Even now, three years later, I remember that vague understanding of what it meant when my parents told me we were moving to Chicago. I had five friends in California, and they were all a little bit older than me, though I was taller. I remember thinking that I needed to remember this place, since I wouldn’t be coming back for a while. Even at seven years old, I understood the curse of the concept “moving.”
When I visited Chicago, the trees were bare, gloomy, and gray. The grass was flat and dead, there were no flowers, no trees, none of the hills I was used to. Everything was flat and gray with concrete. The houses were large and foreboding, made of an ugly brick. The house I was staying in was drafty, gray, and cold. I didn’t realize it was just the edges of winter.
The first phone call in our house in Chicago, however, was for me, and it was from Vivian, a girl I didn’t know that well since she had changed schools when I still lived in California. But she was nice, and I liked her. I immediately wrote letters to some of my other friends: Rachael, Katherine, and Zoe. I gave them to my dad to mail.
Then, oh then, the Chicago summer came. It was 100 degrees, hot, sticky, and humid. The heat seemed to shimmer, and if you touched metal, you would burn. I went to an outdoors sports camp, where I was informed by a curly-haired girl with black hair that two of our counselors had a crush on each other because they were teasing one another. I watched two girls, one chubby-cheeked with pale skin, the other black-haired with almond eyes. They treated each other as sisters but they couldn’t be; they looked too different. The chubby-cheeked girl, whose name was Olivia, turned out to be my best friend two, three years later.
Zoe and Katherine wrote back, but Rachael didn’t. I figured that Dad had lost the letter, though he denied it. So I waited for letters. I unpacked, played tennis, cried that I left my stuffed animal in California—and to my parents I must have looked like a happy little seven-year-old who just moved and is content with her new home. Sure, I knew that they knew I wasn’t as happy as I could have been, but they didn’t know that I cried myself to sleep or that I choked up when I saw the last name of one of the teachers at my old school on the wall at the university swimming center.
I wrote back to Zoe and Katherine about what Chicago was like and how much I missed them. It had been two months and still nothing from Rachael. At that point I began to question just how bad could the mailmen mess things up. Actually, Rachael hasn’t written to me to this day, though I wrote her two letters, and I’m sure the second one made it to her because I slipped it in her dad’s suitcase when he came to Chicago on a work trip and was working with my dad.
Then, one day at the sports camp, we started our unit on soccer. Now, I loved—and still love—soccer. Not meaning to brag, but I was really good. (Don’t you love my seven-year-old modesty?) Whether or not because of me, my team won most of the games.
At a particularly hot and sticky soccer game, a boy on my team came up to me and said, “If you gain possession, pass to me and I’ll score.” (Even then I would admit I did not have the best aim.) I shrugged.
The boy had long black hair, coal black eyes, and was one or two years older than me. His name was—if I remember correctly—Jonathan.
“Jonathan, Erica, the lot of you, get on the field,” called Coach Mike, waving the off- sides flag impatiently. I jogged over to the coach, a big man with dark skin, the sun attempting to strangle me as I ran.
“Coach Mike, do I switch to midfield since Rachel’s not here?” I panted. Coach scanned the group of hot, sweaty grade schoolers.
“Wait a minute, why’s Rachel not here?”
“She sprained her ankle in track and field,” called Kylee, an explosive defender with hands the size of footballs and who could run like a deer.
“Sure, but do you really want to?”
“Fine,” he said, “Everybody ready? In position—Leo, what are you doing? You’re defense!”
I heard Coach’s ear-splintering whistle, and the other team kicked off. Now, if I were a writer, I would describe the game, make it exciting and all that, but there is really nothing to describe.
We won. Jonathan (or was it John?) scored six times. After the game, I ran with the other kids to the water fountain. I flopped down on the grass and splashed water on my face. Sitting up, I poured the rest on my head. Jonathan walked up to me and held up his hand for a high five.
“To teamwork.” I gave him a good, hard high five. He smiled.
“Most girls I know barely even touch your hand when they high-five. I like your spirit.”
“Most boys I know—well, used to know—would rather eat scat than be caught talking to a girl,” I replied, flattered. Jonathan threw his head back and laughed. It was a warm and friendly laugh, and it made me all tingly inside.
“Wait, what do you mean, used to know?” he asked.
“I just moved here from California.”
“Well, welcome to Chicago.”
“Hey, do you want to join my soccer team?” he asked. “It could be fun. Each week two kids are picked to be team captains. If you come, I’ll know who to pick first.”
“Yeah, I want to.”
“I think I’ve seen you around before—do you live on Kimbark?”
“Yeah, I do, where do you live?”
“Woodlawn. I think my garden’s the one behind yours.”
“Erica,” asked Jonathan hesitantly, “do you want to- to meet at Bixler park tomorrow morning? I- no, I don’t mean…” he said hurriedly, misreading the look on my face.
“Of course!” I smiled. He grinned.
“See you, then!” he said.
I smiled. So what if Rachael decided not to write to me? It didn’t matter now. I had a friend.