My best friend’s name is Ruth, Ruth Patterson. She’s also my only friend, to be honest. I’ve always known her, and that’s not a turn of phrase. I met Ruth in a very difficult moment: her son had just died. Scotty was only three. It happened on a Friday afternoon, they were at the park, she turned just a moment to see if the ice cream truck was coming and Scotty fell off the swing. He hit his head and died instantly. A real tragedy. Ruth likes me because I’m not like the rest of her friends; I don’t say “It’s hard, but it’ll get better, in time”. That’s why she hates principal Palmer. That’s nonsense! A pain like this never gets any easier, time doesn’t soothe it. A pain like this stops time forever. I tell her “Cry, you have every right to do it.” And this doesn’t comfort Ruth, but it calms her, like when you read a book, a real one, not one of those unbearable comforting recipe books you find now on the shelves; I’m speaking of one of those books that tells you things as they are, a book that understands you. Feeling understood is one of the most soothing sensations I know, and it’s Ruth who taught me that. And this is not the only thing she taught me. I actually learnt everything from her, I didn’t even exist before I met her.
I don’t know how Ruth was like before she lost Scotty, but according to what she says, she had to be very different. Her dream was to become a singer, she told me once. But her mother fiercely disapproved this ambition, so she gave up and became a special ed teacher. She kept singing at home, in the car, for her child. Then, on that Friday afternoon, she stopped. And it’s right then that I met her, by the swing set. I was there during the useless rush to the hospital; I was there at the funeral, I was there when she couldn’t get out of the bed, I was there when her husband packed his stuff and left. I’ve always been by her side, never judging nor influencing her, silently brushing the inescapable banality of her grief. That’s why Ruth loves me, that’s why she told me she will never forget me.
I was there that day, when Karen, principal Palmer, called her. “Ruth, I’m terribly sorry about what happened, but if you don’t come back to work I’ll have no choice but to ask you to resign. Almost a year has passed and your leave expired months ago.” “Of course” answered Ruth looking down. “A new kid has just arrived, his name is Max. Mrs. Gosk says he’s quiet but really smart, I think you two could support each other, I would like you to meet him.” When Max entered the room, Ruth didn’t even raise her head. “Come on, Ruth, say hello. It’s a child” I whispered in her ear.
I wish I had never said those words. Everything changed since then, once again.
Ruth fell in love with Max, in him she saw Scotty, she saw the second and last chance to get her life back, to get herself back, through the shared misunderstanding of a world relying only on outward appearance.
She started singing again, in the car, in the kitchen, while making breakfast or washing the dishes, in the shower. She started cooking again, cleaning again, tidying up the home again. She painted the front of her house light blue, she swept the leaves off the alley, bought some fresh flowers. She didn’t miss a day of school, except for Fridays, when she used to say she had to go to the doctor, while actually she spent all the day at the park, watching the children on the swing set. “Ruth, I’m glad you feel better.” “It’s Max, the kindest and smartest child I know. I won’t let anybody take him away from me again.” At first, I didn’t understand what she meant; Ruth didn’t speak to me as much as she used to, and I couldn’t read her mind anymore. I was afraid that our friendship was over, that I was over. And all because of that odd kid who liked squared paper, never smiled, hated choices. I knew everything about him, since Ruth was speaking about Max all the time.
Then, when Ruth started setting up a child’s bedroom in the basement, with a secret door, and filling it with everything Max could wish for, I finally saw where this was going. I started feeling weak, my eyebrows had disappeared, Ruth barely talked to me. I didn’t try to dissuade her, I was afraid that, by doing so, I would just put more distance between us. I just asked her a question. “Don’t you think his parents will suffer?” But she didn’t even look at me, nor she answered; maybe she didn’t hear me, since my voice had become weak and faint. She started singing to herself again, while storing in the kitchen dozens of packs of chicken and rice, Max’s favourite food.
Today is Friday, and Ruth didn’t go to the park to watch the children playing. She’s going to school, to pick up her Max. I know it because I’m sitting next to her, and yet she can’t hear me, nor see me: I’m disappearing. I only hope someone will save Max, I know he has an imaginary friend too, named Budo, as I recall. And I hope someone will save Ruth, Ruth Patterson, my best friend.