I saw my best friend last week. This would be an ordinary occurrence for most people, but it was strange for me due to the fact that I haven't spoken to him in twelve years. We're not separated by physical distance, in fact we've lived in the same town this entire time minus the short while I spent away at university. We pass each other occasionally, but normally we don't even glance at one another. In fact, it's so extreme that we pretend not to recognise each other at all, and it's not in a cruel way; it just is.
Nobody knows that he was my best friend other than him and I. He was the kind of friend that I could talk to about anything, and he just "got" me. There are precious few people in this world who have every really understood me, and back then the list was even smaller. When he would call me, just by the way I said "Hello" he would know exactly what kind of a mood I was in, and what to say to me to make my day better. I've never had a friend since who had that same knack.
Every time we spoke on the phone, he would comment about how smart and funny I was, and coming from a home with a verbally abusive mother, that meant a lot to me. He would always say, "Well, you learn something new every day. Of course that's because I talk to you every day." It was the first time in my life that anyone really made me feel especially good about myself, that I made someone's life brighter simply by being in it.
We spent several months in the summer before I moved away for school, just driving around in his truck. Entire bright, sunny days driving really slow on deserted dirt roads... sipping on a beer, chain-smoking menthol lights. You know, like you would. Doing a lot of talking, and a hell of a lot of laughing. Some of my fondest memories from my youth are from this time.
I've carried these memories around in my head for years now, and still there is not one other soul in this world that knows about this other than him and I. You see, he got himself a girlfriend. I was happy for him at first, because I did start to fear that he was starting to fall in love with me and I knew that there was no way I would ever feel that way about him. The girlfriend sensed this, and being the jealous type and a stage 5 clinger, she strove to cut me from his life like a bad weed.
I receded from his life quietly, because I knew that since I was moving away soon and starting a new life, he needed to have someone back home to start a new life with as well. At the time, I felt that it was more or less like a natural progression of our friendship to end that way. I didn't have any hard feelings towards her, and I still don't.
I got a frantic call from some friends six months later, asking me to come home because he was about to marry her. They thought that I was the only one who could break up the wedding. Not being one for that kind of drama, I refused to do so. He was an adult, I felt he was fully capable of making his own decisions. Besides, in the movies when that happens the people usually end up together. The thought of that was repulsive to me; too much like incest, not to mention showing up at a wedding and storming the place, which quite frankly is not the proper time to object! I never did want things to get messy.
So we've continued on in our own lives like this for a good ten years, passing each other on the street, at different functions, having mutual friends... but still not talking. We both have our own lives and families separate from one another and by all accounts he looks happy.
Fast forward to last week: We passed each other on the street. I was with my kids, he was with a group of people I didn't recognise. For just one instant, we made eye contact. After 12 years. I looked at him, he looked at me, and there was an understanding: We were best friends once, long ago. We don't ever have to be again, we don't even have to speak; and that's perfectly fine. No regrets. We both smiled.
Life goes on, seemingly, without fail.