I met my best friend when I was 5 years old, and she quickly became the world to me. She was my next door neighbor and we spent hours building forts in her room or hanging from our knees on the jungle gym in her backyard. We had a tree house that straddled our yards that, in a stunning display of creativity, we called Teribithia.
We roller skated in my basement with the lights out and "Da Doo Ron Ron Ron" turned up loud. We played "Charlie's Angels" and raced up and down the cul-de-sac on our banana-seat bikes. When I conned my mom into buying me "Forever" we hid in the laundry room and read the good bits out loud to one another.
Our friendship was epic, but so were our fights. I remember times that we stood in our driveways and screaming at one another (I did most of the screaming; she was always more reasonable) and periods of time when we didn't speak to each other because I was mad that she had had a playdate with Shannon instead of me or had signed up for tap instead of ballet AS WE HAD AGREED or she refused to perform "YMCA" in the school talent show with me.
When I moved away when I was 10, my heart was broken, but somehow we stayed in touch. When I was 13, I went to visit her and squandered all my money on a pair of Girbaud jeans that she convinced me I absolutely had to have (she was not wrong). When I was 15 and going through a deeply unhappy period, she talked to me on the phone every night for 2 weeks without making me say what was really wrong (which was exactly what I needed). When I was 17, she made me my first mix tape. And on it went.
When I was 29, she stood up for me at my wedding ("best woman," was the title we gave her in the program). She was single at the time and yet was the willing repository of all my bridal angst. She worked the word "competent" into her toast, which was a kind of code word for all the various anxieties we'd had in our lives, and thus demonstrated that she was the only person on the planet who knew me as well as my husband.
So I get friendship--girl friendship in particular. It has not been lost on me that The Girl, now 5, is the same age I was when I met my friend. Almost immediately upon starting school, she threw herself into playdates and reading buddies and the all important question of who sat with whom at lunch.
And then she made a friend who I'll call Ashley. They sit together on the school bus, have lunch together, play "magical fairies" together on the playground at lunch time. We haven't had a ton of playdates with Ashley because our schedules just haven't meshed, and I'm not perhaps the best planner in the world. A few times recently The Girl has come how in tears because Ashley was having a party and she didn't think she'd been invited (some backchannel communication with Ashley's mom revealed that there was no party, but there was no convincing The Girl).
I've tried to reason with The Girl: You have to cool it, I'll say. Everyone needs some time apart, even friends. But she doesn't want to hear it. And I remember: neither did I.
Today I was the mystery reader in The Girl's class. The Girl was excited to sit with me and turn the pages, and I was happy to be there. Until I saw it: there at the edge of the reading rug, Ashley was sitting with another girl. And they had their arms around one another, a kindergarten declaration of BFF-ness if ever there was one. It was all I could do not to stare.
To be clear, nobody is doing anything wrong. Friendships are tricky at 5. Even now at 43, I often find myself stymied. Looking at those two girls at the edge of the rug, my heart broke a little for The Girl and all the losses (major and minor) that she will suffer and that I cannot prevent--should not prevent, even if I could.
So I said nothing to The Girl. At the end of the reading she walked me out of the classroom and thanked me for coming. I hugged her and told her I loved her and couldn't wait to see her when she got home from school. And she walked back inside. Alone.