As Children, Truths About Our Friends May Be Too Obvious to See

In her moving elegy for junior high, poet Susan DeFreitas examines how we too often barely glimpse the home lives of even our closest friends.

Susan DeFreitas performs at Jade Lounge for INK NOISE Review.

“Before, Back, Never”

Before T and A;
before crushes and semiformals;
before Claudia Schiffer was the Guess Jeans girl;
before pallet parties and pregnancies;
before you knew Long Island Iced Tea was not iced tea;
before your boyfriend’s hard on when you kissed him;
before anyone ever called you a slut.

Back when we rode bikes until the light fell;
back when we slid beneath the fence to the lake,
and surprised that turtle, with that weird wattle, who looked like old Mrs. Hawks;
back when we both liked horses, and that was important;
back when you wanted to be a veterinarian someday.

You never wanted to go home after school;
never liked your uncle, who I thought was cool;
I could never do my nails the way you did,
Lee Press On with appliques;
I remember you were never scared of Friday the 13th,
or failing a test,
or the bullies at the bus stop.
I remember how I admired you,
how brave and grown up you were.

Sometimes spring brings me back to that day,
the way it smelled—pine trees and Teen Spirit.
We set across the new grass singing
Patience and Sweet Child O’ Mine.
This was junior high, a time
when track events were mandatory
for the entire school—I remember standing next to you
in a tank top at the starting line
was like standing outside in a thunder storm
waiting for the lightning strike.

You won’t meet my eyes when you run my card, though you smile.
Recently, I heard you got divorced, and your uncle went back to jail
for doing to his daughter what we maybe always knew
he had done to you. I wish we could go back
to before this whole disaster struck,
the moment just before we set off singing across that field;
sweet child of mine, your teased-up bangs
fairly floated on that green breeze.

I wish I could give you back
some version of yourself

You got those breasts back in sixth grade,
and you still carry them
like the weight of the world.

INK NOISE Review is a reading series dedicated to bridging the various branches of the Portland, Ore. poetry scene. Follow them on Facebook.

Production and editing by Heliorana Filmworks.

Susan DeFreitas

Susan DeFreitas is a writer and book coach, an associate editor with Indigo Editing & Publications, and a reader for Tin House Magazine. Her work has appeared in the Utne Reader, the Nervous Breakdown, Southwestern American Literature, Fourth River, Weber—The Contemporary West, and Bayou Magazine, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter.


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