The Sandbox

Bubbles_HannahRubenstein 2/14/23

When we were one, born just three weeks apart, I moved into the house next to you. Our moms introduced us enthusiastically. They thought it was perfect. You’re next door neighbors, my mom said, and so close in age. I bet you’ll be great friends. Your mom got you a sandbox to put in the front yard, and I watched out the window as you played. You always played alone. I wanted so badly to play with you.

When we were two, your mom invited me to play in the sandbox with you. After that, we played in your sandbox together every day. You threw sand and it got in my eyes, accidentally, and I was mad. But the next day my mom brought me over to play in the sandbox like usual, and I forgot all about it.

When we were three, you told me I was your best best best friend. I said you were mine, too. We still played in the sandbox every day, but sometimes we played with stuffed animals, too. One day we played with stuffed animals in the sandbox, and your favorite one, the giraffe named Eddie, got all muddy. You cried and cried, so I went back home. My mom brought me right back to your house, and had me apologize. You said you forgave me, and hugged me. It’s okay. I know you didn’t mean to, you said. And we played in the sandbox some more.

When we were four, we started preschool. Every morning, your mom walked us to preschool together, and every afternoon, my mom picked us both up. We sat in our side-by-side car seats and looked out the window, telling each other what we saw. Sometimes we saw one of our friends walking to school. You made so many more friends than me, but you still always played with me first. Because I was your best best best friend. You let me play with you and your friends, too, because you knew I didn’t have as many friends. One of your friends was named Billy. Once Billy went over to your house for a playdate and the three of us played in your sandbox together. After Billy went home, we decided that three people were too many for the sandbox. The sandbox is just for me and you, you said, and I agreed. We promised never to have anyone else in the sandbox again.

When we were five, we started kindergarten. Still, your mom dropped us off and my mom picked us up, but now from a big kid school. But then one day when I went over to your house after school to play in the sandbox with you, you said you couldn’t play with me anymore. Because you’re a girl, and boys can’t play with girls, you told me, and went inside. Even after my mom brought me over to talk to you, you still wouldn’t play with me. And you didn’t play in the sandbox much anymore.

When we were six, you had Billy over again, but neither of you asked me to come over. I don’t think we’re friends now, I told my mom when she asked why we never played in the sandbox anymore. You and Billy played and played, and then you went to the sandbox and the two of you played there. I wondered if you forgot the day we promised that no one except us would ever play in the sandbox again, because that was just for you and me. I guess you did forget, because you never even looked at my house. You just played in the sandbox with Billy, and I watched out the window the whole time, with the smallest bit of hope that maybe you would come ask me to play with you and Billy, but you never did.

When we were seven, you stopped playing in the sandbox at all. One day you went outside and pulled all the toys out and brought them inside. I heard you telling your mom why. I’m too big for sandboxes now, you said. Billy says only little kids play in sandboxes, you explained. I watched out the window as the sandbox grew older. The wood it was made out of started to rot and the sand got full of leaves from never being played in.

When we were eight, you moved. Only down the block, but now we weren’t next door neighbors anymore. Your mom’s belly was getting round, and she said that your family was going to need a bigger house soon. Your mom had some big strong men put the sandbox in a truck, and you took it with you to your new house down the street. I wondered why you brought it with you, since you never played in it anymore. I stopped seeing you much at all, and you never spoke with me. I made my own friends at school, all girls, but I still sometimes watched out the window when you were there, and wished I could go over and play at your new house in the old sandbox.

When we were nine, you got a new little sister. I saw her once, when your mom came over to talk to my mom. She was so little that I wondered how she could ever become a big kid. Once I saw you holding your little sister in front of your house. You were holding your stuffed giraffe, Eddie, out to her, and she was grasping at it. You were laughing. I could see all the brown stains from the time Eddie got all muddy in the sandbox, but your little sister didn’t seem to care. It occurred to me that you were allowed to play with that girl. So why weren’t you allowed to play with other girls? I thought, but I didn’t say it aloud to anyone. I knew that there were complicated rules at school about who could play with who. I overheard you talking in a cooing, squealing voice that sounded like grownups did when they talk to babies. When you’re big enough, you can play in my sandbox, you promised your sister. Now my mom brought us both to school and from school, because your mom was so busy.

When we were ten, your little sister Jenny started playing in the sandbox. Sometimes I would see her sitting there, playing alone, with your mom watching her. A couple of times I saw you there with her, crouching just outside the sandbox and building things out of sand for her. Again, I wondered. If you were allowed to play with that girl in the sandbox, why not with me?

When we were eleven, we started middle school and we stopped walking to school together. Every morning, my mom drove me to school and you walked to school by yourself. We never spoke to each other and you liked it that way. You got a smartphone, and whenever I saw you you were walking around with your nose buried in it.

When we were twelve I got a phone, too, but I didn’t use my phone as much as you used yours. One day, we were both walking down the sidewalk looking at our phones when you crashed into me. Your phone slipped out of your hand and fell to the ground. You apologized, and I bent down and picked up your phone. I handed it to you. So, um… how have you been? You said, your cheeks burning with embarrassment at your clumsiness. We haven’t talked in awhile, you added awkwardly as you checked your phone to make sure it was working. I told you I was doing fine, and you said you were too. You breathed a sigh of relief and tucked your working phone into your pocket. Sorry about that! Later! You called as you walked away. I stood still for a while. I was wondering why you had a picture of your sandbox as the lock screen on your phone.

When we were thirteen, there was a very rainy week in eighth grade. My mom and I were just pulling out of our driveway to go to school, when my mom stopped. She’d seen you, walking down the street towards the school, an umbrella clutched in your hand. Hey, do you want a ride? She called. You stared at us in surprise, and I could see you weighing your options. At last, you nodded and jogged over to our car, splashing through puddles. Thanks, you said, closing your umbrella and climbing into the backseat. We talked the whole way to school. Once I asked you how Jenny was. She’s been great. She’s getting big so fast! And she’s constantly in the sandbox. Remember when we used to play there, like every day? You replied. I told you I did remember it, and you laughed. When we got to school, we went in together. My mom’s picking me up, want a ride back? I asked. Thanks, you said. A ride would be great.

When we were fourteen, we walked to and from our new high school together every day, just because we could. Once at lunch Billy came over to the table me and you always sat at, to ask you if I was your girlfriend. Well, yes, she’s a girl, and yes, she’s my friend, but no, she is definitely not my girlfriend, you replied, grinning at me and rolling your eyes. We’ve known each other practically our whole lives. We used to play in a sandbox together. Does that sound like dating? You asked. Billy stared at us and walked away, and we laughed and laughed over it.

When we were fifteen, I saw you playing with Jenny in the sandbox one day. I went over to join you, and you said you were looking after her till your mom got home. You asked if I wanted to help, and I said yes. We played with Jenny in your sandbox for a long time. When your mom got home and took Jenny inside, we stayed out there. We were in the middle of building an elaborate sand village and we wanted to finish. Just like old times. We have to catch up on the lost time, you joked, and I agreed. But I wasn’t joking.

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Tova Weiss is a homeschooled student who expects to graduate in 2026. She loves to sing and play violin, flute, trombone, piano, and any other instrument she can get a hold of. She is a passionate writer, and writes in a wide variety of genres, including fantasy, realistic fiction, science fiction, nonfiction, poetry and fan fiction. She has two dogs who she would do anything for, and dreams of a life surrounded by books, dogs, music, good food, friends, art, and family (not necessarily in that order).
Accompanying photo: “Bubbles” by Hannah Rubenstein