I never thought I was the best person to have two first names. Charlotte Kelly sat oddly with me, like a puzzle piece that didn’t exactly fit quite right. I used to think that I lacked the finesse that people with two first names normally possessed. Instead, I preferred nicknames. Nicknames always suited me better, I used to think. I was able to change my names as I myself changed. Looking back, maybe it wasn’t that nicknames had fit me more truly, but perhaps that I wasn’t quite ready for my name. Perhaps I just hadn’t had enough time to become me.
Nonetheless, I first started with Charlie. Before I decided to be called Charlie, I had really no preference. I was okay with anyone calling me anything. I was like the tar that was used to fill the cracks in sidewalks when left in the sun too long. The tar becomes very malleable, and when people step on it, shoe prints are left behind. People stepped all over me in elementary school. My friends changed from year to year, because I was largely my own person. I never felt a need to change myself to have friends, so many of my friends grew apart from me when I was young because we were just too different. Most of the time, I was content being alone anyways and preferred reading to playing.
When I first entered middle school, I withdrew within myself even more. I was unused to there being so many students in my grade since there had only been around twenty previously. All of these new classmates, with their bright smiles and loud voices and sparkling laughter, posed many new possibilities for new friends. Because I was given so many opportunities to have new friends, I wanted none. The idea of friends scared me, I think because along with new friends came with the chance to lose them.
Of course, I wasn’t completely alone. I maintained polite relationships with school acquaintances so I would have a table at lunch or a partner for a project. But these ‘friends’ were largely people to sit with and not to truly talk to. Our conversations were mostly small talk and never moved further than school. Mostly, I turned to books. I consumed all kinds of literature in mass quantities. I read every day from the moment I got home from school to the time I went to bed, every night without fail. Then, I met Will.
I encountered Will at a little downtown ice cream parlor I used to visit every day of sixth grade. The ice cream shop was a fifties inspired place that had an old jukebox sitting in the corner playing hits from that era. The place had pastels all over the place, along with posters of Elvis on the walls and records hanging from the ceiling. I used to order vanilla and chocolate milkshakes from waitresses who roller skated on the checkered floor tiles.
Normally, I sat alone at one of the tables and did my homework or listened to music for awhile. One particular day, I remember sitting at my usual table, with my usual order, completing my homework as usual. While normally busy on the weekends, the ice cream shop settled into a quiet calm on the weekdays. I had worn light blue overalls and these fantastic red Converse. That week, I had just gotten new, shiny, bright red, bedazzled sneakers that gave just a little bounce to my step. They reminded me of Dorothy’s red slippers from the Wizard of Oz, and similarly, I felt right at home wearing them.
There I sat, with my novel sneakers, minding my own business, when a tall lanky boy with skin like caramel and dark loose curls plopped in the seat across from mine with a mischievous smile. A light smattering of freckles adorned his nose and cheeks while one dimple stood alone when he smiled.
“Hi. I’m William Bradley and I like your shoes,” he announced cheerfully. I was surprised when Will first approached me. Talking to people always made me nervous since I never knew what to say. I was always afraid of saying the wrong thing.
Tentatively, I replied, “Thanks. I’m Charlotte Kelly.”
“Hey! I have two first names too!” Will said with enthusiasm, and immediately, a conversation sparked and didn’t stop. I was very comfortable around Will and felt at ease when talking to him. Our conversation didn’t end until it was time for both of us to go home. Once we said our goodbyes, I watched his figure walk to his car, and I glimpsed a pair of shiny, bright red, bedazzled sneakers on Will, whose feet bounced with each step.
I decided to be called Charlie from then on because I changed when I met Will I was no longer alone facing the world. I had Will alongside with me. Will spurred confidence in me, and soon enough I began to speak up in class from time to time or open up to my classmates. The rest of middle school went past with lingering laughs and inside jokes. Days faded away with memories of sunsets and the smell of Will’s mom’s flowers in the summer or of wood burning in the winter. Will and I were constantly together. I rarely held anything back from him, and him to me. We conversed about books, TV shows, and movies, We debated the merits of different types of cheeses or the color pink. We talked about anything and everything.
Things changed in eighth grade. At first, the shift was almost undetectable. Will started to grow enormous bags under his eyes and yawned constantly. He always wanted to go to my house instead of his and seemed to want to stay until well after dinner. When he left his house in the morning, he was always in a bad mood and grew dejected throughout the day. Eventually, enough was enough. If there was something wrong, I wanted to know about it.
I finally confronted Will one day after school at my house. We had just finished having afterschool snacks and our red Converse laid side by side next to the main entrance door. We were lying on bean bags in my room when I asked him if there was anything wrong.
Deflecting, Will said, “Oh there’s nothing wrong. I’ve been staying up this past couple of days is all.”
“Oh please Will, you’ve been yawning like that for the past two weeks,” I reply to him recognizing his lie instantly.
“No I’m really fine Charlie, there’s no problem,” Will insisted. Then I began to get annoyed. Will and I were best friends. Why couldn’t he tell me what was happening?
“Will, you are not fine. You’ve been staying late over our house every day recently and you yawn every five seconds. Can’t you just tell me what’s wrong?” I ask angrily. It took Will ages to answer. He sat there on the bean bag chair very still until finally, he answered.
“I think my parents are going to break up.”
Out of all of the things that I imagined happening, I had never thought that Will’s parents would be the problem. Every time I was over, they seemed so happy together, and his parents provided a supportive foundation at home that I knew Will relied on. I sat in my bean bag chair in silent shock, and I let Will explain the situation.
“They first started fighting at night. They would argue in whispers when they thought I was asleep. Then, the fighting moved to the dinner table after we had eaten. I’m-I’m scared Charlie. What’ll happen if they divorce?” Will asked sorrow saturated his voice. I tried to do my best to comfort him, uttering reassurances and hopeful statement. I continued to do so in the following months as well, but Will’s parents didn’t mend their relationship. The fighting got worse and worse until one night, Will’s dad left. He packed his things and left Will and his mom alone.
Will took the divorce hard, and I did my best to help him. Sometimes, words weren’t needed, while sometimes all Will could do was talk. I remained present for Will throughout. Over time, I think Will was able to accept his parent’s separation and realized how much better they were apart rather than together.I don’t think Will has ever forgotten my support during the time of his divorce, and our bond grew stronger because of our shared experiences.
I changed my name to Lottie the summer after eighth grade. I was different then than I was when I was Charlie. I knew that sometimes even the seemingly perfect things could fall apart, unknown to me before. I felt more mature, less fanciful now that I had stepped up for Will and I was proud of my newfound resilience.
Middle school then transitioned into high school with continuously mounting pressures and even higher expectations. Freshman year was the year I really became serious about school. Before, I cared about my grades and about doing well, but I became meticulous. I really pushed myself in my sophomore year as well. I was taking all advanced classes and committed to maintaining an A average all year round. School was my ticket to leaving my small town for something better, and I wasn’t just going to let that possibility pass me by.
Will was in my English class sophomore year, but he didn’t try. He had a careless attitude about him like he didn’t need school and he didn’t want to be there. We were beginning to distance, since I was delving into schoolwork and he was not. We talked more outside of class, but very little inside and began to see each other less and less. Things continued that way until halfway through the year when we were assigned as partners for a project. My workload for school was at an all-time high, and I felt stretched very thinly in every direction.
When Will and I first started working on our project, it was very clear that we both had contrasting goals. Will was focused on completing as little work as possible, while I was focused on producing a decent project. It became frustrating when Will wasn’t putting in the work because he had so much capability, so I consequently expressed my thoughts.
“You know, Will, it’s not okay to let me do all the work. You are one of the most intelligent people I know. Why would you not want to show that?” I questioned. “This is a group project. You have to put in the effort too.”
“Ok, ok. I’ll start working. I just don’t see why it’s such a big deal,” Will said lazily. It honestly baffled me that Will thought that way.
“School is the key to getting out of here. Don’t you see that? The key to success. I don’t see how it isn’t such a big deal,” I retorted. Having structured essentially my entire life around school, it was hard to view school from the perspective of somebody who wasn’t involved.
“School isn’t everything, you know,” Will replies.
“Why not? I think school is one of the only ways to get successful nowadays.”
“After we finish the project, I need to show you something, ok?” Will finally asked after thinking for about an eternity about my comment, seeming to be struck with an idea. With determination and actual attempt from Will, the project was completed very quickly. Soon enough, we had finished the English project.
Then, we were off. I didn’t know where we were going, but Will seemed familiar with the route. We reached our destination fairly fast, and it was a small cafe close to my house. Although it was within walking distance away, I had never been. It opened up after Will and I had reached high school and I had never gotten the urge to stop by. But inside, the coffee shop was amazing. Strings of lights hung from the ceiling, and the walls were made of traditional red brick. The hardwood floors creaked when you walked on them, and the menu was all handwritten on a chalkboard above the ordering station. The cafe itself was very homey. There were postcards and drawings and little trinkets all of the wall with soft coffeehouse music playing in the background.
As I was looking around, Will had been looking at my shoes with a small smile on his face. In the rush that we had leaving my house, I had mindlessly slipped on the red Converse. Wearing them again brought a strange sort of nostalgia, of the lingering laughs and inside jokes of days past. We caught each other’s eye and shared a smile from the memories of Will and me together.
Will and I both ordered coffee and something to eat for lunch and sat down at a table by a window. We just talked all throughout lunch. Until then, I hadn’t realized how much I missed having Will with me, or how much I missed all the free time we spent together. In the beginning of sophomore year, I filled up my schedule with various after school activities that looked good on college applications but in reality, just wasted my time. It had been hard to find time to just relax. It was extremely refreshing just to step away from the stress of school and to step into a little cafe down the road.
After lunch, Will declared that he had one more place to take me before we could go home. It was getting dark by then, we had spent hours in the cafe. We took the bus away from the cafe to a local observatory. Just like the cafe, I had never been to one before. Inside, the view was breathtaking. A million stars spread out across the sky made me feel very small and insignificant. Will and I laid on the floor of the observatory to watch the stars.
“Pretty huh?” Will said with a knowing smile on his face.
“Pretty? It’s amazing here. Thank you for taking me,” I answered.
“Of course. I wanted you to see that there is more than just school out there. School may be important, but you shouldn’t devote your life to it,” Will says.
“But without school and college, how am I supposed to get out? I can’t stay here forever. This small town would drive me insane. I need school to be successful,” I counter.
“What is success, then? Do you want to be earning six figures a year to pay for a giant penthouse? Is that what’s really going to make you happy? I mean, a penthouse would make a lot of dust for just one person.” Will reasoned, expressing thoughts that I‘ve also thought but never admitted to. Is success how much money you make or how happy you are?
“Can’t you have both? I mean I don’t know if I’ll be happy with a penthouse but I can’t find out until I’ve had one right?” I said, voicing the conclusion I had come to.
“Even if you get one B or god forbid, fail a class or something, life will continue. There will be opportunities to be happy, with or without the penthouse.”
“It’s not right to just let go of school completely. School can be rewarding too you know if you put in the work.”
And we talked about our fears and hopes and the future like that until it was late. Will helped show me sometimes I just need to take some time to myself, so I became a frequent customer at the cafe down the road. I helped encourage Will to participate in school. Our friendship was renewed again. I relaxed a little while Will tightened up a little. It was a funny sort of dynamic between the two of us.
Finally, I got rid of the nicknames. Charlotte Kelly was here and here to stay. Sure, I didn’t mind being called previous nicknames or even new ones, but I stopped assigning nicknames to myself. I was fully Charlotte Kelly.
I believe that a soulmate is not only one person who you must stay with forever. In actuality, I believe that a soulmate is someone who changes you to be a different person. A person could have multiple soulmates, and soulmates come and go. I believe that Will is one of my soulmates, and not in a romantic sense at all. Soulmates reveal truths about you, and Will accompanied me growing up. He showed me how to live, not just exist, and for that I am forever grateful.
Soulmates don’t have to stay together forever, though, and Will and I didn’t. I got into college in New York City, and Will went to college in Boston. We drifted apart slowly, amid promises of letters which never got sent or phone calls never dialed. But, once in awhile, I’ll remember the first time we met or the time we went to the observatory, and I’ll wonder what he’s up to. I wonder if he still has those shiny, bright red, bedazzled sneakers somewhere, maybe tucked in a shoebox underneath his bed, like I do.
*pull quotes and pictures didn’t translate into WordPress (also the literary terms chart is on the goole doc). Access the google doc to view.