In the before times, we saw each other every week. Your eyes sparkled. We connected, shared a laugh, had an easy friendship.
Now, I send you a word in the morning. I watch for triple word spaces, double letter tiles, and sneaky ways to use J or Q. You’ll add an S to my nouns, I’ll add an ING to your verbs. It’s like skipping a stone to you, across the water, or whistling to the other side of the cul-de-sac.
I haven’t seen you in almost three years. But each of your turns is a message. “I’m still here.”
What the best man is supposed to do: Make sure the groom shows up, sober and on time. Keep track of the rings. Make sure the groomsmen are ready, dressed, and behaving.
What the best man is absolutely not supposed to do: Mess up the groom’s tie just so he can straighten it again. Adjust the groom’s pocket square so he can rest his hand on the groom’s chest. Definitely not supposed to stare into the groom’s eyes, whisper in his ear, cling too long in one last hug.
Inside my pocket, I slip the ring on my finger.
My friend died, brutally, of cancer.
I’d like to gather my thoughts into an elegant essay on her memory wall, as so many of her friends and family have done. But I don’t want to think about it.
I do, however, sing with her.
See, she had a Disney princess voice that was the centerpiece of several secular and religious singing groups. My relationship with God is like a suffocating wool sweater, itchy and uncomfortable. But singing along to her recordings feels like a pure channel to something beyond all of that.
My friend, my heart still hears you singing.
Tell your mom not to worry.
I’ll have you back by sundown.
It will be hot, but
I’ve got lemonade in the cooler,
And there’s a shady spot at the edge of the field.
We’ll take the tractor.
Put your hands on the wheel, and I’ll work the pedals.
It’s loud, I know, but I can still hear
The music of your throat,
The pulse in your palm against my hip.
Let me lift you over the mud puddles,
Boost you over the fence.
You can wear my hat, if you want.
I’ll take your handkerchief,
Secretly, from your pocket.
We learned to swim together at the community pool, the summer before first grade. I mostly remember the polka-dot suit I wore. It had ruffles, and I thought it was something a princess would wear.
We swam in high school together, too. It wasn’t about suits anymore; it was about split times, conditioning, and drives with our hair still wet, one hand on the wheel and the other hand in hers.
Now our swimming happens only in my dreams. We race strong, the time no matter. When she wins, I twist a lock of her wet hair around my finger.
A friend of mine died of cancer in November. She lived in my chat apps; we shared texts, photos, and voice memos, but never met in person.
This morning, a video popped up on TikTok of a girl playing bass along to Duran Duran’s “Rio.” After a ten second debate with myself, I sent the link to my dead friend. It was a tiny celebration, the easy, ecstatic talent of the girl playing a song we both loved.
Twelve-year-old me sang along to MTV, alone in the basement; almost forty years later, the song dances across the river to her.
I probably should have brought my phone for it’s flashlight, but the moon lights the way through my snowy backyard to my neighbor’s house.
I smell yeast bread on the icy air as I approach her back steps.
I only stand in her kitchen for a moment, long enough for her to place the bag in my hands. “Still warm,” she says. I can see six shiny, golden-brown rolls inside.
At home, minutes later, my daughter eats two in a row. “They’re the best I’ve ever had!” And they are, soft, buttery buds of warmth, reminding us were not alone.
Mom said “ten more minutes” when I went in to get blankets, and that was at least a half hour ago. Probably. Or, I don’t know, because time isn’t real out here, laying under the stars with my two best friends.
Winter was invented for secrets. I was even keeping the secret from myself. But on the trampoline, each revelation comes with a tiny bounce; we ride and roll and bump together wrapped in quilts, agreeing, giggling, drawing the truth out as if we’re painting it with a brush.
I say I like girls. And the soundtrack of night agrees.