Do you want to know when I knew? That day at the football game.

After school, in the muddy field we would gather to play in the long-shadowed days when there was only a whisper of the icy sub-zero chill to come. For now, there was enough light to play until we got hungry or tired or both and many days we played past that. I was the last girl left -- the others had given up trying to throw or run, and would stand to the side in little groups of three or four. The next year, I would join them.

I could throw a straight pass, and dodge past the big, lumbering boys. I could take a hit -- a good one that would leave me gasping for knife-sharp air -- and not cry. You would play, but mostly always seemed to be exploring something or fiddling with the spokes on your knock-off copper-colored Stingray. You were there, but not. Do you know?

I was watching you absently, vague in my periphery, when the bobbling dark ball suddenly appeared, too close to for me to react with anything other than a gasp. I felt the clump of the clumsy football on my face, the sting in my nose, and heard the tiny sounds of clinking metal and glass as my glasses flew from my face to the brown ground. Then nervous, far-away laughs, someone touching my shoulder. I thought of Marcia Brady and checked my nose for blood but it seemed OK -- the glasses seemed to take the force of the ball. My cousin Joe chuckled and asked if I was hurt, and I told him no, I was fine and flashed a smile. He handed me my glasses, or what was left of them. I stared at them in my palm, dazed. One lens was out, the bridge was bent nearly in half, and the left stem completely broken off. My mother's angry voice started clanging in my head, "...why are you playing with them...miss a half-day of work...can't afford...your jeans are torn...".

I waved to the group and began to walk home as the game continued into dusk. Which meant I was late for dinner as well. I really couldn't see all that well without my glasses, but I saw you riding away. I watched you until you were just another gray fuzzy blob in the distance and sighed, feeling some kind of disconnected, odd loss. There wasn't any reason to walk quickly.

As I neared my house -- neat red brick with white trim standing perfect and impassive as always -- I squinted at something purple at the doorstep. Walking closer, squinting again, I bent down. Lilacs! Lilacs were my favorite flowers, all springtimey and heady with their pretty fragrance. Where could they have come from? They had been pressed, and looked funny all flattened and crumbly. I picked the little bunch up, and brought them to my nose, where just the tiniest glorious scent of them remained. I thought it was incredibly strange, yet I smiled at them as the fragile little blooms sat in my hands.

But how did I KNOW? How did I know for sure?

When I looked again at the step with my pathetic myopic eyes, I saw a small black-and-white-and-red packet. A bag of Pop Rocks.

Last spring, I had poured an entire bag into my mouth at recess, followed immediately by a giant slug of Diet Rite, while screaming, "MAD DOG MAD DOG!" and running in circles. You were the one in the crowd who laughed the loudest and smiled the widest. When I got detention, did I see you wink?

Did I see a bicycle tire track in the grass?

Were you there, somewhere? All along? Always?