My Neighbor, My Friend

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.

POOOMMPH!

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.

8 comments:

  1. This is so beautiful... I really like your writing. I started to read and could not stop. It made me think so much about old friends!

    Thank you for your visit at my place. Hope to see you soon.

    if... all things made with love

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  2. I've heard that you have friends for a season a reason or a lifetime. I told my best friend that when we were going through a hard time and I was so hurt I wanted to "break up" with her. But then that rift healed, I don't quite know how, and she was my maid of honor. I like that you seemed to have had a deep friendship. Those are worth more than 20 new bffs.

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  3. I can somewhat relate to this. I have a friend that I met in 2nd grade(she was in 1st) on the school bus. I taught her how to draw puffy sleeves on princess dresses. We grew up living down the road from each other, joined all the same clubs, and hung out almost everyday as kids. As we got to high school we were still pretty close but I could tell we were growing apart. I graduated and moved 2 hours away and we barely saw each other. The next year she graduated and moved 2 hrs away to the same town as me to attend the same college as me but we never hung out. Now, I've dropped out of college and she is a senior. She was always super smart. We live with our boyfriends 10 mins away from each other and are the only people each other knows in this town and we STILL never hang out. I have no idea why. Our parents go to church together and are somewhat friends and think we hang out all the time. I really don't know what happened but I think about it alot. It bums me out and puzzles me how people can grow apart like this; how friendships aren't what you thought they'd become. (Sorry this is kind of long). You are a good writer, by the way.

    -Arielle

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  4. You write beautifully.. I so totally understand you. Those childhood friendhips, they were there to teach us. Never regret and never be sad. Your friend gave you the memories and made you think differently. This is a treasure, a gift.

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  5. I can so relate this...there are many friends over the years that I have drifted apart from: some for reasons I know and and some that I don't have a clue about.

    But all I think is at least I have those memories to look back on fondly. Many people aren't lucky enough to have such a good friend at any point in their lives and so I am grateful that I have.

    Your writing is so lovely and genuine and the reader can't help but understand.

    xoxo

    {P.S. Thank you for the note you left on my blog...means a lot!}

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  6. i really love how you write this. it seems like i could feel how you feel. be strong dear, life goes on :) i think if she is really your best friend, she will eventually come back to your life. by the way, thanks for dropping by my blog! :)

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  7. i feel like any comment i make will lessen the eloquence of this post. but i relate deeply. thanks for putting these feelings into writing. :)

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  8. that last photo... how perfect.

    what a sincere post. I about growing up all the time, mostly because I don't feel like a grown up. It's so strange that we can't go back to those times no matter how many memories we keep and how close it can still feel.

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