And so we talked all night about the rest of our lives
Where we’re gonna be when we turn 25.
I keep thinking times will never change,
Keep on thinking things will always be the same…
Graduation (Friends Forever), Vitamin C
It was early September, right after we moved into this house from New York, that I first met them. I must have been playing outside at the time because all I remember is the grumble of wheels rolling over pavement as they pulled the red wooden wagon closer to my driveway. I was just about to turn four years old and, as fate would have it, about to meet my first best friends.
We lived one behind the other, separated by a border of thinly blossoming trees in my own backyard and then a street on the other side of her house. A neighborhood full of children for us to play with was exactly what my parents longed for when we moved here, but all I knew (and cared about) growing up were the lemonade stands with hardly any traffic, the t-ball games that had my dad throwing the pitches, and the secrets-that-weren’t-really-secrets-at-all whispered into the dark as we burrowed beneath our sleeping bags.
These were my friends — the boys and girls who lived in a three block radius, who could regularly be called out for a game of flashlight tag or capture the flag across the yards. These were my best friends — the two girls who lived behind me and on the next street over, who shared wishes at birthday parties and who held our hand when the yellow schoolbus came into view.
They taught me what friendship meant, and I believe that they set the standard for every relationship going forward. Through them I had my first lesson in what it meant to be a friend.
And through them I had my first lesson in letting go.
She moved away to another neighborhood when we were in elementary school; we tried to keep our promise to always be best friends, and for awhile, we were. We attended each other’s birthday parties and on summer afternoons, we roller skated on her new driveway while belting out the songs of Annie (much to her mother’s chagrin, I’m sure). But she was a year ahead of me in school and now in another district, and soon the days that we would visit each other became fewer and fewer.
I still cut through her old backyard, the property that edged to the back of my own, on my way to meet the curly-haired girl I was still lucky enough to have nearby. Though the three of us had all been close, she and I were inseparable. We filled our days playing Kingdom on black plastic garbage bags full of clothes that piled high in her basement or on the wooden swingset in the corner of my backyard; we spent Friday nights at her house where I watched in awe as they observed Shabbat before we raced outside to capture the summertime fireflies.
I was there when her brother was named; she was there at my first communion party. We attended the same summer camp, were in the same classes at school, and a birthday wasn’t a birthday without her to help celebrate.
When we turned thirteen, I attended her Bat Mitzvah, but by the time I was confirmed, we had already grown apart.
I never understand how things could change so much, so fast. Especially during the shifting years of adolescence, when emotions ran high and life-comprehension and experience was low, I couldn’t understand that things wouldn’t always forever be the same. A best friend, I thought I had learned, was a best friend. I never once believed that a friendship could fade.
Which is why I think the hurt ran so deep when I realized that ours had.
But I couldn’t have known this then. At ten years old, all I knew was that she was spending less and less time with me and more and more time with the neighbor girl that bordered her own backyard. I remember there were fewer sleepovers, fewer after-school rushes to play at each other’s houses, and fewer phone calls. I remember choosing partners for projects in school…
And the first time we didn’t choose each other.
Despite these changes, there was never any ill-will between us, and slowly that deep sense of hurt and rejection, that sense of first loss, dissipated as new friendships were formed. Throughout middle school we remained friends as we formed our separate groups and discovered new best friends; in high school we shared smiles and laughter and waves of hello as we chatted in class or passed in the halls. And when we graduated, our class celebrating the end of one journey, we shared a hug and a promise to keep in touch — a promise that we’ve kept sporadically throughout the years thanks to email and Facebook.
No matter how much has changed, history just can’t be erased.
Throughout the years, I’ve had my share of people I’ve called my best friend, though in so many cases we would grow apart and move on. Being the overly-sensitive type that I am, I always took this personally, and as the years passed and the relationships changed, I think I somehow labeled each faded friendship as a sense of loss, abandonment, burying that rejection and fear of being forgotten — replaced — behind layers and layers of invisible, yet impenetrable, walls.
I tried not to care so much, tried to play these friendships cool, tried to remember what seemed inevitable: don’t get too close, don’t love too much, as you’re prone to doing, because they will only leave you.
You’ll only get hurt in the end.
During these years, I’ve loved and I’ve lost. Some have left my life willingly, some have left my life permanently, but, no matter how they occurred, the pain of these losses run deep and will be something I will always struggle to understand and reconcile.
And yet, little by little, I’m starting to come to terms with it. Little by little, I’m beginning to heal. Because I’ve realized what I have now — what I think I’ve always been looking for since those first experiences years and years ago. An understanding, a lesson learned. A knowledge that growing up means change, and with change comes new hope.
And new friendships.
The words “best friend” somehow seemed spoiled over the years — because I think I had been foolishly too willing to use it, too eager to label friends, longing to find those I could love completely and who would love me in return. At the same time, the words became sacred, and suddenly I found myself unwilling to utter the phrase for fear that history would repeat itself, as it had time and again over the course of my life.
It has taken me awhile to find them — those people who I dare now call my best, oldest, and dearest friends, those kindred spirits I find myself so grateful for (and so many more who have come to mean so much to me). They’ve taught me that people won’t always leave you; they’ve taught me that no matter how much you love, they will love you that much more in return.
People come in and out of our lives and there’s no one to blame — least of all ourselves. Yet there are those who will always remain, no matter how you change, no matter how far apart you are, no matter how long it has been.
These are the ones to hold onto, the true friendships that last a lifetime.
Somehow, I find myself grateful for the growing pains I’ve experienced throughout the years.
They’ve taught me how to love.
And I know that I’ll always be grateful to these people who have crept into my life and woven a permanent tapestry of love on my heart.
They’ve shown me that friendship is allowing yourself to be loved in return.