A Natural Ending
by Genevieve Smith (United States)
Audio: "A Natural Ending," read by Genevieve Smith
I scroll through Instagram, pausing on a picture of a girl I once knew. She’s cut her curly hair, her childhood frizz becoming soft ringlets that fall down to her collarbone. I tap through the photos; two bottled sodas sweating under the summer sun, a quote from the show we had once watched together, a mirror photo of her and a girl I’ve never met in bikinis. She’s pretty, I think. They both are. I hesitate, then press like.
I am nine years old, and I’ve just met the most breathtaking girl in the world. She has just moved into my small, tight-knit town from New Jersey, which I decide must be a mystical land like that of story books if she came from there. She has bright jade eyes and dark, frizzy hair that is piled into a bun on top of her head like a halo. She seems to possess a knowledge or wisdom that the rest of us could never imagine. She holds her head higher, speaks of hoagies and two-story malls and cheese fries with a lilt to her voice that I’ve never heard before. She is cool, like the girls in books from the Teen section of the library that I slip past my mother. I instantly need to know her. I smile at her, and she smiles back, and this is where it starts.
It is a summer afternoon, and our knees are touching on the brown leather seats of the school bus. We are singing at the top of our lungs, a show tune from our latest musical obsession and imagining our duet on a grand Broadway stage. In reality, we’re likely irritating the hell out of our fellow fifth-graders, but we can’t bring ourselves to care. The bus pulls to a noisy stop, and leaves scrape against the windows. “Facetime me!” I call over my shoulder.
“Bye,” she says. “Love you!”
I freeze, almost tripping down the steps. The bus driver gives me a strange look. I mumble something incoherent before crossing the street down my dirt road, thoughts racing through my head like leaves on a windy day, and realizations sprouting like flowers.
We are sitting in her sunshine-yellow bedroom while she braids my hair. Her fingers are long, and every time they brush my scalp it’s like I hand her another piece of my heart. Take it, I picture myself saying, it’s yours. We talk about anything and everything, boys we “like-like,” books we read, and our thoughts and fears of middle school. It looms over the horizon like an overbearing aunt, loud and large and constantly reminding us just how old we were getting. She and I are attending different schools next year. They are only a few towns away from one another, but socially? She may as well be across the world.
Suddenly, she says, “You know, you should really start working out. Or, like, sucking in your stomach or something.”
My brows furrow in confusion, and I turn around to face her, braids forgotten. “What?”
“So you don’t look weird in your bathing suit at the lake this summer,” she says, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Her neighborhood had access to this lake at the end of the cul-de-sac. We would spend the warm months splashing and kayaking and swimming over to the public side of the waters, where an abundance of ice cream and playmates awaited us. A world where someone mentioned my stomach as casually as they might suggest doing a handstand didn’t seem like a world I wanted to be in.
“Sure,” I say, pulling out the braids and standing up. “Obviously.”
I began to take note of everything about her that made me wonder and admire, and it slowly twisted into jealousy and insecurity. She had a magical voice, the best in our school choir. I stopped auditioning with my scratchy and off-key singing, then scowled when she got the biggest part.
Her bedroom was so her, neat bookshelves and posters from musicals, a guitar that she was just learning how to play. It seemed so perfect, and when I stared at my bedroom, full of knick-knacks from my early childhood and patchwork attempts at design, something raw in my chest burned, and I cried myself to sleep.
I was so young, and in my pain and envy I stopped letting myself be around her. We hung out less and barely talked, and when we did it was half-hearted attempts at conversation and fake laughter and halted sentences.
The end to our friendship wasn’t a storm at all; it was a fire that fizzled out after too much rain.
The thing about nature is that there are no mistakes. There is no regret. After a forest fire, new sprouts rise up from the ashes. A garden pest becomes a resource for a bird. A thunderstorm brings water to the vegetation.
My friendship with her taught me many things. It taught me to love quietly and earnestly, to keep my guard up, to snap back with a vengeance if someone treats me poorly.
It also taught me sorrow and pain and loss, and how to move through it. I’m more careful with my friendships now, more quick to quiet if I’ve said too much and compare myself to everyone around me. I have a journal entry from a few months after we drifted apart. It read, “If your name meant the sun, then I was the asteroids and the space junk and the weeds that grew from your light.”
Those words stem from a hurt person, from a person who has loved and lost. But to me, that is the definition of adolescence, of change. To learn how to love deeply and think creatively and lose with grace and newfound wisdom.
And isn’t that beautiful?
Genevieve Smith, 13, is a student, reader, and writer from Massachusetts. In her spare time, she enjoys going on walks in the forest near her house, spending time with friends, and writing prose and poetry. Her piece is inspired by a former friendship that changed her world.
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9/24/22, 2:13 PM
Was this inspired by flights over Iceland?
9/24/22, 10:04 AM
Amazing. I love it.
9/23/22, 7:34 AM
This is just so good!!!! "The air has been poisoned' I love how you describe things! Congrats :))
9/23/22, 7:32 AM
Love the message! The way you prompt the readers to rethink over 'is anything free' is so effective and the ending is...gorgeous.
9/23/22, 7:30 AM
Gosh, Antara...this is really beautiful! I love your use of language, and the anecdotes were so effective!! Congrats so much :))
9/22/22, 9:30 PM
I love it! Especially the part where you say if humans can control the world, they can control themselves too!
Keep up the brilliant writing!
9/22/22, 5:22 PM
Poignant and so beautifully written!
9/22/22, 5:19 PM
I love the flow, this is gorgeously written! Great piece!
9/22/22, 5:17 PM
Life really is all about the little things and you wrote about them in a beautiful way!
9/22/22, 5:16 PM
This is a lovely piece, Keren-Happuch! It provokes such a magical and dreamy feeling.
9/19/22, 5:47 PM
Oh my god, the part about changing the mindset given the pre-existing beliefs drilled in by those around us... Even we often hesitate to have these conversations at times amongst friends as this topic is seldom more than a subject of twss jokes. You put it into words brilliantly!
9/17/22, 6:46 PM
this was thought-provoking! I particularly enjoyed how you connected existentialism to the topic. it provides a different perspective.