The universal principle of etymology in all languages: words are carried over from bodies and from the properties of bodies to express the things of the mind and spirit. The order of ideas must follow the order of things. —Giambattista Vico
There were only three of us remaining in the Lonsdale Elementary School fifth-grade spelling bee—Maurice Jackson, Celeste Whiteside, and me—and my word was essential, from the late Latin essentiālis, meaning: absolutely important, extremely necessary, as in: we were in a corridor near the school’s front entrance, lined against a glass wall that separated the cafeteria from the main office, and I turned to glare at Maurice who sat against the wall, tapping both of his feet, as if to tell me it was essential that I hurry the fuck up.
The official rules allowed me two minutes and thirty seconds to spell the word, but Mrs. Wolfe hadn’t used a timer all morning, even at the start of the competition, when there were ten or so of us. She’d given us what she believed to be an appropriate amount of time, and I wasn’t about to let Maurice rush me.
Eyes forward, Mrs. Wolfe said.
Maurice and I had been friendly since kindergarten because each year we were always in the same homeroom. But we only recently became best friends when we caught each other one day after school, walking on opposite ends of a creek bed, tossing our homework into the shallow water to drift away on the small currents. We saw each other’s D’s and F’s floating by and laughed. Nigga, all these years I thought you was smart! he said. I didn’t say nigga back then, so I said, Fool, I am smart, and made my way out of the creek bed.
Maurice and I went on to Northwest Middle School the next year, and though we only had math together, our status as one another’s ace boon coon was never more solidified than when I accidentally impaled him with a freshly sharpened pencil. I’d tossed it to him to hold for me so that I could fight a blackboy we called Skillet who’d been bullying me all class long. When the fight was over, I looked back at Maurice for his approval, essentially to know if he’d seen how I didn’t let Skillet get a lick in. But all I saw was the pencil protruding from Maurice’s forearm. I’m aiight, he said, I’m just glad you beat his ass.
But I began to question just how close we really were when halfway into the school year my family and I moved out of the projects and into a house across town on East 5th Avenue. Maurice and I spent less and less time together as the school year came to a close. By summer break, we didn’t see each other at all. He eventually moved to the east side, to my surprise, two years later when we were in the eighth grade; though, I went to one school and he to another. It wouldn’t be until high school that we’d see each other with some regularity, but instead of celebrating a friendship revival, we each settled in with our new comrades, accepting we belonged to totally different circles: me with the honors and AP sect and he to those who barely went to class at all.