S ome things are a given. The setting sun. Pythagoras’s theorem. My friendship with Riki.

Other people may have thought I was just being nice. They had no idea. I liked the person under the flailing hands and crippled feet. The girl in the wheelchair was a friend. To laugh with, to enjoy a game, a sleepover, a study session — and also to help.

I did Riki’s patterning exercises with her for years. Perhaps it was a lot for a high-school girl to handle, but this sort of giving helped me grow, too. I learned to push myself beyond my comfort zone, beyond my years, all the while gaining insight into life behind the disability label.

Riki was a fighter, and when the exercises made her droop, we hiked up the music and let the zing go to her muscles and we’d bop bop our way through to the end. “Who says I can’t dance like you?” she’d say, panting and grinning.

One day toward the end of 12th grade, she calls me aside. “Chana, we’re moving next week,” she says.

“What?”

How could she move?

“Where to?”

She has all her therapies here, her support, everyone who knows her… And why so fast?

“Israel,” she whispers.

My mouth flies open, and I stare at her with all the comprehension of a goldfish.

Israel is thousands of miles and dollars away, phone calls are an expensive rarity. And hey — there’s a war going on, the Gulf War, scud missiles flying and people fumbling for gas masks. It is no place for a girl with cerebral palsy. Or her family.

“It’s my father,” Riki says quietly, sadly. “His business, his papers, someone got him into trouble and he’s got to leave America — fast.”

“Your father?”

“Shh, it’s very serious, I’m not really allowed to talk about it. But I knew I had to tell you….”

I don’t understand, but I ask no more. Riki blinks rapidly and her eyes sheen every time they open; fear, confusion, shame, angst all flutter in her lashes. She swipes at them, but when I leave I notice she’s forgotten a lone tear.

And just like that, she’s gone. No class goodbye party, no gifts from neighbors, nothing. It’s too dangerous.

I wake up the next day, sick. After all I’ve done, this is what it’s come to?

Goodbye friendship, nary one more phone call, two girls who’d shared a world, even created a special space together for a while… no more?

We were two separate worlds, I realized, and we had been all along. I felt alone, disjointed from everyone around me. We are each our own world, I thought. Sometimes we orbit others for a time, but then we float off in predetermined directions, only to fleetingly connect with other worlds.

Is this how transient we are? (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 541)