I just read The Diary of Anne Frank, about a girl who hid from the Nazis. There are many similarities but also differences between us: When she started the diary, she was thirteen, and I will be thirteen in August. We are both girls, and, like her, I have many secrets and depressed emotions. I never hated my mom the way Anne hated hers, but last spring I came close.

Anne Frank was born in Germany in 1929, but her family soon moved to the Netherlands, where her dad started a company that manufactured spices and pectin, which is a thickener used in jam. Although she was an immigrant in an unfamiliar place forbidden from going to the movies, leaving her house at night, or doing many other normal things just because she was Jewish, she found a way to be happy. She made many friends, interested many boys, and even charmed her teachers. Then her sister Margot got a notice assigning her to a so-called work camp, and her family moved to a “secret annex” above her dad’s warehouse that had rats, cat pee, and no bathtub. They shared the space with another family they didn’t really like and a weird old dentist Anne nicknamed Mr. Idiot.

In contrast, I was born in the United States in 1983 and have always lived in Leechburg, Pennsylvania, a small town known for its stainless-steel plants and Mickey Morandini who, as I’m sure you know, plays second base for the Phillies. I have not experienced Anne’s hardships, and, unlike her, I do not have a good personality. If I were someone in her journal, I’d probably be Peter. He worries a lot, says little, and admits to being a coward. Anne couldn’t believe his postwar plan was to never let on that he was Jewish, but I thought, That’s probably what I’d do in the face of real hardship, too.

Before I go on, I would like to address the parents who complained about this book’s “inappropriate content.” I personally think it’s good to learn where the cervix is located since I have one and didn’t know, and, despite what Jessica Hendrick’s mom said at the school-board meeting, I’m not convinced that the January 6, 1944, entry means Anne was gay. Yes, it does sound gay that she asked to touch her friend Jacque’s breasts, and also in the part where she says, “Every time I see a female nude, such as the Venus in my art history book, I go into ecstasy.” But Anne also kissed Peter and had crushes on other guys, and when you are just getting used to your new hormones, it’s easy for them to misfire and confuse you.

For example, last year in seventh grade we had a new girl named Morgan Vietto, who sat in front of me in geometry. She wore long shorts and high-top sneakers, and had the same haircut as Sean Mamros—short in the back with long curtains of hair on top. I actually thought she was a guy—I even thought I had a crush on him—until she turned around to introduce herself. Even after I figured out she was a girl, my body felt strange in her presence.

Another part I identified with is how hard it is to share close quarters with a man you’re not related to, especially if that man is an idiot. In my case the idiot man is my former stepfather, Wayne, who married my mom when I was in second grade and left three years later when she discovered he was sleeping with his ex-girlfriend. You would think in that time I’d have gotten used to him, but I never did. He had opinions about what I wore, how I spoke to him, and all the extra chores I could be doing. Like Mr. Idiot, he was quick to help himself to treats in our house, like other people’s Halloween candy and birthday cupcakes. His back hair and thick yellow toenails appalled me as much as Mr. Idiot’s body appalled Anne. When we lived together, he tried to act like he was my father, but as soon as he left, that all stopped. If he sees me through the window when he picks up my twin brothers, he might wave, but that’s it. If he takes them to Kennywood or the pool, I’m not invited.

As soon as Wayne moved out, my mom started making me spend time with Uncle Bryan. She said I needed an adult-male role model, but I knew she wanted someone to watch me for free so she could pick up extra shifts at Kmart when Wayne had the twins. Also she was using me to force herself back into my uncle’s life. They had been close when they were young but now we only saw him at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when he appeared at my grandma’s house with a pie from Giant Eagle and then left after an hour.

“He always wanted to move away from us,” my grandma said about him once, “and now he has.”

“Away” was about forty minutes from us in a suburb of Pittsburgh: instead of farms and homes people couldn’t afford to fix, his neighborhood was made up of nearly identical redbrick houses whose concrete stoops overflowed with potted plants. He had a garage, and this was where we spent a lot of our time.

Uncle Bryan never had any kid activities planned. It was more like “Hey, let’s go to AutoZone and then give this truck an oil change.” Or “Anybody ever teach you how to use a miter saw?” He didn’t say much except to explain what we were doing, but he liked that I wanted to know how things worked, and he trusted me with his tools, which his roommate, Gary, told me is a sign of real affection. He also made delicious egg-salad sandwiches with bacon and showed me how to use his grill. The secret is using your meat thermometer. Just like Anne Frank eventually came to appreciate Peter, I came to appreciate Bryan.

Another similarity between me and Anne is that we lived in the shadow of big secrets. Her secret was being alive in a place where Jewish people were forced to flee or suffer. My secret was actually my uncle’s secret.

One Saturday, instead of taking me to his house, my mom drove us to a hiking trail by the Kiski River and said my uncle had gotten some very bad news and was going to need his Saturdays free to deal with it. I was eleven and surely old enough to stay home alone, wasn’t I?

“I don’t get it,” I said.

It was November, cold enough to see our breath in the air. We had gotten out of the car, and she was making this big deal out of retying her tennis shoes. I got the feeling she didn’t want to make eye contact.

“What?” I said. “What did I do?”

“What are you talking about? You didn’t do anything. Bryan’s sick.”

When I asked if it was cancer, she sobbed and wiped at her nose with a wad of kleenex. We took the yellow footbridge that always swings so fast it makes you sick, and then followed a muddy path along the river. Leaves were all over the trail. After about twenty minutes we got to a big outcropping of rocks on the riverbank, where we stopped to eat the blueberry freezer bagels she’d brought in her purse.

“If he’s sick, though, maybe I should go over there and help.”

My mom was wearing a striped Colors of Benetton stocking cap from the lost and found at Kmart. When she shook her head no, the puff ball on its top wobbled. “It’s not that kind of sick,” she said, a mouthful of bagel in her cheek.

I thunked a rock into the water, followed by another. Eventually my mom asked if I could keep a secret. I told her OK. “I mean from everyone, Kayla Marie,” she said. “Your brothers, Heather, everyone.”

Heather Slifko was my best friend, and I had told her many secret things, such as the fact that my bio-dad was some old married guy my mom had slept with as a teenager who literally paid her to stay out of his life, and about the night my mom had dragged me and my brothers out of bed to see if she could spot Wayne’s truck at his ex-girlfriend’s house, and how when we found Wayne’s truck, she took out a bar of Dove soap she’d packed for this very purpose and drew a giant penis on his windshield with an arrow and the word “YOU.”

“If you tell someone, Bryan could lose his job,” she said. “Are you ready for that kind of responsibility?”

At this point I got it—how many diseases are such a big secret?—but I still hoped I was wrong. Once, Wayne had pointed out a man on the sidewalk who had big reddish-purple spots blooming on his face. Wayne said the spots meant AIDS, and I pressed my face against the minivan window and didn’t even try to pretend I wasn’t staring. Knowing AIDS was just feet away felt like the most terrible and exciting thing that had ever happened to me. I couldn’t imagine it would come closer.

“Just tell me.”

There was another five minutes of warnings before she spit it out.

Obviously Anne’s secret was much bigger than mine, but a similarity is how our secrets always stayed at the back of our minds. Anne worried an open window or flushed toilet would get them murdered, and I thought about how AIDS would kill my uncle. After my mom stopped taking me to Bryan’s, I spent my Saturdays watching cartoons or sitting in Heather’s bedroom hearing how great it was we were in junior high with eighth-grade boys like Danny Fiorentino, who’d once held her hand on the bus. In elementary school neither of us had been popular, but now that she had made the middle-school cheer team, her status was changing.

The power of my secret became nearly irresistible. Whenever I thought about the reaction I’d get to see on Heather’s face, though, my mother’s voice in my head warned me to keep my mouth shut and not ruin Bryan’s life. This turned out to be lucky because a few months later Heather found a fleet of Lego starships I was building in the basement and decided I was too uncool to be her friend.

At first it was a relief not to see Bryan, because I didn’t know anything about HIV and was scared I would get it and give it to my little brothers, but I also worried about him, and I couldn’t understand how my mother could cut him out of our lives.

“Don’t be so dramatic,” my mom said. “That’s not what’s happening. He has a lot to deal with right now, and we’re giving him some space.”

She was at the stove cooking “rice, peas, and cheese,” a made-up dish we used to eat only when she was very tired—the entire recipe was melting those ingredients together. Ever since Wayne had left, we ate it at least once a week. My brothers were in the living room playing Nintendo, close enough that I couldn’t talk freely.


“Has it occurred to you that he doesn’t want to see us?”

I tried not to let on how much this hurt my feelings, but my mom seemed to know, and she pulled me against her into a side hug while she stirred dinner. “He’s dealing with some heavy stuff right now, honey,” she said. “Don’t take it personally.”

The next time my mom was at work, I found Bryan’s name in her address book and sent him a long letter about how I’d enjoyed getting to know him and saying that because of his technical instruction I was starting to think I might try to be an engineer. I said I knew he probably wanted to spend his remaining days with Gary but that it was still very sad to think I’d never see him again.

The following Saturday he called to tell me that, as far as he knew, his death was not imminent, and the chances of me seeing him again were extremely good. “I’m very sorry nobody explained this to you, Kayla,” he said. “I hope we can see each other again soon.”

“My mom said you want some space.”

He sighed. In the background I could hear the vacuum cleaner, and Alan Jackson singing about living his “honky-tonk dream.”

“You’re welcome here whenever your mom says it’s OK.”

I asked if I would see him at my grandma’s for Christmas dinner (he had skipped Thanksgiving), and he said probably not, because she had asked him not to bring Gary now that the cat was out of the bag on them being boyfriends.


“Yeah, I can’t do that to him.” He explained that Gary, who was not HIV-positive, was a kind person and that it was foolish of my grandmother to assume that just because he was twelve years older, he had been the one to “recruit Bryan to his lifestyle.”

“She needs to blame someone,” he said. “She can’t believe this is who I am.”

This was the most he had ever told me about his personal life, and although I wanted him to keep talking, I wasn’t sure what to say. I had never met a gay person before. “Well,” I said, “I’ll work on my mom.”

That night, when I told my mom what Bryan had said, she admitted she was mad at him. “He lied to me about himself for a very long time, Kayla. I don’t even know who he is anymore.”

My brothers were at Wayne’s house, and we were on the couch watching Wheel of Fortune and eating a frozen pizza she’d bought from a fire-department fundraiser. I didn’t want to start a fight, but I knew that if I didn’t say something, I might never see Uncle Bryan again.

“OK,” I said. “So we should get to know him.”

My mom shook her head. “When you’re an adult, you’ll understand why he’s not a good role model for you.”

“Yes, he is,” I said. “All we do is use tools and fix things. He said he’ll help me with my science-fair project.”

My mom sighed. On TV a man with a handlebar mustache named Jerry solved the puzzle and won a trip to Alaska. “I’ve been trying to protect you from all of this, Kayla,” she said. “Do you think I want to have to tell you about your uncle’s sex life?”

The blood rushed to my face, and I couldn’t look at her, which was probably the point.

“He didn’t get this from Gary, you know,” she said. “He got it from a stranger. Do you think a person who goes to sex parties is a good role model?”

I picked up my brother’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure and spun its plastic arm around.

“He’s not who you think he is,” she said.

Bryan didn’t come to Christmas. When I asked my mom to see him over winter break, she said maybe, and then that she was busy, and at some point I stopped asking, and then it was time to go back to school.


When I say Anne Frank had a good personality I mean she was optimistic and happy. When she got a report card with a D, a C-, and zero As, she said, “My report card wasn’t too bad.” When she thought about spending her adolescence in hiding, she decided it was a good beginning for an interesting life. When people criticized her, she didn’t like it but she didn’t let their opinions hurt her self-confidence. In contrast, my natural instinct is pessimism. When someone doesn’t like me, I feel ashamed.

With Heather, I’d known something was going on for a while, but I didn’t realize how bad things were until I tried to sit with her at lunch that first day back in January, and she said her table was full.

“No it’s not,” I said. “There’s plenty of space.”

She said she was saving those spots.

When I didn’t move right away, Heather’s friend Cindy—the least popular and, therefore, meanest of her new friends—told me to go away. “Our table is full today and tomorrow and forever,” she said. “There isn’t ever going to be space for you.”

I’m sure I was standing there with my lunch tray for less than a minute, but it felt much longer. I was trying to find a place to sit without drawing more attention when I saw Morgan Vietto sitting with two girls I didn’t recognize. When she saw me, she gave me such a welcoming grin my adrenaline transformed into euphoria.

“Kayla,” she said. “You know Lisa and Amy, right?”

The two plain, soft-spoken girls introduced themselves, and Morgan explained they’d met last summer at basketball camp. Unlike with Heather and the cheerleaders, there seemed to be no threat of being made fun of, and I soon felt relaxed and let my mind wander. When Morgan asked if I would join them for basketball tryouts the following week, I had to ask her to repeat the question.

“Oh, no. Probably not,” I said. “I don’t really know how to play.”

Morgan was close enough that I could see two empty earring holes in each ear, and a spray of gold flecks circling the pupils in her hazel eyes. There was something boyish about the way she carried herself. Sitting beside her made my body feel light and strange.

“You should,” Amy said. “You’re tall, and you run fast in gym class.”

I said I’d think about it, and this was enough to get me invited to the YMCA with Morgan and her older brother that Saturday so she could teach me the basics.

“Do you like basketball?” my mom asked in the minivan on the way over. “I wasn’t aware you played sports voluntarily.”

Her hesitance, I knew, was about the twins, who I often watched after school, and who would have to start going to my grandma’s house. But I also knew if I said it was important to me, she would let me try out for the team. “I like running,” I said. “I like chasing people. It’s pretty much the same thing.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re making new friends.”

This was a dig at Heather, who had offended her years ago by pointing out a hairline crack in our nicest serving bowl, so I rolled my eyes.

“Calm down. I’m not criticizing anyone,” she said. “I just think it’s great you’re meeting new people.”


The YMCA was a cinder-block building with a large Y made of glass blocks. While Morgan’s dad and brother lifted weights, we went to the gym, where Morgan showed me how to pass the ball with two hands and shoot with one. She told me about traveling and double-dribbling and rebounded for me while I practiced hurling the ball at the hoop. After about an hour of air balls, a group of teenage boys showed up and asked if Morgan wanted to play in their pickup game.

“Go ahead,” I said. “I’ll watch.”

“You can play, too,” one of the guys said. “We’ll do full court four-on-four and use a sub. We play to fifteen, but you have to win by two.”

I did not want to play but said sure.

I understood from how often Morgan got the ball that she had earned the respect of these older guys in previous games. She was quick and made most of her shots and could predict where the rebound would go. The one time I got the ball, I bounced it twice and returned it. As soon as the guy who’d stepped out returned from the water fountain, I let him back in. Midway through the second game Morgan’s dad appeared and asked in a sort of jokey voice if I was getting to play, too, or if Morgan was just making me watch her have fun.

“It’s OK. I like to watch her,” I said, and then, seeing the confusion on his face, added, “I’m still learning.”

Basketball tryouts involved more running than shooting, and wouldn’t you know I made the team. After that, I saw Morgan every day at lunch and basketball practice and sometimes at her house on the weekends, too. By the end of February she had taken up the empty space left by Heather, but our friendship was completely different. We didn’t share secrets and give each other makeovers. Hanging out with Morgan was more like hanging out with Bryan. Nothing we did felt like anything that should be especially fun to me—skateboarding, watching NBA games she’d recorded, playing Duck Hunt on her Nintendo—but I liked being in the same place as Morgan. I had a crush on her. What I didn’t know was if it was a real crush or if the person I really liked was the imaginary boy I’d mistaken her for when we’d first met.

One night I asked my mom how you knew if you had a crush on someone.

“Why?” she said. “Who is it?”

“Never mind.”

I was finishing my lab report at the dining-room table and she was on the couch flipping through a magazine.

“You feel funny around them,” she said finally. “That’s about it. That, and I guess you know where they are in a room without checking.”

I decided I would test this know-where-they-are theory the next day at basketball practice since I’d already failed the feeling-funny-around-them test.

“So?” She was raising her eyebrows and staring at me, and I said it was Billy Schaffer, who I knew was nice enough not to make fun of me if my mom acted weird around him.

“It’s hopeless, anyway,” I said. “He’s already dating someone.”

“That’s too bad,” she said, but I could tell she was happy I was telling her my secrets.

The next day at breakfast my mom said she’d changed her mind and if I still wanted to spend my school’s Vocational Day with Bryan, it was fine. She was being too nice about it, and I had the sinking feeling that she knew I had a crush on Morgan and was giving me a chance to discuss it with a gay person.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “What happened?”

“Don’t you want to go anymore?”

I shrugged.

“I thought you’d be happy,” she said. “I feel like I can’t win with you.”

Two weeks later Bryan pulled up in his work van before the sun had fully risen, hopped out with the engine running, and handed me a gas-station doughnut. I’d expected him to look skinny or sick, but he looked the same: a twenty-something, brown-haired man with broad shoulders and small eyes who looked a lot like my mother. I was nervous about the hours I’d have to spend trying not to say the wrong thing.

“Be good,” my mom called after me, and then, as if it was an afterthought, “Have fun.”

There was still snow on the ground, and the van was stuffy and warm from the heater, which was on its highest setting. “I crank it way up,” Bryan said, following my gaze. “You let me know if you get hot.”

There was a layer of dirt and gravel everywhere, faint muddy footprints on the floor mats streaked with melted road salt. Below my feet, which didn’t quite reach the floor, were a roll of shop towels, a wide plastic thermos, and a red-and-white cooler. “And that stuff, too,” he said. “I can move it.”

“I’m good,” I said. “Thanks for letting me follow you around.”

He grinned. “Guess where we’re going.”

I knew he worked in hospitals, banks, hotels, rich people’s boats—basically anywhere that anyone might have a generator. But I didn’t have a guess as to what place would make him this happy.

“I don’t know. I give up.”

“Spring Fling out in Westmoreland County,” he said. “It’s like a carnival with rides.”


“Right?” he said. “Couldn’t have planned it better if I tried.”

Bryan said he’d be doing maintenance and repair on a generator that wasn’t working, and I nodded along, feeling guilty that he was being nice to me after my family had abandoned him. I hadn’t seen him in months, hadn’t spoken to him since that one phone call, yet he acted like nothing was wrong.

I watched the bare trees flicker past and wondered if I should bring up his AIDS, but he ended up saying something first. “Listen,” he said. “You’ve been told some heavy stuff about me, and I want you to know you can ask questions.”

There were a million questions—How did he get it? Was he scared? Did he hate our family? Was he going to die soon? Was what my mom said about the sex parties really true?—but almost nothing that seemed appropriate to ask. “Do you feel sick all the time?” I said.

He smiled and shook his head no. He explained that other than the flu-like symptoms that had made him get tested in the first place, he felt the same, and that when he did get symptoms, it would mean his HIV had become AIDS.

“Right,” I said and felt myself blush. Other than the Junior Scholastic articles I’d read in Civics about Ryan White and a lady who’d gotten HIV from her ungloved dentist, I didn’t know anything about HIV.

“Don’t look so worried,” Bryan said. “For now, I’m OK.”


At first it was just us and a handful of janitors at the fairgrounds, and then, slowly, the concession-stand windows opened, and the air filled with the smells of fried oil and sugar. Rows of plastic canopy tents covered the asphalt. In the daylight the dinginess of the rides was obvious. When the Spring Fling opened to the public at ten, the space still felt ordinary and empty, nothing like the fairs I’d gone to at night when most of the fun was the crowd and the darkness itself, the sense that you were in a strange world where anything could happen.

My disappointment was overshadowed by the excitement of going behind the scenes with an expert. Bryan showed me how to inspect coolant lines and drive belts, how to check for oil leaks. We replaced air filters and removed water from the fuel tanks.

We ate lunch at a picnic table overlooking a field edged by brown, leafless trees. For this special occasion my mom had packed me a Lunchable, and I ate each cracker and cheese slice individually so it would last longer. About twenty feet away from us a girl with ripped jeans and frosted hair leaned against the chain-link fence and made out with a guy in a Steelers hat whose jeans were so loose they showed his boxers—the kind of sloppy tongue-kissing that would make a hall monitor spray us with a squirt bottle if we tried it at school.

When Bryan saw me staring, he laughed. “Young love,” he said. “Good for them. Soon enough that’ll be you.”

I shook my head. I knew I seemed like every other girl who can’t imagine she’ll ever do the “gross” things adults do, but what if I really was different and this grossed-out feeling never went away?

“You don’t like anyone yet?”

I shrugged. I wondered if his new chattiness had to do with his illness, or if what I had thought of as his reserved personality was just him being in the closet.

“Did you like someone at this age? Did you even . . .”

“Know I was gay?”

I nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “Ben Sturm.”

Ben Sturm was his friend from Cub Scouts, and he’d been tortured by a secret love of him for years. To this day he was pretty sure his friend had no idea. When I asked how he’d known he was gay, he squinted at me as if he finally saw me, and I felt my whole body turn hot.

“I don’t know,” he said. “For me, at least, it wasn’t ever a big mystery.”

After lunch we finished the maintenance and organized the back of his work van. One generator needed a part he’d have to bring back the next day. On our way out he stopped at a cinder-block building to talk to the manager, and she handed him a roll of red tickets. “Take her on some rides,” she said. “Stay as long as you like.”

Bryan made me call my mom from a pay phone, and, with her permission, we stayed until dusk, riding every ride we could until the tickets ran out.


I had thought that, after Vocational Day, I’d start going back to Bryan’s house, but my mom always said it was too far or a bad time, and then by summer he was very sick. Every few weeks Gary would call from the hospital to tell my mom Bryan was dehydrated or had low sodium or pneumonia or some new problem I didn’t really understand. Depending on which nurse was on duty, Gary wasn’t allowed in his room, so my mom would drive down there so someone could be with him.

Usually my mom went by herself while I watched my brothers. The one time I got to go, Bryan was half asleep with an oxygen tube in his nose that kept coming unhooked. He was so out of it, he didn’t notice his hospital gown was open and showing his underwear. He was so skinny, his face looked like it had a completely different shape. A blood pressure cuff beside his bed was labeled “small adult.”

When he saw me, he smiled and made this clicking noise with his mouth. “I’m sorry about the science-fair project, Kayla,” he said. “I really did want to help.”

I told him it was OK, but he seemed really loopy, and I’m not sure he heard.

Every time Bryan went to the hospital, I was convinced it was the end. But for a long time it wasn’t, and the terror of those false alarms made me think of Bryan while reading Anne Frank’s diary. She lived with the sounds of machine-gun fire and air sirens and bombings, and I’m sure she was frightened all the time. My classmates thought her family should have listened to the warnings and relocated, but how can you save yourself when there’s nowhere else to go?

Bryan died at home with Gary, having what they had thought was a good day. He went to sleep and didn’t wake up. This was four months ago, ten days before Christmas, and almost exactly one year since we’d found out he was sick. He’d just had a big fight with my mom, and I was mad at him, too, because he’d apparently suggested to my mom that I was gay and that her attitude was bad for me.

“Did you tell him something like that, Kayla?” my mom asked. “If you did, you’re not in trouble, but I need to know.”

My brothers were asleep, but I was still up reading. I couldn’t speak at first, and so I shook my head, pretended I was too tired to focus.

“Did something happen with Heather?” she said. “Is that why—”

“Nothing happened!” I said. “He’s just making this up.”


“He’s probably trying to hurt you. I didn’t say anything.”

She stayed there on the edge of my bed, rubbing my back. Her eyes were smudged with old makeup. “He said a lot of other mean things, too,” she said. “I know he’s angry, but I wish he wouldn’t take it out on me.”

“I know.”

“It’s not like I did this to him. And I didn’t abandon him like a lot of people would have, either. If he wants to blame someone, he should blame himself.”

The next day I called to ask Bryan what he’d been thinking, but Gary answered the phone, and I just let him say, “Hello? Hello? Hello?”

As for Morgan, in case you’re wondering, nothing happened between us, and then at the end of the school year she moved back to her mom’s house in Kittanning, where the school’s basketball team is a lot better. I haven’t heard much from her even though it’s just twenty minutes away, but I still consider her to be what Anne called a “true friend.” When Bryan died, I called Morgan crying, and even though we hadn’t spoken in months, she made her brother come get me. It was freezing outside, but she asked if I wanted to play basketball in her driveway, which I realized was what would have made her feel better in this situation, so I said yes. When we stopped for a break, I said I was supposed to say my uncle died of cancer, but that it wasn’t the truth. Then I told her he was gay. “I’m supposed to keep this a secret, but I don’t want to,” I said. “I want someone to know.”

She hugged me and then suggested we switch from one-on-one to H-O-R-S-E, which was my favorite basketball-related game. She didn’t say much else about Bryan except to ask what he was like. I said he liked country music and bacon and that he’d taught me about tools and machines.

She seemed to think that was cool. Then she said, “I don’t really care about people being gay. I think it’s fine.”

I looked for a sign that this was some kind of confession or invitation, but her expression told me nothing.

“I think it’s fine, too,” I said, by which I meant, It’s OK if you kiss me; it doesn’t have to mean anything. But she didn’t.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are many similarities between Bryan and Anne—the hiding and secrets, the fact they both had unchangeable things about themselves that made other people wish they were dead—but I didn’t tell you about Bryan to compare him with Anne. I wanted to explain something else about me. Several times Anne talks about how guilty she feels to be alive when others aren’t. She feels she abandoned her childhood friend Hanneli. “Oh Anne, why have you deserted me?” Hanneli asks in a dream, and Anne wishes for a time when she’ll be able to look in her friend’s face and apologize, even though she didn’t actually do anything wrong. The difference is that I really did stop calling and visiting Bryan. I also told my mom he was a liar, and even though I knew how it felt, I acted like I wanted him to go away.

At the Spring Fling we had saved the scariest roller coaster for last—it started with a steep hill and then immediately flipped us upside down with a sudden jerk. People screamed and squealed in delight, but Bryan, who had seen the flimsiness of the ride, seemed genuinely scared. “Oh my God, listen to that, Kayla,” he said as it squeaked and clattered. “Jesus.” At the next swerve he reached for my hand, but I panicked and pulled away, tried to pretend I was fixing my ponytail. He didn’t say anything and acted normal the whole way home, but he knew I had rejected him.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I replay this scene in my mind. When I get depressed, I tell myself that what Anne said about herself is true of me, too: that I am mostly good. In spite of my many faults, I am a person who is capable of change.