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Monday, January 19, 2009

Series of Firsts: First Best Friend

There’s something about being a kid that makes you not only choose a “best” friend, but also to proclaim it to the world. I guess it’s a combination of not understanding diplomacy while at the same time doing everything with reckless abandon. But that’s just what you do when you are eight.

When I was eight, my parents divorced and that meant change. My mom, my sister, and I went from living in a large new home that my parents built to living in a smaller home in an older neighborhood. It was the same neighborhood my mom grew up in and from what she described not much had changed over the years. It was still a good place to raise kids, but you just had to make sure you didn’t wander across an elderly person’s yard. If you did, you were going to be yelled at. I adjusted to that pretty quickly.

My previous house was in a neighborhood that was set off the beaten track and there weren’t any kids to play with. That wasn’t the case with the older, more established neighborhood my family moved into. Not long after we moved, I met a kid about my age named Willie. He lived just a few houses away. We had similar interests (cars, baseball cards, sports in general, and cub scouts) and we quickly became friends. Before long, we were referring to each other as best friends.

He had a killer hot wheel collection, but it wasn’t just something you looked at. An eight-year-old boy doesn’t have much use for that. It was something to be experienced, and boy did we ever experience it. His house sat up on a hill, so we’d connect hot wheel tracks and run them all the way down the front porch stairs and then the main stairs. Then we’d set up a tournament bracket (much like the ones used during March Madness) and have the cars compete against each other. He always rooted for the 43 car. I must have had a favorite, but I can’t remember. What I do remember is rooting against the 43 car. But we had a blast.

I spent many weekends at Willie’s house—even after his family moved a couple of miles away. As we got older, we started watching and then playing tennis. His new house was close to tennis courts and we spent hour after hour on those courts. At first, we were terrible (I had to hit my serves off the bounce rather than tossing the ball in the air), but we practiced like time didn’t matter because when you are 12, it doesn’t. Eventually we were able to sustain rallies. By then, we’d already chosen our favorite tennis players and we tried to imitate them. Willie was an Ivan Lendl fan, so he’d put sawdust in his pockets to absorb the sweat on his racquet handle just like Lendl did. I was a John McEnroe fan, so I tried to master the art of putting spin on the ball and I came to the net a lot, just like McEnroe did.

Willie started noticing girls before I did. Well, I noticed, but I was too shy to do anything more than notice. After entering high school, we drifted apart for various reasons, some of which were my fault, and some of which were his. But the truth is, not all friendships are meant to last a lifetime. Sometimes they are meant for a season. And for a season, we were best friends.


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