In recent years when I have discussed my first marriage, I’ve been referring to the one with legal paperwork, self-esteem turmoil, and a divorce at the end. In all of those times I have said the words “my first marriage,” I forgot that my first marriage was actually to my childhood best friend who lived two doors down when I was only four years old.
This is a love story I completely forgot.
I met Alex one fateful day when my mother heard a knock at the door. My sister was just a baby, and I was about four years old. A woman was at the door holding a little boy my age by the hand. She introduced herself and said that her son Alex, “otherwise known as Satan’s spawn,” was wondering if he could play with me.
Thus began a beautiful friendship marked by being near inseparable for the next 5 years. We were the very definition of best friends. I do not remember every day of my childhood, but I imagine that we saw each other daily, for at least a few minutes if not hours on end.
Our friendship was remarkable in that it was true love, devotion, and friendship in the purest sense. Friendship at that age is not marred by developing bodies, by jealousy, by body image issues, by wondering if men and women can have platonic relationships, or by assuming the worst in a given situation. We were five years old and our days consisted of doing whatever we wanted. Coincidentally, what we wanted was to spend every waking moment together.
We rode bikes, we ate McDonald’s happy meals, we shared banana popsicles, we played in the backyard, we ran through cornfields, we played with toys, and we watched television. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers were our favorites. We made spiralized apples with his mom’s Pampered Chef counter-mounted apple peeler. We listened to music and went to the movies and were just all-around best buds.
When we were five or six, we had a small wedding ceremony in the basement of my childhood home, standing on yellow plastic Little Tikes chairs. I don’t remember if there were vows. I do remember there was a wedding ring for me, in the form of a small hair-tie (the weird double-looped ones with a metal connector in the center) with clear plastic beads on either end. Diamonds, obviously. He put it on my left ring finger and we celebrated by jumping and dancing on my full-size bed, holding the removable tops from my bedposts and singing into them like microphones. To the Space Jam soundtrack.
You have my permission to be super jealous right now. It’s okay.
We did not “get married” because we were in love. Not because we wanted to kiss each other. Not because we wanted to have babies together. We did not “get married” for money, status, or to cover up an unplanned pregnancy. We did not “get married” because our biological clocks were ticking, our parents wanted us to, or for any reason other than this:
We got married because we were best friends and the only way we knew how to express commitment and friendship was marriage.
Kudos to our parents for that life lesson.
I regret that somewhere along the way I completely forgot that marriage is something you do with your best friend. Sometime after puberty began, my worth as a person was equated to whether or not a man would want me and subsequently I forgot all of the things Alex taught me about love and friendship and what commitment should be.
Alex and I drifted out of touch after my parents’ divorce and after I moved away. I drifted away from all of my childhood friends. I am truly thankful that Alex and I were friends when we were though. In those formative years where a person is really being put together, a real friend is one of the best things to have as a kid.
Alex shaped my life. Alex shaped who I am. That seems silly to say about a person who I haven’t seen in over a decade, a person who I last had a meaningful connection to when I was in elementary school – but it’s true.
I am sorry that it has taken me this long to understand how amazing a friend he was to me when we were kids.
I regret that, in growing up, I forgot about him and the lessons he taught me.
I regret most of all that the catalyst for all of these realizations is his death.
My first friend is gone. He is gone, and I will never be able to tell him how important he is to me, how much of a difference he has made in my life, and how much he taught me about love.
The only thing I can do to move forward is to go back and re-learn those lessons about friendship and love and how perfect life can be if you chase the dreams that make you happy. I have to go back to being five and learn to love myself and others again, the way Alex and I loved each other back then.
Y’all better pack your bags, because the next few blog posts are going to be a feel-trip.