We were best friends almost as soon as we saw each other. I was 5, Kristie was 5. She had a weird younger brother and a ton of Barbies. She lived right across from our elementary school and I was at her house every single morning and every single afternoon while my parents worked. We were attached at the hip at recess and on the weekends. We were two little girls who only knew each other and who were a force to be reckoned with.
In first grade, we took Jericho Elementary by storm even though we were in different classrooms, I in Mrs. Hughes’ room, Kristie in Mrs. Giles’. When the bell for recess rang, we would rush outside the classroom doors, meet outside, and hug then run like banshees around the playground, flirting with the boys and playing kickball. On the day I wore a red elephant dress to school and dared to play kickball at recess, I skinned my knee straight down to the bone running to first base after kicking the ball up over the telephone wire. I fussed over my injury for weeks, feeling a little proud of myself that I’d been hurt so badly. But it would be nowhere near the injuries Kristie would have–two broken arms, one right after the other, any number of bruises. I played it safe most of the time; Kristie was much more reckless.
In second grade, I moved to Mrs. Larabee’s class and Kristie moved to Mr. Driscoll’s. And in third, we were united in a different school, with Mrs. Davis. It was here that it became quite clear that the two of us were soul mates. On the last day of third grade, we took the bus home from school to my house and I cried walking down my long dirt driveway because our magical year of school had ended. Kristie wrapped her arm around me and consoled my weeping heart. Even though she was shorter than I was, she managed just fine to make me feel secure. We posed that day with each other while my mom took our picture outside of the fort house that my dad had built for me, with our arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders like best friends are supposed to do. In the summer, we posed in the same way outside of her house, on the lawn with her brother. The three of us little musketeers for best friendship. For years she kept that Polaroid tacked up to her bedroom’s pink wall, despite the photo’s fading colors and the fact that the blue sky had turned to white. One Christmas, she came to my house to decorate our tree. We dressed up fancy in my clothes and posed for another picture, tightly gripping each other’s hands, feeling the excitement of Christmas and the knowing that we were best friends.
All the birthdays I ever had she was the first guest on the list. It was not a birthday without her, there with me to dress up or to unwrap presents. To make up plays and perform them for my parents or for hers. We stuffed ourselves with the pretty cakes my mother had let me design–a Care Bear cake, a Cabbage Patch Doll cake, a rainbow cake, a music note cake. Always white with colorful frosting, always the most beautiful part of my birthday. Kristie and I would sneak peaks and fingertips of frosting through the day.
It went like this, on and on, through middle school, through high school. Of course, new friends came along, took our focus just slightly (or quite largely) off of each other, and then there was college, where everything suddenly became different and separate and I changed and she changed and the world around us changed, and there was enough change to make your head spin right off. I knew this was a natural thing, I knew it would be quite normal for friends to move apart and to separate. Perhaps I knew it all along. I’d even known people could go away forever.
I also knew people would get married and start a life with a different best friend. And that’s indeed what happened, a few years ago, when I was living in Providence. Kristie called me up and announced that she’d eloped with her wonderful Shawn. And that was that. She moved away a year later to Oregon and I haven’t seen her since. This summer, when I was at home for my high school reunion, I had every hope in my heart to see her there. But then the phone rang and it was Kristie and she was telling me she wouldn’t be able to make it because of work, because of family, because of…well, it didn’t matter, really.
While we made our way through the rest of the conversation easily and talked for a long time, I didn’t want to tell her that I needed to hang up the phone. I needed to because I felt myself choking back a sob. It was true, then, that we were no longer the little girls in the Polaroid. I’d known it all along, of course, that we weren’t, but that phone call, the first in so long, had made it clear that so much had changed. When we did in fact hang up, I returned to the kitchen where my mother had made a birthday cake for me, to make up for the fact that I was in Brazil for my last birthday and she couldn’t be there. I walked to the cake and looked down at it, all white frostinged and colorful with sprinkles. It was a pretty cake, like all the others I’d had over the years. It was sweet and lovely and perfect for a girl. And on it were some candles and I stared down at it and burst into tears, the ones I’d felt gathering in my chest and in my throat, the prickly ones behind my eyes when I’d heard Kristie tell me she wouldn’t be able to make it out for the reunion. It felt so silly to be celebrating in that moment.
When did things change? How did my friend’s face become unfamiliar, or her voice over the phone sound foreign? How did I let that happen? How did the time slip through our fingers and make our arms slip from around each other’s shoulders? Could I have clutched more tightly during a time when the forces wanted to slip between us? Could I have been a better friend to her? Could I have done something, anything, to make our lives more intertwined, so that it’s now not strange to hear her voice or see her face? These are the regrets I have.
Tonight’s a regular night, like all the others that have come between then and now. It’s just that my thoughts are drifting toward the heavy things. I miss my friend. And that’s just the plain truth about today.