I fell in love with Rhona at first sight. I was sitting by myself in the lunchroom in seventh grade. It was a month or two into the school year, but my mother and stepfather had decided to move from the city to Great Neck suddenly, on a whim, over a weekend, so here I was: twelve, taller than everyone in the room but the fifteen-year-old basketball players, and mortified.
Then, out of nowhere, this girl sat down next to me. She was small and thin and dark and had straight brown hair down to her waist. She wore beat up Levis and a white cotton V-neck sweater. The thing that got me about her, apart from the fact that she was beautiful, was the way she threw her leg over the bench to sit down: it was like someone who knew how to ride. In fact, she was a dancer—although, no, wait: that would come later. On this day, she was still a kid. She said hello and she looked at me with brilliant, ancient eyes. I have to tell you, and I’m not lying, that I knew right then that Rhona would be the best friend I would ever have.
It’s so funny that these are the secret things: the magical things that are true. Why did she sit down next to me?
Today, Rhona’s ex-husband called after twelve years, and asked if I’d talk to their fifteen-year-old son, Alex. Alex is starting to ask questions about his mother, who died two years ago, of cancer. I only discovered this terrible fact—the fact of Rhona’s death—a year ago, when I was trying to find her through the Internet, and discovered her obituary in the Times. This is the story I haven’t known how to tell, because it is so painful. It starts: “I fell in love with Rhona at first sight. I was sitting by myself in the lunchroom in seventh grade.”