I had the same best friend for twelve years.
She and I lived next door, our bedrooms separated by a driveway and a narrow strip of grass on which we once posed, awkwardly and ecstatically, in the D.A.R.E. T-shirts we had worn for graduation that day. As children, we spent our afternoons together playing with Barbies and Beanie Babies. We colored. Ate Ho-Hos. Watched Arthur. As teens, we shared books and secrets, wrapped Christmas presents together in the warmth of her large, upstairs bedroom. Snow would drift from the sky and pass her west-facing windows, cascading into a yard that, come 6:00, I would cross to reach my own front door.
I can tell you that, one year, out of curious amusement and utmost silliness, I entertained her with Styrofoam packing peanuts. We were juniors, maybe sophomores in high school. We were wrapping presents in her room, comparing the gifts that our group of friends always bought each other. I reached for a packing peanut, one of many from an opened box on the floor. Several of the peanuts decorated the beige carpet on which we sat, cross-legged. The packing peanut, springy and cushiony, bounced between my thumb and index finger. Two inches from my face, I watched its fibers, its molecules, its construction and makeup stretch and relax, strain and pulsate.
In respective synthetics and giggles, both the packing peanut and Michelle exploded.
Now, five years after high school, we live entirely separate lives. She, a blond-haired young woman who has developed penchants for running, biking and knitting, now holds a full-time job in Wisconsin (which gets points for its level of “outdoorsiness,” but loses rapport for its harsh winters and subsequent lack of sunshine). We do not speak to each other very often anymore. The words we do exchange are merely those which everyone sees—a status, a photo, a witticism shared on Twitter. Our virtual musings, no longer shared in confidence, are the only illustrations of our friendship, which—to me, anyway—mysteriously diffused between the hallways and hobbies and boyfriends of senior year.
I understand that it is easy to grow out of friendships. A friendship can end when a person changes. A person’s failure to change can also end a friendship. Some, admittedly, are fickle; we tend to bide our time, building references and networks and acquaintances who provide a good word, an open door, a chance compliment. Our efforts subside after our interactions prove selfishly beneficial. Relationships form for a variety of reasons as well; we hold our friends close, our family closer and are encouraged to keep enemies within arm’s reach. We joke with co-workers, soothe our grandparents’ fears about the economy. Each bond that is created finds its strength in something—be it tangible or philosophical—and we eagerly seek ways to cultivate that bond so that it is, at all times, reminiscent of the beginning.
Friendships can also occur out of necessity; for me and my neighbor, it may have been out of proximity.
I am unsure why our friendship ended. I know only that, senior year, I began walking to school alone, sullenly staring at the ground while my neighbor—a girl whose company I once held into the late hours of summer, when the soles of our feet would blacken—accepted a ride from a parent. The family mini-van would rush past me, stirring leaves and dust from the street and choking me, blinding me.
I didn’t understand.
For years, we had been best friends. We learned how to ride our bikes on the same day. We watched television and movies, read books and online memes. On the days she brought her trombone home, I willingly carried it for her. I introduced her to California Diaries, a series that encouraged both of us to read a book a day. She taught me how to play Ocarina of Time (which, on one January afternoon, caused me to barge into my own house, arm raised and shouting triumphantly, “I BEAT DODONGO!”).
Since high school, my memories have softened nearly as much as the photographs have blurred. I remember bits and pieces of our friendship—one fueled by competition, Avril Lavigne, over-sized glasses, a shared interest in Beadie Babies and the phrase “opposites attract.” I can tell you that we used to play in her walk-in closet, a space ten feet long and three feet wide. I can tell you that we avidly detailed the lives of stuffed animals and Ty Warner creations in the cardboard-box city I had created along two walls of my bedroom. I can tell you that I was fascinated by her pet fish, and that, every year after Christmas, we would wait to call each other until December 27. I can even tell you that one December 27 in particular was spent in what later became her family’s “computer room” (because, at the time, her bedroom was being remodeled and was without walls and a floor).
I can tell you that the day she left for Europe, I cried. Simultaneously jealous and happy of her travels, I knew I would miss her company, her giggles, her freckles. I had sent with her a disposable black-and-white camera, requesting only that she take photos for me. Years later, I still have the pixel-ized photos of London, Paris and the Matterhorn. The small Eiffel Tower statue she brought back for me is still in my possession as well, and it is one of the few things I tote with me when I switch between the states. It’s a reminder of how much larger the world is beyond my small hometown. It’s a reminder that it is bigger than Iowa, bigger than Indiana, bigger than the roads between. It’s a reminder of a friendship—a relationship that I affectionately look back at, but look back at with aching sentimentality.
I can tell you that, after high school, after we went to our respective colleges, we still remained aware of each other’s presences. It was awkward, though; we would see each other leave and arrive, accept company and phone calls on porches. But we never spoke to each other. Twelve years of community friendship had somehow dissipated, which is why I prefer to reminisce about the years spent in sandboxes and Halloween costumes, at swimming pools and playgrounds.
I can tell you that we read Animorphs and colored Lion King images. I can tell you that we switched lockers sophomore year because mine was vandalized. I can tell you that, in my own room, in my house, I wept for her grandfather’s death. I can tell you that I didn’t know what to say or do, other than offer her and her sister Beanie Babies—a toy so comforting and familiar that I hoped it would somehow soothe the pain of his passing.
Most of all, however, I can tell you about the summers—about the late nights chasing fireflies and fireworks, watching sunsets in the church parking lot while casually licking at melting popsicles. Our toes would be gritty with sand from the hours we had spent in the sandboxes. Feet black from tree climbing and bike riding, we would sit on the cement and stare and imagine and tease and dream.
I miss that.
I miss her.
I believe that she is one of the smartest people I know, and that she is living up to the “Most Likely to Succeed” expectations from our yearbook. In truth, I think about her often because it is difficult to reminisce about my childhood without evoking the imagery of our companionship. Indeed, after sifting through spy logs and entrepreneurial craft lists this summer, I found but one thing that made me simultaneously smile and ache. Smile for the nostalgia, for the silliness of overgrown bangs and a cotton camaraderie on a mid-summer’s evening.
Ache for very much the same reasons.