he carried me piggyback around the Magic Kingdom and Sea World. Even the French Quarter of New Orleans found me riding on the back of my caring, fit and loyal friend. In Texas, he got a break when we went horseback riding together. After my temperamental mare did her best to buck me off, I kept my feet on the ground for the rest of that trip. In the inner city of Nassau, Bahamas, Andrew once again provided transportation for me as we picked through trash-filled neighborhoods on our way back to our hotel from the mission worksite.
After high school graduation, Andrew married the girl he’d been dating for the past year and a half. I went on to college. We lost touch. I kept up my habit of working hard—joined a mime troupe, found a cure for my ailing legs in reflexology and energy treatments, learned to dance.
Yesterday, I read an obituary online. Andrew died unexpectedly two weeks ago. I hadn’t seen him since his wedding. I never verbalized how much he meant to me—although what our friendship meant to each other was never lost on those who saw us together. I don’t know why we lost touch originally, but losing Andrew this way—that shouldn’t have happened.