And a friendship, it grew.

An opened box. A little blue envelope, nestled among candies and a partially-filled Sudoku booklet. I was amazed he could even get his hands on that much. He wrote of the summer night he procured a 1964 red mustang convertible and our consequential odyssey across the valley. Now it's a haze -- easy smiles on black freeways and winking snow cone shack lights. One summoned hour of thousands upon thousands. And at the end of the letter, his promise:  "At least I know I'll never forget."

My best friend of eight years and counting (and, undoubtedly, one of my favorite humans in existence) is coming home to me this week.  When I think of him my heart hurts in the best way. In a way that speaks of earnest gratitude and  deep adoration -- so much that it aches. 

He is dear. 

The first time I saw him he was carrying moving boxes into my room. I was twelve; he was thirteen. I clutched my dog's leash, nervous and insecure. 

Our busses dropped us off at the end of the same street, same time. I avoided him at first, because an encounter meant an awkward walk along the necessary route, and at that point I was painful middle-school shy. After a few walks I found myself making up excuses to wait and dragging my feet until I saw his bus careen around the corner.  We'd walk home from the bus stop, always wavering when our paths forked. Pausing for a minute, then two, then innumerable. We'd pass our afternoons in the majestic shadow of a vigilant pine. Afternoon talks slipped into nights resting on the cool driveway pavement, studying the constant stars. 

And a friendship, it grew.  And it bloomed. 

We were thirteen. Fourteen.

He was my confidant. He became, in his mother's words, "fiercely protective" of me. My red-headed, deeply-dimpled defender. 

Sometimes we fought. He was blinded by opinion and I was irrationally stubborn. I remember walking home barefoot one icy December night simply to prove a point. (Another occasion I climbed and perched in a tree. I can't recall the reasoning behind this, which is not to say there necessarily was any reasoning behind it in the first place.)  

We were fifteen, sixteen, seventeen.

High school. The years of late-night car talks.

He made me milkshakes when my life was unendurably filled with teen angst, and would chide me for bemoaning the calories. He never thought I had enough meat on my bones, in the most grandmotherly of fashions.  I pinched his cheeks and told him he needed new shoes. 

He informed me I dated jerks. I informed him he was close-minded.  We both liked Jamba Juice.
He held me as I sobbed and sobbed through my first heartbreak. 

We were eighteen. 

I have a picture of us on my eighteenth birthday. We're in my kitchen. My arms are wrapped around his neck, our cheeks are rosy, and I am beaming. Positively flushed and glowing.  It's a favorite.

We smiled for graduation pictures. We moved out of our parents' homes and into buildings just across the street.  We cooked. (I burned.) He fed me Sunday dinner. We bemoaned exams and tried on "adult."  

The time came for him to leave.
He left.
And he was gone. 
It seemed wrong for it to to be so simple as that.

We were young together -- and there's a power in that tender age. 
He was there as I blossomed, and I watched him evolve into a sure-footed man. 

To say he was a part of my younger years would be misleading. In many ways, he is my younger years, because he is such a fundamental in my life.  In the years of tennis lessons and Superbowl Sundays and Secret Santa outings. In the frozen porches of Bear Lake, the golf carts of Midway, the red rock of Lake Powell, the trolleys of San Francisco, the coral reefs of Mexico, the plays in Cedar City.  In climbing rooftops to watch the sun rise, and screaming along to the radio.  He's in all of it. 

I'm indebted to him for his unwavering faith in me.
For his patience and his trust and his steadiness.

He was there for my thirteenth birthday. Fourteen fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. 
At nineteen I found myself, for the first time, without. And it hurt. It hurt because I was so very aware of the hole. The recognition stung, as if acknowledging I was conscious of his absence made me somehow even more alone. 

I still don't know why I was surprised when the box arrived the day I turned nineteen.  That very conspicuous cavity was filled as I read, "At least I know I'll never forget." 

He was there through my first love.  I was there for his. 
Though all along, I think I knew that I loved him first.

So, to my best friend and rock:
welcome home. 


Ali said...

This may be my favorite yet. I would read all your books Paige. Publish already!

Anonymous said...

I read this and cried. Sweetest thing I have read in a long time. You are simply amazing!