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Year by Year

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When David Jacobs was six years old he walked into kindergarten anxiously clutching his mother’s hand, scared of all the new boys and the questions they were asking, about how come he could wear a hat but they had to take theirs off, and why he was dressed up, and what his name is and where he lives and does he have brothers? Or sisters?

And when he was six years old one of the boys asking questions suddenly went quiet and then loudly proclaimed, “He wants to play!” and took David by the hand and gently tugged him away from his mother and led him to the pile of blocks and introduced himself as Jack, but you can call me Cowboy, and smiled so wide David could see his missing teeth, all six of them, and let David build in silence until the teacher called them back to their tables to sit.

When David Jacobs was eight years old and an older boy knocked his kippah off on the playground and called him mean names, and when his big sister wasn’t there to stick up for him because she had recess later, Jack was the one who stood in front of him so people couldn’t see him cry and who picked up his kippah and did his best to get it back on his head.

And when he was eight, Jack sat in the front when the teacher asked David to talk about how Hanukkah was celebrated in his house, and smiled really big so David wouldn’t be so nervous while he was talking, and gave David a high five when he sat down.

When David Jacobs was ten years old, Jack was over his house as often as he wasn’t, they had sleepovers and movie nights and went out to eat with David’s parents, and called David Davey and shared secret smiles and secret codes in class, and made it very clear that Davey Jacobs was his best friend and anyone who bullied him was certainly not.

When David Jacobs was twelve years old Jack was the person he admitted to that he didn’t like Ruth Eisler, he’d never liked her, he didn’t even think he’d ever liked a girl and he didn’t know what that meant but he certainly didn’t like Ruth, and Jack had hugged him tight and told him it didn’t matter if he liked boys or girls or nobody because Jack was still his best friend.

When David Jacobs was thirteen years old, Jack’s was the face he watched during his Bar Mitzvah, when he was nervous and scared of stuttering and messing up the Hebrew in his Torah reading, because Jack smiled just like he had in second grade and looked proud of his friend, even though David knew Jack didn’t understand a word of what he was saying.

When David Jacobs was fourteen years old, he’d again walked into a classroom nervous, for one of the first times ever Jack wasn’t in the same class as him and there were new people everywhere because two middle schools became one high school and again there were people who asked invasive questions and kept asking even after he explained the answers patiently, but Jack was in his lunch wave, and Jack, as always, wasn’t shy about putting an arm around David’s shoulders and talking about him to his new friends loudly so that by the end of those twenty minutes, David had new friends, too.

When David Jacobs was sixteen, he could tell he and Jack were growing apart, not so far that they weren’t friends, just so that they weren’t the best friends they’d been for so long, Jack was interested in art and music and had his best friends there, while David had his friends in his science classes and debate and model UN, so while they still talked often, there were less movie nights and more nights where their only interaction was asking about the homework.

When David Jacobs was eighteen years old, he hadn’t had an entire conversation with Jack for almost a month by the time graduation arrived, he’d still call Jack his friend and he still had stories about all the trouble they’d gotten into when they were little, but they weren’t as close at all anymore, as David prepared to go to college for engineering and Jack was taking a year off before going to art school, it wasn’t like there was any animosity there they just weren’t as close as they used to be.

When David Jacobs was twenty years old, he’d come home for the summer again and Jack had called just a few days later, and they’d hung out like old times, eating out at one of their old favorite hangouts and talking about the old days, Jack with streaks of paint on his hands and in his hair, laughing at David for having his graphing calculator in his pocket and for still ordering the exact same thing as he used to.

When David Jacobs was twenty-two, he walked across a stage and accepted a degree and took pictures with his family, he smiled so hard it hurt, seeing all the work he’d put into school for seventeen years finally have the result he’d been waiting for.

When David Jacobs was twenty-three, he felt the world drop out from underneath his feet, everything change, and not in a good way. He got a phone call, and suddenly he was an orphan, back in the house he grew up in, numb. His parents, gone, his little brother, hurt, numb and in pain somehow at the same time.

When David Jacobs was twenty-three, Jack Kelly knocked on his door with tears in his eyes and begged to do something to help because he couldn’t believe the people who had pretty much raised him alongside their children were gone, because he couldn’t stand to watch the man who had been his best friend for so many years hurt without somebody there to talk to him, and because he couldn’t just sit still and do nothing, he never could.

When David Jacobs was twenty-three, he fell asleep on his couch, leaning against the man he’d grown up with, exhausted and heart-broken and emotionally drained, with tear stains on his face and on Jack’s shirt, unable or unwilling to move, he couldn’t quite tell which.

When David Jacobs was twenty-three, he wore a black ribbon over his heart and threw dirt over his parents’ caskets and wished and prayed for ten more minutes, ten minutes to say I love you and I’ll miss you and I’ll never forget you, even though he knew he wouldn’t get it.

When David Jacobs was twenty-three, the new normal became long days of making sure Les got where he needed to go and was okay, and doing his job from home as much as he could. The new normal was missing his parents every time he saw their family pictures hanging on the walls, of waking up to find he’d fallen asleep on the couch again, of waking up to find Jack next to him or under him on the couch like they were kids at a sleepover again, only everything was so much different now.

When David Jacobs was twenty-four, laughter came more easily again, and Jack was his best friend again. His family was smaller, and that still hurt to think about, but it was David and Sarah and Les and often Jack, and they went out to eat and had movie nights and were close and mostly happy.

When David Jacobs was twenty-four, normal was waking up and laughing at Jack’s tousled hair because he woke up on their couch again, driving Les to school and play practice and dance lessons and doing his best to be both a brother and a father and to find the balance between the two.

And if, when David Jacobs was twenty-four, movie nights started to end with him leaning against Jack and sometimes falling asleep with his head on Jack’s shoulder, and if, when David Jacobs was twenty-four, Jack started putting his arm around David’s shoulder and calling him Davey again and rubbing circles into his back and knees during those movie nights, and if, when David Jacobs was twenty-four, David started to purposefully lean into Jack because he liked those touches, and if, one night when David Jacobs was twenty-four, when Les and Sarah had already gone to bed but David and Jack were still downstairs, Jack kissed David and David kissed him back, all of that was more than okay, all of that was good, because Jack was his best friend and Jack was part of the new normal, and maybe the new normal wasn’t the same and maybe it still hurt to remember that his parents were gone, but if Jack was back and Jack was David’s best friend again and Jack was David’s boyfriend now, then not all of the new normal was bad.

When David Jacobs was twenty-four, the new normal became just that. Normal.