The day I first met Adam Walters also happened to be my birthday. As in, the actual day of my birth. After ten excruciating hours of labor (at least that’s how my mother always described it), I was handed to my exhausted but joyous mother in a fluffy, bubble-gum pink blanket and that very evening, just before visiting hours ended, he came to meet me.
He was only one month old himself, and neither of us had any idea what was going on, but our mothers love to claim that, even then, Adam shot a small, toothless grin in my direction. No doubt it was probably just a spasm of his mouth due to gas, but when it comes to mothers, it is hard to dissuade them from what they believe to be the fated truth.
Of course, Adam and I were destined to be friends long before we were even born. And, no, I do not mean that we were divinely chosen to become significant parts of one another’s lives. I mean that our mothers were excitable neighbors and friends who happened to be pregnant at the same time. There was always an agreement between them that their children would play together, they just didn’t anticipate that this bond would last years, and that Adam Walters and I would become inseparable best friends.
It all started when my mother moved into the neighborhood eighteen years ago. Her husband- my father- had just left her for another woman and they were just starting the process of getting divorced. He didn’t leave, though, without giving my mother one last thing to remember him by. Namely, me. She discovered she was pregnant on one of those fateful and formidable days when she both moved into the new house and signed the final divorce papers. When she told my father the news, he was bemused, he laughed at the irony of conceiving a child at the close of a marriage, and that was the last time she gave him unbidden updates on her pregnancy or me.
Therefore, she was in a pretty upset and fragile state her first night in the house. And then who should happen to walk over with a plate of “Welcome to the Neighborhood” oatmeal raisin cookies but Mrs. Walters? Unfortunately, the nuts in the cookies made my mother sick (as a result of which, Mrs. Walters has never made them with nuts again), but afterwards the women talked, and Mrs. Walters admitted that tuna fish was her biggest weakness at the moment, because she was also expecting. She was about three months along at that point.
The Walters lived directly behind us, so that our backyards touched, and Mrs. Walters was a source of unexpected comfort for my mother in that time. Her marriage had just gone up in flames, her husband was living with another woman, and she was facing the prospect of raising a baby on her own. Even though Mrs. Walters had her own picture perfect husband, she was always good with making my mother feel better without rubbing her own happiness into my mother’s broken heart.
At that point in time, my mother was working full time at an interior design firm, trying to work her way up from executive assistant, and Mrs. Walters was plugging away forty hour weeks at a real estate agency, on the brink of her own promotion to junior agent. As their bellies bulged and Adam and I grew, they got together more and more, to commiserate on the trials of working while with child, of morning sickness, cravings, and sore feet. When they got too big to simply climb over the low shared fence in the middle of the yards, Mr. Walters installed a gate, so that they could go back and forth as much as they pleased without any hassle. They made decaf coffee in the evenings after work, trying to be health conscious for their children, and talked about how much they missed caffeine and how tired they were all the time.
Of course, they speculated on the fates, lives, and genders of their babies. Neither one of them had asked the doctor to tell them the sex of their children. They wondered if we would be smart and pretty (or handsome), if we would be successful in whatever it is we wanted to do. If we would be good people. They hoped together that they would be good enough mothers to raise such children. And they planned, as well. Play-dates, weekly, at least, they decided. Daily, if neither of them was too busy. After all, they would certainly continue to get together regularly, and they would always have their babies with them, so naturally Adam and I would grow up together. Maybe if they had known that I was a girl and Adam was a boy they would have daydreamed that one day we would actually get together, get married, and even have children of our own. Because wouldn’t that just have been a fairy tale?
As it was, they didn’t get the chance to make those speculations until after we were both born, but once they knew, they fantasized together often about the possibility of one day being in-laws. As much as they loved to get together over (virgin) cocktails during their pregnancies and try to predict these outcomes, neither one of them believed with any certainty that Adam and I would truly be best friends. When they were both being realistic about it (which was not very frequent), they thought that we would probably just become friends for a while, and we might eventually drift apart, especially once school started, though always remaining amiable and friendly, with shared childhoods and youthful memories. They were right about some things, and very wrong about others.
Adam was born two weeks late, a fact that made his mother very chagrinned and annoyed. I used to like to think that he was waiting for me to catch up, as if he wanted to narrow the gap between us and maybe put a bit of pressure on me to hurry myself up. My mother and Mrs. Walters had joked, after Adam had been born so late, that I would want to compete with him and be born even later. However, my style of competition with Adam Walters had never been to outdo him in whatever he had previously done, but to find something completely different to do that would make his feat irrelevant.
And, whether it was the pressure from Adam to just get here already, or my own drive to beat him, (or, more logically, just the mysteries of biology) I was born two weeks early, and what had been a two month difference in age in-utero, became just a one month disparity.
When Mrs. Walters and my mother first held blue-clad Adam and little old pink-wrapped me next to one another, you could already see the wheels in their heads turning. But, can you blame them for being so cliché? They were new mothers, sleep deprived and a bit delusional. As if that was ever going to happen with Adam Walters, my best friend- the boy who cut my hair the day before second grade as a joke. Of course, I got him back for that, by putting worms in his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I had to wear a hat for four months, and he was Puked in the Lunchroom Boy for months until Jennifer Burle farted in the middle of math.
Anyway, as babies, our mothers continued to get together multiple times a week, including Sunday brunch, always bringing us along to giggle and drool simultaneously. When their maternity leaves ended, Adam and I were sent to the same daycare, which hadn’t necessarily been a requirement for our mothers, but, as it turned out, the best daycare in town had two available spots for infants. They saw it as a perk and put each other as emergency contacts on the forms, so that they could pick up each other’s children if there was ever the need. Back then, of course, there was nothing special about our relationship, we were just two miniature people, not even fully formed yet, with those soft spots on our heads. So the teachers were just trying to make our parents happy, knowing that Adam’s mom and my mom were good friends, when they claimed that we were each more bubbly and content when the other was in the room. It seemed like everyone around us loved to project this fantasy of the very closest friends onto us, before we could even say one word for ourselves.
Sunday brunches were a tradition that started on my second Sunday of being alive. No one knows who originally suggested the idea, but they both loved it and it gave them a chance to feel formal and social without really having to step out of their comfort zone. They alternated every week whose house it would be at, and usually it was Bisquick mix thrown into a waffle maker that was on sale at Walmart or frozen hashbrowns shoved into the oven whenever that week’s hostess finally woke up after a long Sunday morning. Plus regular coffee finally and the occasional mimosa that they rejoiced in now that their children inhabited separate bodies.
My memories of brunch were always casual and light, full of laughter and diner food. Neither of the two women were exactly master chefs or professional housekeepers, nor did they have a desire to be. They were satisfied with their mediocrity in this domain and, as far as I could tell, Adam and I never suffered from it. More often than not, they mocked the women for whom vacuuming was a sport, which required daily practice and a stringent set of guidelines (the lines left on the carpet must always be parallel and the fibers must all be facing the same way!).
Besides the Sunday brunches, however, Mrs. Walters and my mother got together often, needing to unwind in the evenings once they went back to work. They missed their babies and it was strange to be back at the office, but at the same time they reveled in being able to do something other than rock a fussy baby or change a soiled diaper. Now they talked about different methods for getting your child to sleep and how tired they were regardless of these methods. Other topics came up and faded away as Adam and I went from sitting to crawling to toddling to running. Though we were four weeks apart (longer in baby time than in grown-up time), we tended to do things at the same time. I was not one to be left behind. In fact, I got my first tooth before him and said my first word before him. Of course, when I was able to accomplish something early, he was not far behind either. It was almost as if it were a constant race to see who could achieve a milestone before the other.
Our mothers had always secretly suspected that as we got older, we would drift apart, garnering our own interests and becoming closer to other friends we had met in daycare, birthday parties, the park, and other things that filled up a toddler’s social calendar. However, this was not the case. And maybe it was because our mothers sent us to the same daycare, carpooled to the birthday parties, and always planned to go to the park at the same time. But, I always liked to think that it wasn’t only because of that. Proximity and convenience can create a best friend when one is too young to know anything else, but how else could Adam and I have stood the test of time and middle school if we were not really best friends?
The real transition happened in the summer before kindergarten, I believe. When playing together stopped being our mother’s decision and started becoming our choice. Those days we started asking to go over to each others’ houses even when our mothers weren’t doing anything together. So, if my mother was busy, she would send me on over, watching me from the kitchen window as I reached up on my tiptoes to unlatch the gate, and knowing that I was always welcome at the Walters’. Adam did the same thing at our house, and more often than not we required very little supervision. We were kids with imagination and a great deal of self-sustainable play. When we got together, we were always off on some new adventure and only had to be checked on cursorily.
As kindergarten approached, perhaps Adam and I got a little too used to being with one another every day. For, the very first day of school ever, we discovered that we were not in the same class. And I threw a tantrum right there on the circle time rug. These days, I might blush a little bit when I think about it or my mother chooses to retell the story, embarrassed as a teenager for my five-year-old self, but I still don’t blame that little girl. She was missing her best friend on one of the most important days in her young life. Really, to a young adult it would be equatable to finding out that your prom date stood you up after you were dressed up, corsage in hand. Very upsetting, borderline traumatizing.
Well, I absolutely refused to stop, even after being carried kicking and screaming in the principal’s office. So my mother was informed, and it didn’t take long to figure out what the cause of my distress was. It was fairly obvious, considering I’d been crying “Adam! Adam!” at the top of my lungs, trying to call for him.
Our mothers had a meeting with the teachers and the principle, and decided that it would probably be better for everyone if we were switched into the same class. I’d made a rather bad first impression on my new teacher and classmates, so I joined Adam in Ms. Pearson’s class.
That was the year when we firmly asserted our friendship. We were always on the same teams at recess and we sat next to each other for circle time on the rug. In Ms. Pearson’s class, one student every week got to be the “Star Student” and got to bring in a different thing that was special to us each day to share with the class. When it was Adam’s turn, he showed me off, and when it was my week, I told everyone about “my bestest best friend Adam Marshall Walters.”
Throughout elementary school, Adam and I were together every day, nearly all day. We played outside after school, running back and forth between the yards, or we splayed out together on the couch watching Disney movies and munching on Dunkaroos and Fruit Roll Ups. My mother always set an extra place for him at dinner (just in case) and most weekends I curled up on his floor in a Barbie sleeping bag that stayed at his house just for me on those frequent occasions.
As Adam and I got closer, our mothers grew further apart. They didn’t mean to, it was just the way things happened. My mom had, in fact, worked her way up and was now a budding designer herself, eager to prove herself in the world of interiors, and Mrs. Walters had gotten so many listings and clients that she had her very own assistant and grocery carts with her face on them. Work never took priority over their children, but when it came to friendship, they let some things slip by the wayside. Soon all they had anymore were the Sunday brunches.
But not Adam and I. We had so much more. Among our many emerging traditions, our favorite was the swings. There was an old park just a few blocks from our houses and, as soon as we got old enough to go there by ourselves, we made the trip a few times a week. There was a wide variety of play equipment, but Adam and I both loved the swings, and agreed that it was the best part of any playground anywhere. If we closed our eyes, it was like we were flying.
As the days, weeks, months, and years wore on, some things changed, but not the things that really mattered. Slumber parties ended when we got too old for it to be appropriate. And of course we did make our own friends, some that we shared and others we didn’t. We stopped playing with toys and running around in the dirt and mud so much and started talking more. But we always managed to have a good time together, making each other laugh, and we still spent more time with one another than we did with anyone else.
When we were eleven, on the brink of our first year of middle school (some would say the most trying time of one’s adolescence), Mrs. Walters got pregnant again. My mother joked that her and her husband had a bit of a slip up, but they no longer talked intimately enough for my mother to know whether Dayna was an accident or planned.
Adam was excited about having a new brother or sister, but also freaked out about what it meant for his parents to suddenly start up having kids again after he was already so old. He thought it meant he hadn’t been good enough. And that feeling only multiplied when his parents then decided to have a third, and then a fourth child quickly following Dayna. Why, he’d thought, was it okay for them to have their big family now, after he was already a teenager?
Well, I got him through that, and he was there for me when I had a fit because the school was having a father-daughter dance and I was just starting to understand how it felt to have a father who wanted nothing to do with me. I, too, felt that it meant I wasn’t good enough.
And maybe that was one of the secrets of why we were such good friends. Deep down, we were twin souls, with the same insecurities, expressing themselves in different ways.
Of course, if you really got into it, you could come up with a lot of different theories of why we were such good friends. But when I was younger, it never really occurred to me to wonder why or how I had made such a perfect best friend, I simply accepted it. Kids’ minds may feel the need to know exactly why it rains or what happened to the dinosaurs or where babies come from, but other things are just understood. And back then, that was how it had been with Adam and I. We knew not to question, because it just was how it was.
It wasn’t until things changed that I started wondering about the intricacies of me and Adam. It wasn’t until I’d lost him that I’d realized how rare and wonderful a find like that was. Like all good things, our friendship had to come to an end, and I hadn’t known just how good I’d had it until it was too late.
It was all my fault. See, in eighth grade, the most volatile of all the grades, when children are growing up just enough to think that they’re adults but still much too young to realize how old they truly are, I made a choice that cost me my best friend forever. Middle school had already put a strain on our friendship. Kids who were insecure about themselves liked to tease us, talking about dirty things they imagined we did behind the bleachers (however, these little posers didn’t even know the meanings of the phrases they threw at us- no one knew the actual definition of a blow job, but everyone knew that it was dirty and wrong). And then there was the simple pull of the cliques. The popular boys asked Adam to sit with them at lunch often, but Adam never sat at a table that I couldn’t sit at too, so he never did join them, he never forsook me.
I, however, was not so kind. The death of our friendship came on the face of Billy Kite, who was one of the cutest boys in eighth grade, and also one of the meanest. But he was oh so charming to me, and I was taken aback then swept away the day he decided to pay attention to me. He asked me to go to the Spring Fling dance with him, which I stutteringly accepted. And then he asked me to be his girlfriend, an offer at which I just threw my arms clumsily around his neck and had my first (even clumsier) kiss.
But he’d always had some petty vendetta against Adam. They had never liked each other, ever since sixth grade when they got paired up on a project. Billy bullied Adam into doing all the work, Adam told the teacher, and Billy failed the class and had to retake it in summer school. After that, the animosity just grew. Adam, however, never even dreamed of telling me what to do. He knew that I was well aware of his disapproval of Billy and he didn’t feel the need to warn me endlessly.
Billy, though, was not so kind or considerate. Every day in the halls he would harp about how Adam was so pathetic and clingy and gay (another term that kids just toss around, understanding only the shallowest definitions, using it as a base insult). It took me a shamefully long time to get up enough gumption to meekly ask Billy to stop talking about my best friend that way. Well, Billy only got angrier about that, and he demanded that if he was going to keep being my boyfriend, that I had to tell Adam that me and him could no longer be friends.
So I did. And that is my biggest regret. The continual abuse of harsh middle school children had broken down all my self-esteem. Having a boyfriend had boosted that in a way that just a best friend never could. So, when I had to choose between one or the other, I made the typical, shallow, eighth grade decision, without stopping to think of anyone but myself, let alone my best friend of thirteen years. Those past years of memories and friendship faded away in my mind and all that mattered then was the present, where I was slightly more popular and had a boyfriend to hold hands with in the hall. If I’d even stopped to consider the future for one moment, maybe I would have seen how fleeting my new, falsely buoyed sense of self-esteem was.
Less than a week after I coldly told Adam that we could no longer be friends, Billy Kite broke up with me, and all of a sudden I found that I had nothing to fall back on. There was no Adam there to catch me and it was too late to try and get him back. I had made my choice, and it had been the wrong one, a fact I realized almost immediately after Billy’s betrayal. But now I had to live with it.
Adam and I no longer spoke. He was much too angry, for which I didn’t blame him, and I felt too guilty. All of a sudden there was a massive rift between us that neither one of us was willing to breach.
High school followed in the same thread. We both had our own friends, and the ones we’d shared previously had gone to just one of us, as terrible as that was. We never joined the same clubs and tried to avoid picking the same classes. On the odd occasions where we ended up in the same classroom, inescapably, we sat on opposite sides and ignored one another. We did the same thing if we happened to see each other in the yard or around the neighborhood. Simply pretend like the other one doesn’t exist. Don’t make eye contact, move on, and forget about it.
But it was always hard to really forget about Adam Walters. Especially after I grew up a little bit and came to truly realize just how horrible I’d been in eighth grade, but also how wonderful having a real best friend had been. Occasionally, when the shame piled up so high I couldn’t stand it anymore, I would mentally purge myself of Adam, working overtime to convince myself for just a little while that my friendship with Adam was no big loss. So we’d been best friends when we were younger? Everyone grew up and changed and most people didn’t have friends that transferred from childhood to adulthood. Really, we were doomed from the start, and my actions had only just spurred the inevitable. There was nothing that great about Adam Walters.
However, when I was being honest with myself, I knew that what I’d destroyed was something truly special.