Before the End

1944. A year before the end of war. My grandma Joan was ten, and sad, sad because her best friend Crystal was moving away. Crystal lived across the street, and Joan wasn’t to cross. She did anyway.

Joan caught insults on her walks to and from school with Crystal, some older boys saying things she couldn’t make out except for the word “nigger.” She didn’t even really know what that word was supposed to mean, but she saw how it affected Crystal, so she knew it was bad.

Crystal’s mother was institutionalized, so she was raised by her grandmother. Joan’s mother died shortly after childbirth, so she was raised by her father and later her stepmother. Crystal’s grandmother was never home, and Joan’s father buried empty liquor bottles in the cellar’s dirt floor, so the two girls got along fine.

On the day Crystal had to go, Joan took her to the playground one last time. They didn’t get on the swings, but they watched the other kids who were on them. They didn’t say anything, but that was okay. They just watched the other kids swing back and forth, back and forth. And that was the thing–no matter how far you pushed off, you’d always end up right back where you started.

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