Monday, February 12, 2024

My Best Friend

Isabella Krieg

June 12, 2023

When I was younger, my best friend was a boy I went to preschool with. He lived about a block away from me, and his parents would always throw pool parties and barbeques in his backyard. It seemed like all the kids in the neighborhood were there for birthdays, July 4th, and just a good time. He had a seesaw that looked like an airplane and sat four people, some sort of symbol of the possibility of the future.

Our other friend was a girl named Victoria. They were both a year older than me, but that never mattered. The way we spent our time in school and the things we talked about are lost to me, but the way the inside of his home looked is still fresh in my mind. I remember his mother marking my height on their living room doorframe, making me a part of their home despite not being a part of their family. They had cactus plants lined up along their windowsill, each of them tempting me to touch their spines to see if they'd prick. I remember when my nose bled on their kitchen floor and how his dad taught me to stuff a tissue up my nostril to absorb the blood. I remember hopping the fence into his neighbor's backyard so we could run to the front, where the path leading up to his door had his name carved into the concrete. Sometimes we would sit on his stoop and watch the ants go by. I remember Halloween spent with him in the neighborhood, especially the one after the hurricane when we had to jump over fallen trees to knock on doors instead of ringing their bells. When I would go over to his house, we would play a game where we jumped from the top of his bunk bed down onto a mattress below. I was definitely scared at first, but after seeing him do it a couple of times I got over it.

It was the three of us for a while. We spent time in school, then went home and waited for the day to start again. Eventually summer came. We had moved on to different schools, but the pool parties and playdates never stopped. Preschool turned into afterschool and a new girl arrived to break the peace. I don't remember her name, but I remember every adult thought she was great. Victoria slowly started to spend less and less time with me, choosing to be with someone her own age. No first grader would want to play games with a kindergartener. The presence of the new girl at my best friend's backyard parties seemed to completely overshadow mine. I guess I was jealous, although I'm not sure I really knew what jealousy was.

One day I was washing my hands in the afterschool bathroom with Victoria.

"He said if he wasn't friends with her, he was going to marry you."

I don't recall what my response was, but it was probably something along the lines of "Oh."

I still remember exactly how I felt in that moment. It was a weird and confusing feeling, like I was aware I was officially demoted to the second choice without being aware of the concept. The only married people I knew were my parents, and marriage wasn't even a thing I'd thought of for myself. But yet again, my place was overshadowed by another, and I never even got the chance to defend myself. Such a big decision had already been decided for me.

Eventually life moved on as it does. I don't remember the last time I saw him; I just remember realizing years later that it had been a while. My mom told me later that his parents had gotten divorced, and he moved to a different neighborhood. And no one thought to tell me. He had been removed from my life without any goodbye or even a warning. They let me forget about him and our time together, and I didn't even realize it until I saw him one night in a dream. He came to my door with Victoria, they were going back to his old house and wanted me to come with them. We walked the short walk back to the house and found the house abandoned and broken down, covered in vines and moss. We went straight into the backyard and had to skip across lily pads left in the inflatable pools we once played in. The airplane in the back was broken and rusted and would never take us anywhere again. We went inside the house, and everything was still the way I remembered it. The colors were the same, the furniture was the same, the only detail I couldn't pick up was the smell. I can't remember the smell. I pricked my fingers on the cacti, I ran my hands along the pencil marks on the doorframe. We went to the kitchen and danced; I wish we could stay here forever. I woke up and that was the last time I saw him.

The next morning, I questioned my mom, and she told me his father still lived in that house, although no one had seen him lately.

"He's sort of a hermit," she said. "I wonder how he's doing."

I'd seen Victoria and her mother a few times walking in our neighborhood, but other than those few passing waves hello, those parts of my childhood were gone. Over a decade later and I'm about to leave for college. Going through my old stuff, I find a box full of old pictures. I sat at the kitchen table and sifted through them, feeling for the little girl I'll never get to meet. Among these photos are ones of me and my childhood friends, as well as one of me on the airplane. I smile as I recognize people and places I'd almost forgotten. I reach the last photo in the box and look over at the time. I have to do the dishes.

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