My first best friend left my life so long ago that I can barely remember her face. Strawberry blond hair, some freckles, a vague recollection of her smile, and that’s it. But a writing prompt from my Wellness & Writing Connections group has had me trying to conjure memories of her all week. “Write 25 words that describe a childhood friend.” Can I find 25 words that fully capture Susie and what she meant to me?
She was the yang to my yin, bold where I was shy, fearless where I was cautious, loud where I was quiet. With Susie, I tasted independence for the first time, earned my first money, ran away from home, and learned about sex. From the age of 4 until 11, we were inseparable, the sidewalk that ran between our houses a well-worn path.
From Susie, I also learned about loss, not when she died, but when our friendship broke up. I spent a summer mourning her, just as surely as if she had died. I know now that I was just as responsible for the end of our friendship as she was, though I didn’t see it that way back then. It was devastating to me.
Having Susie for a friend taught me to leave my comfort zone in two ways. When we were together, she was often challenging me to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily do. And when we weren’t together anymore, I had to forge bonds with new people outside the comfort zone of her friendship.
Social scientists believe that we tend to seek out friendships with people of similar personalities (the “similarity effect”), but Susie taught me to appreciate a friend who is the opposite of me, one who stretches my view of the world and pushes me toward new possibilities. As Henry Ford once said, “My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”
I see glimmers of my first best friend in several close friends who came along later: The ones who were from very different backgrounds; the ones who were bold and outspoken; the ones who were just a little bit wild. I’m grateful to all of them for where they’ve taken me and how they have enriched my life. But I will never be able to thank Susie in person for what she taught me; there will be no re-connection on Facebook, no school reunions, no chance meetings. She died young, and true to form, doing something a little bit dangerous.