I had a best friend until I was almost 4 years old. His name was Paulie, and we each lived in apartments on the same floor of a building in the Rego Park neighborhood in Queens, NY. He was the “taken for granted” background of my life. We saw each other everyday. Our mothers were friends. He was my favorite person, and favorite activity. On one summer morning, in his apartment, we were making a magic rock garden. We were taking turns dropping colored rocks with special potential into the bowl. As they started sprouting crystals, my parents entered the room. I must have known something. I cried and clung to my friend and his furniture. They pried open my fingers and we left for the suburbs. That was the end of it.
I’ve never found another best friend. But I came close. Her name was Lizzie. After our move, I had remained unmoored for years. And then she was there in my 4th grade class. As I was an undersized, young appearing, waif-like child, I was always on the look-out for someone with my proportions and my perspective; someone who might also feel overlooked, undervalued, and vulnerable on the sports field. Lizzie was there, petite, ready to laugh, and open to my friendship. She interrupted the isolation that had become the background of my life. She already had a best friend for years (a Paulie), who was her neighbor. Their mothers were friends. I understood that was not my place with Lizzie.
What we had was a shared perspective. We were two tiny girls, who liked to catch frogs and puzzled over our classmates obsession with brand jeans and sneakers. Day after day for 3 years, we circulated among the same kids, witnessed the same classroom dramas, and avoided the same bullies. We giggled, pondered, and played. We found refuge from difficulties in our home lives, though we never talked of those.
One summer day at the end of 6th grade, we were playing at Lizzie’s house and I tripped over a rug. I landed hard and the wind knocked out me. Lizzie’s mother was on the phone, but hung up and dramatically came to my aid. “I was talking to my lawyer,” she said with emphasis. Soon after that day, Lizzie told me, “My parents are getting divorced and we are moving away.” That was the end of it.
I entered Jr. High School, unmoored once again. Lizzie and I talked by phone once or twice. She was remote and distant. No details. Yes and no answers to my searching questions. She was truly gone.
Thirty-three years later she is there on my computer screen. She is my new facebook friend. I tracked her down through her “real” best friend’s page. I asked with trepidation if she remembered me. I was sure I had been forgotten. I had assumed all these years that she had gotten swept up by a better life with better friends in her new town.
What came back in my inbox was a long and reassuring, but also saddening message. Lizzie treasured our friendship. She remembered details, exploits, and conversations that I had, in fact, forgotten. She had become remote, distant, and eventually disappeared as her family collapsed and she was pulled into that spiraling vortex of chaos. My little13-year-old fellow frog catching friend detached from her old life in order to steel herself for a new life defined by hardship and survival.
Through facebook we are now building a path back to each other. It comes in fits and starts. Lizzie’s adult voice is shedding a special light on a story I have told myself, so many times, I’ve believed it. In that story my life was hard and lonely and even my “best” friends didn’t want me. What I see today is that my “difficulties” would be another child’s good day. I was cherished by my friend. Yes, I lost her. But not for the reasons I thought. Through Lizzie’s recollections I am remembering the vastness of the interruption – not the least of which were giggles.