A Letter to J.T. by Isabella Valdez

J.T.,

We haven’t spoken in a while, not since I forgot your birthday this past May. I’m spending my summer in Boston, but you’re still in Illinois. I don’t know how to tell you this, but even though I’m over 900 miles away, I feel like I’m still in Franklin Park. It’s been awhile since we’ve done something together. The last time was probably the winter we spent at Mackenzi’s house. Me, you, Melissa, and Ilse, before you and Melissa stopped talking. I imagine Mackenzi has tried to kill herself again, so we should have probably gone this year. We definitely should have gone this year.

I didn’t hear you, but Melissa told me you cried outside the bathroom while my head was in the toilet. You weren’t crying for me, of course, but because you’d let some boy finger you in an empty parking lot. This was when you still had your freckles. The whole house was hot, but the bathroom walls were sticky with sweat. I had to take my shirt off and lay in the bathtub because even on my knees I was nauseous. I’d already stopped throwing up, but spit kept tangling in my hair. My cheeks were red, and I put my hands on them to cool them down. You don’t know this, but I always put my hands on my cheeks after a stressful situation. Earlier that day, we’d drunk a whole bottle of vodka with nothing but 10 ounces of cranberry juice as a chaser.

This was when Suki was still living at the Foley house. That winter, it snowed so much that they shut down school, and we got to stay in Hanover Park for an extra day. We’d started drinking way past midnight; I’m almost sure we didn’t get any sleep. The next morning, I ate Hot Cheetos and mini pickles for breakfast while Melissa showered. You ate some of her personal Little Debbie Dream Pie stash even though she’d warned us not to. You shrugged her off, like you always used to. The TV said we should stay indoors, that there was black ice and that it would take only minutes before we would freeze past saving. But Mama took us to Meijer’s anyway. She spent $700 on us. We never did pay her pack, and I doubt we ever will. We all tried to sleep on Mackenzi’s twin bed and in the middle of the night Melissa fell off, and we almost cried laughing.

Even though we had ACT Prep together this year, I feel like I haven’t seen you since that winter. We smile at each other in the hallway, maybe exchange some phrases, but that’s as far as it goes now. You have a new boyfriend, his name is John Smith, and I hate him even though he smokes pot and got kicked out of school. You told me once that you wanted to be an archaeologist, and I said you should watch Indiana Jones because that’s what being  an archaeologist was all about.

In the winter, before the snow, before the foreboding newscast, the five of us took a walk to Walgreen’s. Dressed in shorts and hoodies, our legs froze instantly and we bundled together. You walked ahead, eyes in the sky, searching for something. Under the streetlights, you’re legs beamed white. We called out to you and you smiled, shuffling over to join us in our huddle. On the way home, I asked you what you were looking at but you wouldn’t say. I sometimes wonder about that night, wonder about what you saw in the starless sky, but I’m afraid to ask a second time.

In case I forget this year, Happy Birthday J.T. I hope it’s a good one.

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