The infinity of Cheez-Its and juice boxes


Once upon a time, she knew a boy. 

He was short, and he talked a lot. He was funny; he always had a joke to tell. Everybody loved him, even the teachers that might not so easily admit it. He had an aura that pulled everybody in towards him; he was friendly, and he cared. 

They were in fourth grade—all six of them—and all of their fears were so small and unimportant at the time. At least that’s how she remembers it. And all she has are the memories to grasp onto now. 

Life seemed infinite because they were so young. 

Life should’ve remained infinite for so much longer than it did. 

Those memories were distant, faded images that brought a small, reminiscent smile to her face. They were cocooned by the clouds of time, but not out of reach. 

It’s under the vividly dim lighting of a busy restaurant, in the boisterously happy circle of friends, still riding the high of spontaneous youth, that everything changes. She glances down at her phone one moment, and when she looks up, nothing is quite the same. 

It doesn’t seem real at first. It seems like a joke—an inconceivably cruel joke at that. Her entire body is revolting—heart thudding with fury against her ribcage, malicious butterflies torpedoing in her stomach. It hurts. It hurts so bad in ways she can’t identify or pinpoint. 

The world continues spinning. The conversations do not cease. But for her, everything is paused. Her own small world is holding its breath, waiting for it to not be true—waiting for things to fall back into alignment like they’re supposed to. She fails to realize that this is the new alignment. And it’s waiting for her to catch up. 

She wants to join the world where it is now, but everything in her holds her back, keeping her rooted in this moment of confusion. It feels incredibly wrong to even consider returning to the excitement and joy she’d known seconds before — when somebody’s planet just stopped revolving. When hundreds of lives just changed indefinitely, hers included. 

But she has no tears to shed. She has nothing to say. She doesn’t know how to process; she doesn’t really want to process. 

The texts start flooding in in ruthless torrents, one after another, all communicating the same message. 

“Do you remember?”

“Did you hear?”

“Are you ok?”

Of course she remembers; it’s a crime to assume she ever could have forgotten him. Of course she’s heard. How could she not have? And of course she’s not ok. But she pretends she is. She wants to scream at all of them. She wants to yell and cry and tell them to stop texting her and reminding her of the one thing in the world she wants to forget more than anything else. 

And despite what feels like millions of people texting her, she feels alone. She’s stuck in her own, isolated orbit while the party and laughter she’d been so buoyantly participating in carries on without her. 

Clutching a single friend’s hand like a lifeline, she does the only thing she can do. Just behind the door in the public restroom, a highly unconventional place to process something so monumental as this, she says a prayer. She prays that he is ok wherever he is now. She prays that his family will be ok. She simply prays because it is all she knows how to do right now. 

And then she goes back to the dinner table. 

Someone must have told everybody while she was gone, because they all look at her now, scared and sorry. Someone hugs her, and she says it is all ok. It feels ok for right now because she’s pushing it all down. 

The texts don’t stop coming in for nearly twenty-four hours: old friends she hasn’t spoken to in years, teachers who knew him, friends who need to talk—who need some solace and somebody who understands.

It’s a considerable effort to power her phone off and stop reading more and more, tearing herself apart more and more with every new piece of knowledge. She has to throw the phone far, far away from her. She has to tell herself she’ll deal with it all later. 

And later, she throws herself back into the storm of news stories, and remarkably ignorant comments, and heartfelt messages of condolences and comfort. She reads about all the people who knew him so much better than she did. She reads about what his life was like before it happened.

The question begs to be asked with every Facebook post or news article she reads: is this all true? She realizes she didn’t actually know him the way he was when he died. She merely knows a version of him that has evolved and changed into a person she can’t rightfully mourn. 

She wishes she knew if the things they say are true or if they are just a view of him through rose-colored lenses because that’s all they can bear to acknowledge. They say he was endlessly caring—he would give you the shirt right off his back. They say he was sweet and innocent, religious and full of faith, funny and smart. They say he was too young—only fifteen. 

She knows without a doubt that much is true. He was far too young to die. This was far too early for life to stop seeming infinite. 

It could have been anyone else. She thinks it more than once over the next couple of days, not sure what that statement even means to her. It could have been someone she didn’t even know—a stranger whose shortened life didn’t affect her at all. It could have been someone she couldn’t live without—someone whose death would obliterate her. 

But none of that means anything. Because it wasn’t anybody else. It was him. He’s the first person from her childhood to leave this world—he won’t be the last. Some too early, some at the right time. Some she’ll have to suffer through, some she won’t be around for. But they will all eventually go. 

Their time as children is nearing its end. Their time on this earth, maybe not. But regardless, it’s all too soon. She just wants to go back.

She wants to go back to the days when it felt like the six of them would be friends forever. The days when they brainstormed clever, personalized nicknames for each other. The days when they spent recess on the muddy field, tossing around his brightly colored, knitted hacky-sack. 

She longs for the days when they obsessed over Harry Potter and dressed up as the characters for spirit days at school. She remembers that he didn’t have a costume — just a nametag and a wand he made himself. But he was just as happy as the rest of them. 

She remembers that she gave him her extra copy of the fourth Harry Potter book in exchange for the juice boxes and Cheez-Its he would so often give her. She remembers his iconic mohawk, his incessant chipmunk chatter, his love for life and people. 

One time on her birthday, he gave her a necklace. She’s lost it now, and she curses herself for it. But she still has all the notes. The birthday card with a picture of a rose, the doodled sticky-note that reads Elfie, and the love note that their teacher found and eventually had transferred to her possession. 

They were just kids. They never thought about their futures ending up like this. 

Now there are only five of them, and only four of them talk. She wishes that wasn’t the way it is, but they’ve all moved on, some even further than others. 

And now here she is, an entirely different human than she was six years ago when their friendship seemed infinite. She’s surrounded by the best humans she could ever know, and suddenly this little sliver of her past wiggles in and throws her off course. 

She doesn’t go to the funeral.

She doesn’t think she can bear the crying, the sorrow, and the obligatory conversations with people she hasn’t talked to in years. 

For days afterward, she is simply depressed. She doesn’t cry. And she feels like she’s moved on. But the world has slowed to a sluggish pace. She’s in one of the worst places of her life, and she doesn’t even feel like she deserves to be sad. Not when his whole family is out there, missing him more than she can even begin to fathom. 

Yet every time she hears an ambulance, she thinks about him. She doesn’t admit how much it’s all wrecking her, partially because she doesn’t want to, and partially because she feels she doesn’t have a right to. 

It isn’t until at least a month later that she admits how much it hurt. 

And even longer than that before she realizes she hasn’t thought about it in too long. 

She’s in the shower when it hits her. She starts to think about it again, and it doesn’t hurt as much this time. But she feels endlessly guilty for moving on so quickly. She shoved her feelings down, felt numb for a few weeks, and then she moved on. 

And she decides then that no matter how much it hurts, she owes him this much. She owes him an hour of her time to really contemplate him and everything their friendship meant. She owes him this story. Of her, and him, and their small friend group that seemed like everything they needed in fourth grade. 

Once upon a time, she knew a boy. He gave her his Cheez-Its and juice boxes. She shared her books with him. They played hacky-sack in the field with all their friends. They made up silly nicknames for all six of them. They relished their childhood because it was all they had in that moment.

Now, all they have are the memories. 

She thanks him for that. He deserves this much from her. And she knows wherever he is, he knows that they’re all missing him. To him, they’re all still infinite.