Monday, September 8, 2008

Friends

It seems to me a crime that we should age
These fragile times should never slip us by
A time you never can or shall erase
As friends together watch their childhood fly
- Elton John "Friends"

Now that school has been back in session for two weeks now, I'm finding myself asking the kids quite often about their classmates. Who do they sit with at lunchtime? How about on the bus -is it the same person to and from school, or someone different? Who do they play with at recess? Who are the kids at their tables? Last year, it was very apparent who their friends were - and who wasn't. But this year, there seems to be only a random collection of names mentioned at the dinner table instead of a particular person or two.

I think I'm looking for a best friend.

You see, both The Dean and I are - I think - somewhat unusual in terms of the people who are our closest friends. For the most part, all of our best friends are folks who we met in elementary school, or at the very latest, 5th grade. On his first day of kindergarten in 1975, The Dean struck up a friendship with a guy who, 20 years later, would spill some of his champagne on my wedding dress while toasting us as The Dean's best man. (The Dean returned the favor - minus the champagne spillage - a few years later.)

Likewise, I'm still in touch (albeit sporadically) with my best friend from kindergarten. She's an actress living in L.A.; one of my most favorite nights was in November 2004 when The Dean and I attended the opening night of a musical where she absolutely stole the show. (I think I was more nervous than she was.)

And this month, I realized, is somewhat of a milestone. Three decades ago this week, I was a brand new student walking into Mrs. Rude's 4th grade class (I swear, her name was really Mrs. Rude). I happened to know a few of my classmates from Sunday School, but not many. Thanks to names close together in the alphabet, my assigned seat was either in front of or in back of - I don't remember which - a girl named C.

Aside from the common letters in our names, C. and I were destined to be friends. Our birthdays, we quickly discovered, were within mere days of each other - meaning that our class would get to enjoy an entire week of cupcakes (thanks to another kid's birthday being the day after mine). (Poor Mrs. Rude.) Briefly, C. and I were also bitter rivals for the affections of a particular blond-haired blue eyed lad ... until we learned that he couldn't stand either one of us, and we became united in our fierce Harriet-the-Spy determination to learn the identity of his "girlfriend" at a nearby school.

Today, 30 years to the day that we first sat together as 4th graders, I'm her young daughter's godmother. We send Hallmark cards "to my wonderful sister"; because neither of us have a sister, it made perfect sense as 10 year olds to hand-pick each other as such. It still does.

I wonder how unusual this is. Do most people in their (very) late 30s have best friends who have journeyed with them for nearly their entire lives? Would maintaining these marathon friendships have happened anyway, due to our personalities, or are they a remnant of a time, as Elton sings, "you never can or shall erase," - a time when the world moved a little slower and things were seemingly a bit simpler.

I'm not sure of the answer. All I know is that I'm seeing childhood fly every day ... and I'm wondering who else is along for the ride.

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