I had a friend once.
I start quite a few of my anecdotes, the stories I tell, in that way. I usually get one of two responses. Either my listener nods and says, “Yeah?” in an interested fashion, or they pretend to be surprised: “You had a friend?”
People can be so wonderfully witty.
I have lived in the house I currently live in since I was almost one year old, and I’ve never had experience of living anywhere else, because I was only a baby before. About a month after we moved here, perhaps two, we started going to one of the local churches. We’ve been there ever since.
I made friends with a girl there.
Best friends, almost. We saw each other every Sunday and spent all our time together. The toddlers and the reception class age kids were all together in one group and we would be the pair in the corner who wouldn’t stop talking. We were totally inseparable. It helped that our parents made friends quickly, too.
I didn’t know that she was a year older than me.
In September of the year I started school, she was starting year one. So come the first Sunday back, she went into the group of slightly older children. “I’m moving up,” she told me proudly.
I don’t know why I remember it so clearly, but I do. I answered her, “Well, I must be moving up too.”
But the leader kindly explained to me that I had to stay in the younger group for another year, because I wasn’t as old as my friend. It was the first time anyone at church had separated us and I was devastated that my friend would leave me behind. I’ve never, ever spoken to her about it. I never asked her if she wanted to stay with me or if she didn’t realise the age difference either. Perhaps I’m still scared to.
We followed this pattern for a while. The primary school-aged classes were in two-year groups. We’d spend a year apart, a year together, and then be split up again, because I was eight months younger and that made all the difference. A year together, a year apart. A year together, a year apart.
This lasted until secondary school, when dwindling numbers forced larger age ranges to be in the same group, and for once I was able to stay with my friend for longer than a year. Now older, and not forced to attend church by our parents, both of us started to come more infrequently. She started helping with the little ones. I started playing in the worship group. We didn’t see each other.
As time passed we stayed friends, but grew more and more distant. A year ago last Wednesday, I called her in a state of distress following something that had happened, because in that time of confusion the only person I could think of who wouldn’t judge me and who would have answers was that friend.
We met up, hung out, and talked about life.
Last week she sent me a message asking if we could meet up, hang out and talk about life. “I don’t remember the last time we did this,” she said, when we saw each other on Tuesday.
“I do,” I replied. “It was exactly a year ago today.”
Why do I remember it so clearly? Why do I remember what happened when I was four and a half years old in such clarity?
Because we had been so close, and that was the first time we were split up. Because we told each other everything and even though we grew more distant through the years that we weren’t in the same group – for we’ve always gone to different schools and had different outside activities – we still do.
Because we used to talk once every seven days, and now we talk, in depth, every 365 days. It’s not like it’s the only times we’ve seen each other, but there isn’t always the opportunity for a heart-to-heart.
She’s been a good friend to me, Bekah has. She’s read drafts of Watching for me and cried. She’s put up with my rambling, my weird behaviour, my crises and my insecurities. And even if a year passes between our meet-up sessions, I know this:
All it takes is a message, and we’ll be there for each other again. As we always have been. Even when we were apart.