At the end of my block, in all of its chipping yellow paint glory, sits a child daycare center. My memories of the years I spent there are muddled and faded, but what I’m always reminded of whenever I pass by is a boy named Ryan. He was a dash of red on a sketch of ivory, and by all accounts, he was my best friend. Whether wreaking havoc in the classroom or tormenting teachers with pleas for snacks, we made our mark as reckless fiends. In first grade, however, he moved to China, and over time he became less of a friend and more of a memory. My parents still bring him up in conversations to this day. When observing a passing school field trip they will often exclaim, “Connie, remember Ryan? I wonder how he’s doing now?” Other than occasional flashbacks from my childhood, I hadn’t thought about him much until freshman year of high school, when a mutual friend mentioned in passing that Ryan had moved back to San Francisco.
It took me four years and the end of senior year approaching to finally reach out to him, and it was only two weeks ago that I leaned against the wall of a local internet cafe, waiting for him to arrive. I was half convinced that he wasn’t going to show up at all, wallowing in that peculiar shade of self-consciousness that painted itself as a hidden observer as I prepared to reacquaint myself. In front of me would be a person I’d spent the most vibrant years of my childhood with, but still didn’t really know the first thing about. Did he remember the same things I did? What questions could I ask, and what should I say?
When he finally arrived, it wasn’t what you would call a monumental reunion. One minute, he hadn’t been in my life for eleven years, and the next second, he was. We sat for an hour at the cafe, talking about everything and nothing at all. Conversation cycled to and from our youth, our lives now, what our aspirations were, where we’d applied for college, and how our paths have diverged.
“Yea, life’s been pretty crazy. Boba’s a trend now, isn’t that weird? It used to be strictly an Asian thing, and now it’s hipster.” –Both of Us
Afterward, we walked for a bit around the neighborhood, trudging along the hill next to my former middle school (which I learned he would have attended if it hadn’t been fully enrolled at the time) as well as silently perusing the isles of the Ortega Library and checking out the crowds at Ortega Park. Both have gone through much renovation since we used to play in the since-replaced sand pits and rusty swings. Surrounded by the constant juxtaposition between the past and present, I kept thinking about the stark contrast between the person walking next to me and the little boy that I used to call my best friend. He had an adorable attachment to his mother and would ask me for drawing prompts late in the afternoon, just to pass the time at our local daycare. I looked up to him as an older brother, the one who shielded me from the gaze of our reprimanding teachers.
There was barely any inkling of that boy left in the person sitting across from me, having traded all his juvenile traits for the persona of teen at the edge of adulthood. These days, he’s 5’10”. He’s more of a familiar stranger than a close friend. He doesn’t draw anymore, but is one of the best high school volleyball players in the city. He listens to music that I’ve never heard before, and goes to foreign concerts I’d never dream of attending. While I’ve been grounded here my entire life, he’s been around the globe but for some reason, has returned to live in the same city as me.
Talking with him made me realize just how much I have changed as well. I’m not the tiny girl painted in blue at the back of the classroom anymore, waiting for her next instruction. I don’t shed tears over scuffed up knees and coloring outside the lines; I’ve learned to embrace every mistake I make as a humbling and growing experience. I can’t remember the last time I deliberately wreaked havoc in a classroom, and my then-beloved crayons and erasable markers have been traded for pens and permanent paint. The playground has grown far beyond the limits of rusty play structure fences and into a wider world. Ryan has big aspirations, and like me, has his eyes trained on the east coast universities. Everything is changing, and soon we, along with all our other peers from that daycare down the block, will take on bigger responsibilities and goals than any of us could have foreseen.
Ryan, if you’re reading this, thank you for letting me interrogate you for an hour, introducing me to Pastafarianism, and explaining the story behind your Instagram username. I’ll catch you at a game sometime.