There's a reminiscence that belongs here about high school, as I leaf through the program and see the ever-fresh "BFF!" fluttering through the seniors' biography blurbs. But I cannot find the words to speak it. I had best friends in high school, friends who swore we'd keep in touch as I went away - not to college, but to two more years of high school, somewhere else - and we didn't. It was somewhat my fault and somewhat theirs and mostly it was the way that time has of separating two people with a slow gentle feeling, like separating the two halves of a leaf to reveal the skeleton between.
I had best friends at the Academy, a tiny haven of academia in the middle of the tumult that is puberty. I had best friends and boyfriends and girls that I knew and met and loved and made and broke promises to. It was in those two fleeting years that I learned and forgot more about myself than I had imagined possible, and in those two years, near the very end, that at last the best friend and the boyfriend coincided, melded, and became the man I fell in love with.
I don't have a yearbook, or maybe I have one of the two from those years. I have autographs in a small bound book that I brought and carried around. There are no "BFF" written in those pages; in fact most of them have very little content at all. It is a collection of names, mostly, although it has its exceptions - Angel took up a half-dozen pages, just to prove me wrong; C, whom I adored and nearly worshiped, all unbeknownst to him if not the rest of the Academy, C who kissed me once with the briefest touch of lips to lips out of sheer orneriness at someone else's comment, whose every word I listened to with the sort of devotion only a teen-aged girl can summon up, C scrawled his name and "I have a big marker" in the widest-point laundry marker I've ever seen; there are other bits and pieces in those books that bring back memories. I have those. I have names. I have pictures in my mind and pieces of paper.
I still have the poem that D wrote, the yellowed printout that was once on my wall, and I can look at the almost-invisible scar on my left hand and realise that it is fading because I once valued the trust of a boy so completely that a single vow has maintained me for eight years, and I have not gouged my fingernails into my hands since that day. I have the fractal that A drew, and the memory of facing her across a bunk in a dark room. "Can I kiss you?" I said yes. I have never regretted it, nor forgotten that kiss. I have folded notes and memories and names and faces. Of them, only a few have I seen in the intervening years, and fewer still more than once.
I spent months in France with the girl I kissed in a dark room, and we spent one afternoon together in all that time. Mea culpa. I thought I was too busy.
And I have a big brother, somewhere out there, a boy I met in class whose face caught my eye the very first time I saw him, a face I thought then that I could love. A boy, mind you, whose name I didn't learn until nearly October, though I must have used it before then. He took my anklet, a braided strip of leather, and wore it as a bracelet. And then he wove my heart into it. If my thoughts were more expansive, I would tell you how it all came together, O Best Beloved, how I saw him at a haunted house when a strange and infinite moment enfolded us and I knew his thoughts as intimately as my own, how he sent me e-mail to an address I didn't know he knew and only later told me how he'd found it, what a strange and wonderful exchange it was to know that boy that I could have loved, who could have loved me. I would recall his ways, his habits of discovering me, the day I let it slip that I had no lunch break and never ate between breakfast if I went and dinner if I remembered, but for a bit of rice or a can of Mountain Dew. I drank Mountain Dew, then. He never let me go another day without lunch. He bought it for me, brought it to me, wouldn't allow me to pay him back or refuse. I don't know if I ever refused him anything. He never asked me to do something I couldn't, shouldn't, or wouldn't. And one day we named each other siblings in the heart, big brother, little sister, and I will never be able to forget him.
He came to my wedding, when I married my Angel, and he gave a blessing he had until then withheld, and the day was brighter for his approval.
I have not seen him nor spoken with him in two years or more, I think, and there is a man in my medical school class now whose face is like his, so very like his that every time I cross that man's path my heart turns over. I do not know his name.
Our lives, that boy I have called my brother's and mine, our lives are two halves of a leaf, a frail skeleton of veinery separating them and nourishing them, connecting them beneath the surface and unseen. And they have remained connected, if only by threads, touching occasionally and binding again. I have his jacket, from a long-ago winter night. He has a well-worn and tightly woven piece of my heart. Perhaps I will never see him again. I hope I will.
I suppose I do have the words, if in retrospect they are almost unbearably baroque in my reminisces. But perhaps I am alone in this...perhaps high school friendships are not so rare to endure as it seems. What about you, O Best Beloved? What about you?