It's the first day of seventh grade, and I’m walking to school. Cars honk, buses rumble, bikes zip past. The sidewalk is jam-packed. I pass Freddy’s Doughnuts—still closed. Across the street is Thai Garden, with the best spring rolls in the city. It too is closed.
But today I don’t stare at the closed-up stores and used-to-be-restaurants. I barely hear the city noises. I’m thinking about Devon.
What an annoying kid!
Like the way he devours a pepperoni pizza: He stuffs it in his mouth, globs of cheese stuck in his braces, tomato sauce smeared across his face . . . trust me, it’s a disaster. And he’s always losing stuff—his soccer jersey, his bus pass, his earbuds. Good thing Devon’s head is screwed onto his neck, otherwise he’d be running around shouting, “Elijah! Have you seen my head?”
I hear something, and I realize the noise is coming from my own mouth. I’m laughing about Devon. I’m standing out here on the sidewalk. Alone. Laughing out loud.
What’s wrong with me?
I whip my head around to see if anyone is staring, but of course they’re not. People are streaming by—three girls, arms looped together, new backpacks bouncing up and down; a woman jabbering into her phone; an old man walking a fluffy Labradoodle. Even the dog appears to be in a hurry, too busy and distracted to notice the redheaded kid laughing out loud.
Plus, it’s too noisy to hear anything anyway. A rocket could blast off the roof of the McDonald’s on the corner, and probably no one would hear it.
Not like in my grandfather’s quiet town in Wisconsin. I picture it now: Grandpa’s little brick house, the view of the silvery lake out the back windows, the trees that tower like green, leafy skyscrapers. That’s where Mom and I spent the past 16 months. We moved in with Grandpa in May of 2020, after Covid hit here.
I look around, remembering what it was like in those weeks before Mom and I left, back when everything was normal. When Devon and I bought two chocolate glazed doughnuts each at Freddy’s every Friday, when masks were for Halloween and zooming was for skateboards and bikes, when pandemic and quarantine were vocabulary words I’d study and forget.