There is one love I have experienced that trumps all the others. It’s the love I know will last forever: The one that will always have some piece of me. A childhood love: the one you can never really forget. He’s surrounded me since the day I came into this world. I often hear stories about how I came home from the hospital, and he, his sister, and his parents stood at our apartment door, ready to welcome me into their lives. He gently patted my head, as if to say, “Hello, friend! This is just the beginning”. I was sleeping and could barely open my eyes, but I did not need to see or hear him to know that this, indeed, was the start of something. The start of a lifetime of somethings, for that matter.
My father and I were always in and out of the country, chasing family and friends and different jobs all over the region – but that never bothered me. That being said, the ages between 1 and 7 were a definite blur, but every now and then I remember bits and pieces of our young adventures. They come to me so vividly. They fill my mind with my own innocent laughter, and I swear I can feel the playground sand between my toes and the tropical sun beating down on me again. It’s always the little things I remember, like when we’d race to see who would shower the fastest after dinner, or how he’d find a way to pour all the milk from his cereal bowl to mine, because I liked my Oreo O’s soggy and he liked his dry. I remember sharing a room with him back when my parents were getting divorced. I always used to wake up before he did and I’d gaze across the room at him in his own bed, admiring his freckles. There were even times when neither of us could sleep, so he’d tiptoe across the room and we’d slip under the covers together. We never fell asleep in the same bed. We just lay beside each other in silence.
Years went by. We saw each other on and off, whenever his parents scheduled a dinner gathering for us to catch up. I was always nervous to see him. I’d get butterflies in my tummy, my head would spin, and my hands would shake like they did right before a piano performance. But as time progressed and we grew into our pre-teenage years, the time we spent together lessened. I eventually moved to a different city and left him behind, convinced that I would never see him again. Dad and I always went back to my birthplace, but visiting him and his family became less of a priority. Our friendship transformed from Friends to Facebook Friends, and I was okay with that. Was I finally over him? I thought so.
He graduated high school a year before I did. I thought that we would go our separate ways and never really speak to each other. Then the summer after my first year of university came. I know it was just a simple coincidence, but I like to think it was fate that brought him back. After messaging each other back and forth, finally being able to catch up, we agreed to meet outside his hotel that Friday night. A friend of mine agreed to drive us into the city that evening to pick him up. The traffic did nothing to calm my nerves. We pulled up to the front of his hotel, and I peered around the lobby. I saw him. After 8 years of not talking, and not seeing each other, there he was. My stomach rose to my throat. Everything came right on cue – the butterflies, the spinning, the shaking hands… “Hey, go inside. There’s a car behind us.” But I couldn’t move. I rolled down the window and shouted his name. It felt so foreign. He jogged outside and up to the open car window. “I can’t believe you’re here!” And at the sound of his voice, I melted back into my 5-year-old self.
I’ll save you the details of how amazing it felt to have him hug me again, to hear his voice, to laugh at how his freckles had stayed the same. He sat across from me at the bar and we talked about everything we’d missed over the years we’d lost. He went on about how much he loved and missed my Dad, how happy he was that our friendship had lasted this long, and how he wished I could fly back with him so we could spend just a little more time together. I introduced him to my friends, and he clicked with them immediately. It was amazing watching him converse with everybody; making them laugh and smile after 5 minutes of knowing them. He had that effect on people. I listened to him tell them stories about how when we were younger, I slipped love notes under his door in the morning, or how whenever he heard Shania Twain on the radio, he flashed back to me dancing around his old apartment, singing at the top of my lungs.
“Nothing’s changed about her.”
Later than evening, we sat next to each other on the staircase outside the club, drunk out of our minds. He whipped out a cigarette, lit it, and said, “I never want to make our parents’ mistakes”. I reached for his hand and said, “We never will. We know better”. It was then that I realized he had so many pieces of me that I will never be able to give anybody else. We had known each other at our most innocent, he was the reason I started swimming and learned to love it, and he had supported me through what would have otherwise been the darkest part of my childhood. No matter how many girls came in and out of his life (and trust me, there are many), I knew I always wanted to be a constant. Although I still had burning feelings for him, I knew I could never date him. Even if he, by some miracle of God, developed feelings for me, I could not stand to put our 20 year friendship at risk for the sake of something so temporary. He would always occupy a space in my heart, but at the end of the day, the saying was true. We were better off as friends, and he knew it too.
He looked over at me. “You’re my favourite girl. Thanks for always being there for me.”
“We’re going to keep it that way,” I smiled.
I let go of his hand and watched the smoke rise.