Don’t turn down the help of the tiny, chatty blonde girl who offers to help with the parade poster you’re working on for school. Marvel at how easy she makes approaching strangers seem, and then bond over your shared fear of bees. Carry the sign together in the parade, wave goodbye awkwardly at the end of the route, and exchange telephone numbers in case you want to be real friends. Be unable to read her handwriting (which only gets marginally better over the years—get used to it) and unable to remember her last name, so looking her family up in the phone book becomes impossible. Smile at her in gym class, but don’t talk again until next year when you’re in seventh grade.
Be confused when, one day, she asks to eat lunch with you and your geeky friends. Be grateful every day after that this cool, tiny, chatty girl has chosen you over anyone else in the school (who she seems to be on friendly terms with). Bond over your love of fantasy novels. Start having sleepovers. Watch her fall out of every good climbing tree in your yard and bounce back up, laughing wildly. Gossip about the evil machinations of the other girls in your peer group, and write conspiratorially about it in a “friendship journal” that you pass between classes (much more discrete than folding notes). Accept her offer to share her rain poncho on a class trip and develop a cheesy nickname/metaphor for your friendship. Don’t get mad at her when she hijacks your fourteenth birthday party by crying for forty-five minutes solid after watching Bicentennial Man. Get a little mad at her when, without fail, you tell her about the boy you’re crushing on and she mysteriously develops a crush on him too. Get more mad when, because she is cool and chatty and outgoing, she actually asks those boys to be her boyfriend and they say yes. Be happy for her anyway. Hug her when they break up a couple weeks later. Laugh about it ten years later when half those boys come out of the closet.
Act normal when she starts calling out of the blue, asking if she can sleep over on a school night. Ask your mom to stock up on food your best friend likes since she is very picky. Act normal when those school night sleepovers turn into weeks-long stayovers, and pretend you didn’t see her crying on the phone with her parents when she tries to hide the fact that she was. Find out her dad has cancer, then heart problems, then cancer again, and treat her like a normal teenager. Convince her to audition with you for a community theatre production and make merciless fun of her when she auditions for (and gets on!) the high school cheerleading squad. Stay up very late at night co-authoring fantasy stories where your characters are strong, brave, and fearless. Hug her really tight when her dad goes into remission, again. Brush off her concerned questions about your increasingly morose ramblings in your online journal, but be utterly touched that she noticed, and cared. Call her sobbing in the middle of the night when you’re sixteen, even though you’ve been drifting apart a little bit, and be comforted when she spends an hour telling you that you’re not a bad person for wanting to break up with the very nice guy you were dating, but didn’t like-like anymore.
Be always best friends, even when you don’t talk as much. Always refer to her as your best friend, even when others have been fulfilling that emotional slot for a couple years. Hear her always refer to you as her best friend, even as you guiltily realize you haven’t called in a while. Reconnect in college and promise you’ll be better at being best friends. Watch her blossom from the tiny and chatty, but overly sheltered child you used to know into a strong, brave, and fearless city dweller. Watch her taste buds graduate from Lucky Charms to enchiladas to tikka masala to vindaloo. Enjoy that she’s taking you along for the culinary ride, but draw the line at vindaloo. Start dating amazeballs boys within two weeks of each other, and have careful conversations where you’re both trying to sound practical and cautious but can barely mask the heady perfume of new love. Celebrate each other’s milestones: she’ll draw an elaborate cartoon on her personal calendar to celebrate the first day of your prestigious internship and you’ll run in circles around your living room when she gets into grad school. Be okay with how much time she spends with her not-so-new love.
Decide on a whim to drive through the night to go see your political hero get inaugurated as President of the United States. Teach her that the left highway lane is for passing, not cruising at the exact speed limit (and only remind her of this once or twice a year. Restraint is very important in this sort of thing). Freeze to death beneath the Washington Monument and cry together through his address. Listen to each other when the not-so-new loves aren’t shiny and covered in glitter anymore, and remind each other of how strong, and brave, and fearless you are. Drop everything you’re doing to be at each other’s sides when your loves fall apart. Help pick up the pieces of broken hearts, and drink many margaritas. Be cautiously optimistic for each other when you both get back together with your formerly-new-loves. Have private, threatening conversations with the boys where you outline the horrible things that will befall them if they break your best friend’s heart again. Live in the same city for a while, take up yoga together.
Help her love plan a proposal and be there when he does it; take good pictures even though you can’t see for crying. Tell her you don’t have to be her Maid of Honor because you know her other best friend (since birth! He wins this round) would be great for that Honor position. Be co-honor person with Other Best Friend, and become fast friends with him and marvel about what great taste in friends your co-best friend has. Talk her down from WIC ledges and share a Look when her mom almost faints with shock over her choice of red wedding shoes. Assure her it’s okay to stop caring about the wedding when her dad gets sick again. Jokingly introduce her to what you thought was the worst scotch in the world, only to have to resign yourself to buying her very expensive, subjectively horrible whiskey once a year for her birthday. Move to the suburbs and try to convince her that it’s awesome out there; she’ll dutifully pretend going to the mall and using a coupon at Applebee’s is, indeed, awesome. Call her after you get engaged to the same boy you started dating within two weeks of each other, five years before, and she’ll burst into tears in her office. Have her understand when you ask your only sister (and co-best friend) to be your Maid of Honor and only attendant.
Give ridiculously touching toasts at each other’s weddings, three months apart. Get ridiculously sloshed at each other’s weddings. Help each other move. Text constantly. Make plans and break them. Make more plans anyway, even though they’ll likely get broken again anyway. Call each other for reality checks, and pledge to use each other as an excuse to postpone having kids until the other one does first. Make plans for your children to be best friends and/or get married to each other. Realize you’ve been friends for more of your lives than you haven’t been friends. Decide to be blood-sisters, the kind who tell each other everything, and wonder to yourself what on earth you were before, if not that.
Photo: Gabriel Harber Photography