Volume 1, Number 3 -- October, 1996
He had been there for quite a while, Brianne reasoned, though she could not be certain exactly for how long. When she searched her memory she seemed to recall glimpses of him here and there, always popping up during recess or music class but never drawing any attention to himself. Except for that one fourth-grade gym class, that is.
They had been playing dodge ball, one of Brianne's least favorite games. It seemed to be a sport designed specifically to allow the brainless bullies of the class to terrorize and humiliate the smaller kids with the blessings of the ever-vigilant teacher. It was generally Brianne's strategy to float around near the back of the playground until she could get hold of a stray ball (hopefully a big one), at which point she would hurl the ball at the opposing side where it would inevitably be caught by one of the slow-witted opponents and she would be "out". Only then would she be allowed to retreat to the blissful safety of the sidelines to await the next game.
The alternative to this plan was to have a ball slammed into the side of her head with enough force to dent sheet metal.
It was during one of these games that she first noticed him. Correction, it was during one of these games that she first noticed him noticing her. She was drifting around behind her "teammates" and waiting for a stray ball to roll her way when she realized one of her teammates' attention was fixed on her, rather than on their opponents. She looked over at him, only to have him quickly snap his eyes away. She thought he seemed to be blushing.
She returned her attention to the game for a moment, then checked again and, sure enough, despite his efforts to appear otherwise, she once again caught him looking.
Now it became a contest. Sort of a game-within-the game. He was trying to watch her without it appearing that he was watching her, while she kept trying to catch him before he could dart his eyes away. All the while both of them were trying to avoid the barrage of rubber balls from the opposing team.
For the first time in her young life, she found herself enjoying the game of dodge ball, to the point where she actually, upon recovering a ball, tossed it to one of her loutish teammates rather than take her easy exit.
Little boys somehow manage to have the worst of all possible luck when it comes to little girls, and this poor boy was no exception. Through a minor miracle of timing and triangulation, Brianne managed to catch him right in mid-gaze just as a ball caromed off the side of his entranced face.
At first she was horrified at the sight of his head snapping back from the force of the blow. But as she stooped to retrieve the ball, which had rolled right to her feet, she saw that his only real injury was embarrassment. She watched him slink over to the sideline amid the jeers and laughter of his classmates. Brianne then promptly hurled her ball into the waiting arms of Shawn Tripp (everyone called him "Huggy Bear", but only when they wanted to make him really mad) and made her own way to the sidelines.
She stood behind the boy and watched as he glanced furtively around the playground. He was clearly searching for her, though trying desperately not to look like he was searching for her. After a few moments she walked over and spoke to him.
"Hi". she said.
The boy's head snapped around so suddenly that it even startled Brianne. His eyes were as big as baseballs and he seemed to have lost all control of his jaw muscles. His mouth hung open for what seemed like several seconds as he seemed to struggle desperately to regain his pre-adolescent composure, such as it was. After several seconds he simply panicked and fled like a startled deer.
Brianne was stunned. She had never seen anything like it in her entire life. She would later ask her mother about the boy and his reaction and her mother would laugh and then favor her with that sad little smile that always seemed to say, "You're growing up too fast, little one."
After that she noticed him all the time. His desk was slightly behind hers and in the next row, and she was constantly aware of his eyes on the back of her neck. On the playground be was never far away and during lunch he always found a way to sit close to her. And, of course, it turned out that he lived right across the street from her so naturally he would follow her home from school every day.
At first she found the attention to be kind of sweet and flattering. It quickly grew to be annoying, however, and found herself wishing be would either cave in and talk to her or move on to his next fixation. Eventually she grew bored with the whole thing and found herself noticing his presence less and less.
Until, one day, she noticed he wasn't there. She tried to remember when the last time she had seen him at his desk, or noticed him following her home and felt guilty that she could not. He had missed school before, but this time he seemed to have been gone for quite some time. Each day Brianne came to school expecting to see the blonde-haired little boy at his desk and each day she found herself disappointed, and surprised at her disappointment. After several weeks she began to wonder if perhaps his family had moved away.
Then one day he was back. Her surprise and elation at seeing him at his desk quickly faded as she realized that something was different about him. His skin seemed pale and almost thin, and he was wearing a hat indoors. He seemed sad and would not look at her, not even a glance. He spent his recesses inside and sometimes she could see him watching through the window as the other kids ran and played. And after school his mother would pick him up and drive him home, leaving her without her previously unwanted escort.
Each day when she arrived home he would watch her from his bedroom window across the street, the only time he allowed himself to watch her. She made an effort not to show that she was aware of his presence, she did not want him to go away. He would watch her until she entered the house, then he would disappear and not be seen again until the next day.
It grew to be the highlight of her day. The part she most looked forward to, but also the part she most dreaded. One day as she reached the gate in front of her house she paused. She turned her head slowly, so as to give him plenty of warning in case he chose to flee, and looked directly at him.
He did not run, did not even look away. He met her eyes with his own and in them Brianne could see a weariness that she could not understand, but could only feel. After a few moments he allowed the curtain to drop in front of him and cut him off once again from the outside world.
Brianne started to cross the street, hesitated, then turned and went into her own house. She thought about him for the rest of the evening and was uncharacteristically silent all evening. She thought about asking her mother about the boy, but couldn't even begin to figure out how. She decided that the next day she would go over and see the boy, find out his name, and find out why he was so sick.
The next day came and went, as did the one following and the more after that. Each day she vowed would be the day she went over and talked to the little boy. And each day her heart failed her and she retreated to the safety of her own home.
Until the day came when he wasn't in his window.
She waited at the curb, silently hoping that he was just late, certain that he would appear at any moment.
He did not.
Slowly, she crossed the street and made her way up the walk and to the door. Her trembling fingers pushed the doorbell and waited as she beard footsteps approaching. The door opened and a woman appeared.
"Well, hello." she said brightly, "You're the girl from across the street, aren't you?
"Yes, ma'am." answered Brianne softly.
The woman grew somber and her voice grew soft.
"You're here to see Perry, aren't you?" she asked.
Perry, that was his name. Brianne simply nodded and stood silently as the woman gazed down at her.
"Wait right here." said the woman finally. She disappeared for a moment, then returned with a purse and jacket and, taking Brianne's hand, led her across the street and to her own house. Brianne waited silently as the woman introduced herself to her mother and the two made grown-up talk for several minutes. Finally, the three of them, Brianne, her mother, and Perry's mother, all climbed into the woman's car and drove off.
It was explained to Brianne that they were going to the hospital to visit Perry, and after only a few minutes they arrived. Brianne was led, eyes wide, through big, brightly-lit hallways bustling with people in white clothing. They stopped at a desk for a moment as Perry's mother spoke with the nurse, then he and Brianne continued on, leaving Brianne's mother in the waiting room.
They passed through a pair of double doors and walked past several rooms containing children of all ages. They finally entered one of the rooms and found... the boy.
"There's someone here to see you, Perry." said the boy's mother.
Perry turned around and his eyes lit up. Gone was the abject horror that Brianne had seen that first time she spoke to him on the playground. Instead it was Brianne who found herself struggling to force her lips to form words and sentences.
The boy's mother left the two of them alone to talk and soon all the fear and awkwardness disappeared. Perry explained to Brianne that he had Hodgkin's disease, then he had to explain to her what Hodgkin's disease was. He told her how it was actually the treatments, and not the disease, that made all of his hair fall out and made him look so sick. And be told her how the doctors expected him to make a complete recovery, and the two of them shared a smile over that.
Brianne, in turn, told Perry all about bow school was going and all about herself. They spent the rest of the day laughing and talking and Brianne was disappointed when the nurse finally told her it was time to go.
In the coming months Brianne would visit Perry nearly every day, bringing him books and playing games and sharing with him all of her stories from her day. She, in turn, shared in his pain every week after he had undergone his chemotherapy, oftentimes even crying along with him as she held his hand at his bedside. And on the days when the doctors refused to allow her to visit she would write him letters to give to the nurses to read to him.
She cried along with Perry's mother at the funeral. Her mother bad thought it a bad idea that she go, but Brianne had insisted. She and Perry had discussed this and they had both agreed that she should be there at the end.
It amazed Brianne how Perry could sit and talk about his own death, even as he was battling valiantly for his life. She was certain that she could never be that brave. But Perry didn't think he was being brave, he kept saying that you can only be brave when you have a choice.
Time, as they say, heals all wounds, and in time Brianne learned to deal with her pain and her grief. She remained close to Perry's family, to the point of calling his mother "Mom". But she would never forget that little blonde-haired boy who followed her home from school every day, and to this day she still writes him letters, telling him all about her day and all that was happening in her life.