Instructor: Lorraine Tzeng
An Everlasting Friendship
Personal Essay & Memoir
An Everlasting Friendship
I remembered meeting my grandfather for the first time when I was only three years old. His rapid Urdu and my simple English weren't compatible. He spoke with such fluency, yet I never understood anything he was saying. My cousins and older sister had the advantage of being able to communicate with our elderly relatives who couldn't speak English, but I, being many years younger, often felt estranged. I was envious of my family constantly thinking to myself, How were they able to laugh together at dinner, all understanding each other? How could they listen to stories told by my grandfather, his wise, cherished tales? With halting communication consisting of small "hi's" and "how are you's?" in broken English, and flipping through his picture book of our home country of Kashmir, I grew up with no true experience or interactions with seniors until one fateful day.
My legs raced along the plastic pedals, its training wheels creating a crackling sound in the distant wind. Autumn leaves fell as I biked through the jagged sidewalk, each hole making a small bump. I rode in circles around our development for only a few minutes before my ankles became sore from the perpetual pedaling. Taking a deep breath, I rammed the brake on my right handle in front of a mailbox. I parked my bike in front of the wooden structure to take a stretch break.
Pretending I was a professional gym instructor I saw on television, I stretched my arms over my head, cracking several joints. Opening my eyes after completing my temporary 'workout,' I was greeted with an amused but warm wrinkly smile from a familiar face. I returned to a normal stance before saying hello, instantly embarrassed.
"You live across the street, correct?" my neighbor asked, jovially, as he held a stack of envelopes in his hands and tugged at the collar of his white polo shirt. "I remember seeing you when you were only four feet. Now, how tall are you? Hmm... I would say almost as tall as me!"
Giggling, I looked up at him. I was nowhere near his height, but I appreciated the compliment. Fuzzy memories quickly filled my head; I recalled moments when I had come over to his house with my older sister, who had visited him frequently whenever she needed to deliver food to our neighbors. My sister abhorred dragging me along, but I always insisted when it came to the man across the street, always smiling with jokes slipping off his tongue, and one loveable gray cat named Rocky.
As I held my shoulders broadly, showing off my height, I immediately burst into conversation. I talked about how I only eat chocolate, that eating vegetables doesn't actually make you grow taller, and that he should just snack on candy to become as tall as me. He laughed at my comments and told me he would try it out just for my sake. The discussion shifted to how I adored seeing Rocky always running around his garden. He then told me his grandchildren were always quiet and tranquil, while I was boisterous and loquacious. As we continued for longer than I expected, I was once again out of breath from being able to talk a lot, and the sun soon began to disappear.
"Your mother's probably expecting you back," he told me. "Give her my regards, and bring that spicy rice one day. I loved it." I waved goodbye and went back home on my bike, a grin etched across my face and my heart pumping excitedly. Little did I know then that I had made a lifelong friend.
From then on I always rode my bike around my development past his house. Once my training wheels were removed, I could go on for ages without getting bored. Never sincerely interested in bike riding, I only rode to talk to my neighbor. He was often outside, either planting flowers or cutting weeds. Some days he was even sitting in a lawn chair and reading a newspaper with Rocky curled up in his lap and a pencil tucked in his chestnut brown hair, gray strands sticking out. Dropping my bike on the side of his lawn, I ran up to him and asked, "Why do you read a newspaper? Don't you just watch the news?"
That's how I discovered that my neighbor was not a fan of modern technology. He told me how the television and iPhones were only a distraction to him, and how he could get so much more done without ever using them. I was appalled as he told me this, never aware that there were people who didn't approve of the convenience of technology.
On other afternoons, my neighbor invited me inside his house when it was raining. He took me to his kitchen, showing me the paintings he made throughout the years, one as early as twenty years ago. He painted vast scenarios he'd imagined and animals he had found in his backyard. Hung up just like a museum in his own house, the vivid colors and ostentatious strokes of his paintbrush always amazed me, the sole viewer.
Some days when we sat at his kitchen table, simply talking, he'd tell me about his past — the times he washed cars as a teenager, a math teacher to children when he was a young adult, and even flew as a flight attendant in his thirties.
"We traveled all over the world," he told me. "And some seats were frequently empty, which meant free vacations for me and my wife. Once, there was a man who was having a heart attack."
"What did you do?" I said distraught.
"I did what anyone would," he replied humbly. "I performed CPR on him until the ambulance arrived, and he was sent to a hospital where my daughter happened to work. Fortunately, he survived."
Listening to the intrepid act of my neighbor, my eyes glistened in awe. I left that day, feeling proud that I was friends with a hero, a life-saver. As I entered my house, I ran into the kitchen and blurted out the whole story to my family.
"Our neighbor saved someone's life!" I yelled, my rambunctious voice echoing throughout the room. Everyone stopped their movement to stare at me.
"Were you at Mr. Carp's house again?" my mother asked. "You know he's getting older and has a large imagination."
"It was the truth," I argued back, knowing my neighbor would never lie to me and restating the whole tale, commanding their attention. My parents laughed, bemused at me, while my sister looked at me askance like I was just a frivolous child. Ignoring them, I thought that the man across the street would never think of me that way.
It was hard to keep track of how long I had been going to Mr. Carp's house. After the weekly visits, time moved faster than a roller coaster. I grew up and became a middle schooler, too busy to ride my bike every day.
As I dropped by his house one late December, wearing thick boots and a long winter coat, I carried the books I wanted to share with him. Mr. Carp took one look at me and said, "You don't know it, but I watched you grow up every day. I still remember when you were only seven years old, prattling on about whatever you thought about."
I chuckled, thanking him, and felt grateful for having a friend to talk to about anything I was willing to rant about.
"I hope I live long enough to see you in ten years. That would be a sight."
As he muttered the sentence, I felt my stomach drop. Live long enough? How old was he anyways? Of course, he'll live long enough to see me in ten years. He was sitting on his roof the other day. He is practically my age!
"Of course, you will," I said tentatively.
Taking weary steps to walk home, winter snowflakes fell as I trampled through the grass across the street. My teeth shivered in the cold air as thoughts cluttered up my mind like junk in the old attic. His words haunted me throughout the five-minute walk home until they faded away into the distant and heavy wind.
I hope I live long enough.
Live long enough.
Live long enough.
I came home, throwing my face on a pillow in the living room, tears rolling down my face. My mother approached me, concerned. "What's wrong?" she asked gently.
"My best friend is leaving me before I even become an adult," I lamented through muffled sounds.
My mother rubbed my back in circles, "People in our lives, even those who are the closest of friends, sometimes have to leave us, but their memories and all the love they shared will never escape." I picked my head up, sniffling but listening to the advice. "Instead of worrying about the day they will be gone, you just have to keep making as many memories and loving them as time allows." I wiped my sleeve across my face, nodding my head.
As the weather improved, I took out my bike once again, blowing off dust bunnies, and rewinding rusted brakes. I began pedaling slowly down the street and then rapidly. Dried ice along the concrete made my bike skid a little until I stopped near the brown mailbox. My neighbor held a stack of mail in his coat as he shoveled his driveway.
He turned around, a beam curled on his lips, lines, and creases forming around his cheeks and forehead as he waved hello. "There's my favorite neighbor!" He said with his voice slightly cracking through the heavy air.
I smiled back at my friend, willing to spend as many moments with him as possible.
Mr. Carp pointed his frail fingers at his green sweater with a gray cat that looked just like Rocky on it. "My wife got it as my Christmas present," he said excitedly. "Rocky has a matching one, though he never wears it."
I burst out laughing, only the man across the street would have matching sweaters with his cat.
I realized that time is scarce; there aren't enough days to waste, and while I was only twelve years old at the time, I knew that I would always try to spend time with my life-long companion.
Throughout the past few months, I am beginning to learn my native tongue, wanting to communicate with my grandfather more as he too visited more frequently with my mother's assistance because when you meet someone, small things shouldn't block the way of getting to know them. You never know, they might turn out to become your closest friends.