This is for my friend.
I remember the day clearly. My best friend called me. He was running late again. He was always running late for school and this time I wasn’t going to wait for him. I told him so. Fine, he said. Fine, I said. We were in primary school, we lived around the corner from each other and most days we walked to school together.
It was fun walking together. We’d either be fighting or laughing, mostly fighting. There were no adults, just us dawdling. Along the way other kids would emerge from their houses, some walking, some on their bikes. We’d giggle, we’d chase each other. It was a different time then, helicopter parents didn’t exist.
In autumn, we’d kick the piles of leaves on the footpaths. Often it would end in a leaf fight and we’d be covered in pollen and dust, bits of leaves hanging from our hair. In Spring, we’d look for nests and if you found one with egg shells stuck in the twigs it was considered a truly cool find. It would be taken to school and shown to your teachers and classmates. In summer, we’d pick plums and peaches, the ripe fruit hanging over neighbourhood fences. The juice from the fruit would run down our chin and down our arms. In winter, we’d cradle under our umbrellas and if we were lucky we’d get a lift to school.
I remember the day clearly. On this day I walked to school alone, my Aussie cricket player swap cards safely tucked in my school bag. It was very hot. I trundled along, grumpy my mate had left me waiting at home only to call me at the last minute to tell me he was running late again. Stuff him, I’d thought. I’d tell him so when he got to school.
It was the days of kids running free. Often my friends and I would ride our bikes around the neighbourhood, we’d meet out the front of our houses and head off on adventures; sometimes the local pool, sometimes the local ice skating rink. On weekends and school holidays we’d take off in the morning and not return until dinner. Often we’d take turns having dinner at each other’s houses. We had such fun.
My mate and I had heaps of fun. We’d play hide and seek and collect caterpillars for races. We were just starting to notice our gender differences. We were getting to an age when I wanted to play dollhouses and doctors and nurses. He wanted to do maths sums and build stuff with Lego. He had glasses and cherubic looks. I had long blonde hair. We were cute.
We were just starting to get creeped out by ‘boys germs’ and ‘girls germs’. We looked out for each other and bickered, but mostly we loved each other and giggled a lot. Fart noises were hilarious. His real farts were extra stinky and we’d always have to wind the window down in the car or run out of the room. We both liked listening to music; The Police was a favourite, back when Sting was hot. We were best friends.
I remember the day clearly. It was very hot. The teacher came to me in class. My Mum was at the school I needed to go the school’s office. Cool, I thought to myself. We were going to the pool. That’s what Mum did sometimes when it was hot. Sometimes she’d come to school and we’d leave early and go to the pool. It was our secret. I was excited.
But today was different. The mood was different. I remember feeling like everyone was staring at me, but when I looked at them they’d avert their eyes.
No, we won’t be going to the pool today darling, my Mum told me gently. Today she held me tightly, tighter than normal. Her eyes were red, she was trying her best to be brave for me. Everyone was quiet.
It is from this moment I do not remember as clearly. Maybe because I don’t want to remember. It was the day my mum told me my best friend had died. He had been run over by a truck on his way to school. I didn’t really understand. I’d only talked to him that morning. No-one I’d ever known had died before. The finality of it was not something I’d ever had to learn before. I felt like it was my fault. What if I’d waited for him? Maybe he wouldn’t have been crossing the road when he did. What if we’d been crossing together? Maybe I could’ve stopped him. Maybe not.
Decades later and I still think about him, a lot. Every milestone in my life I think of him. I wonder what his life would have been like? What he would look like? Would we still be friends? Sometimes I tell him stuff. Sometimes I cry. Mostly I smile and remember us giggling together. Now I think about what sort of parent I will be once my kids seek their own independence. I am not sure yet. I want them to have freedom like we did. I remember how great it felt to be free. I remember my friend.
I miss him.