Somebody had once told me that a heart is too heavy to carry alone. Though light and full of hope and high aspirations at first, each passing tragedy or disappointment makes the heart laden with grief. At some point, the weight becomes nearly unbearable, and we come close to complete collapse. However, if we have someone to lean on, they can help us carry our burdens, at least for a little while. We weren’t made for loneliness, that person had said to me; that’s why we seek out the companionship of a friend or the understanding of a family member.
I always thought it strange that Raven and I found each other the way we did. We were both lonely, misunderstood children, though for our own reasons. While I was quiet and unquestioning, he was wild and combative. Though I had never seen his outbursts in person, I heard about them all the time—the way he shouted in class, or the way he bit the teacher. Raven was in and out of the office constantly. I never heard the end of it: timid little Wren Winters, friends with troublemaker Raven Beckett. If it wasn’t our classmates pointing out our unlikely friendship, it was our teachers. You’re such a good girl, they’d say to me, why are you friends with someone who gets into so much trouble?
Honestly, I didn’t know what to tell them. Raven was an entirely different person around me: imaginative, witty, pensive, even a little sad. The few days he was able to go to recess, we would take turns on the swing set. He was always insistent that I had my turn first. After I sat down on the seat, he’d pull me back, maybe crack a little joke, before pushing me forward. We had a competition going for a long time to see who could swing the highest. He always said that I went higher, but I’d always disagree with a laugh. I didn’t even like the swings. I just liked the way I felt when I was with him.
Though that was most of what our friendship was to begin with, I began to learn more about Raven as he talked to me on the swing set. Apparently, his family was a wealthy bunch, full of lawyers and doctors and politicians. His mother and father, a couple of aspiring doctors, encountered trouble establishing a private practice for many years. They moved a lot while Raven was still young, so he never got the chance to make friends or get adjusted to school. Still, he was intelligent in his own right; he often told me of the many adventures he had gone on while reading books well above our grade level. I couldn’t help but admire how much he already knew or be jealous of what he had that I didn’t.
I had told him a little about my life, as well. My family was of the lower-middle class: my father was a manager at the local grocery store, and my mother worked from home. I always had what I needed, but not always everything I wanted. Though there were many times that we were strapped for cash, my parents always put on their bravest smiles for me. They were much more open about their troubles to my older brother, Hawke, however. He was everything I wasn’t—popular, athletic, wise beyond his years. Even though there were only a couple of years separating us, Hawke seemed decades older than me. He often ignored me in favor of his friends, but in a way, I think he took pity on me, too. Perhaps he knew that I just wanted to be like him.
Despite our differences, Raven and I had somehow found each other. We were opposites: a well-groomed, rambunctious boy and an awkward, ugly duckling girl. While I struggled to read loud enough for the class to hear, he was trying to cut a girl’s hair in the next room over. When I sat quietly and ignored the critical remarks of my classmates, he stood up and shoved one of his bullies into a wall. Where I was weak and timid, he was strong and outgoing. Perhaps, then, we weren’t exactly opposites; we were complements, two sides of the same coin.
But more importantly, we were each other’s best friends. I mentioned this fact to him as I took my seat on the swing set. It was almost the end of third grade, about a month before summer would begin. I couldn’t help but blush at how casually the words “best friend” had rolled off my tongue. It was a term I had rarely, if ever, used, yet that made it all the more special. Raven, with a little laugh, just took the chains of the swing in his hands. He pulled me back.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, Wren,” He said with a smile.
I swung forward, gripping tightly onto the chains of the swing. “Even though I’m weird?” I asked. When I fell back toward him, Raven took the swing and held it in place, his hands just below mine. We locked eyes.
“Who said you were weird?” I had never heard such a tone of fierce austerity come from a child before. Frankly, it caught me off guard. For a moment, I trembled, stumbled over my words. Patiently, he waited, his expression eventually softening. I swallowed.
“Uh, e-everyone. People s-say…” I bit my lip. This particular topic had never come up before. I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to know just yet that I was “that girl.” Perhaps he already knew. I just couldn’t quite say it aloud to him, maybe because I couldn’t say it aloud to myself. Heaving a sigh, I said, “People say that I don’t ever talk… that I can’t talk. They make fun of me for it. That’s why I’m weird.” I dropped my gaze down to my shoes. Raven was silent for a long while, as if deeply considering his options. Then he pulled back the swing again.
“Don’t worry,” He said, “They’re wrong about you.”
The next day, Raven was sent to the office for getting in a fight with four boys in the classroom next-door to mine. He had heard them speaking poorly of me, and he pushed one of them into a wall, eliciting a scuffle. From what I was told, it took three teachers to stop the fight, because Raven kept going after the other boys admitted defeat. Raven was sent away to a different school for the rest of third grade, but I was never made fun of again.