Missing a Ponytail and Finding my own

“Do you have a date at 10 or something?” the waiter asked as I pestered him yet again for our food. My innocent eyes never noticed his tall, dark, and handsome exterior.

“I’m just hungry!” I said. An elementary school-girl guffaw transcended the buzz of PF Chang’s restaurant. My closest girlhood friend would never let me live that one down. I mean really, how could I have missed how attractive he was.

It was a late night for me, one of my first. I was exhilarated.

It was already dark when I arrived at her house; I was ready for a girls’ night out. Young girls, but a girls’ night all the same. Letting her dog out was always my downfall.

“He got out again!” I yelled back into her gingerbread house.

Her Cocker Spaniel had escaped out the front door yet again. I could never catch that dog. The cold was piercing. I still can’t believe those furry brown Houdini’s paws weren’t deterred by the Cleveland winter. Buddy—that was his name! I remember now.

It’s been years since I’ve seen her. I think she moved to California. All those times she told me she was moving but then didn’t. I began to disregard her comments about moving, pushing them to the back of my mind, where all unpleasant things stayed.

I had a knack for stowing away vexing thoughts. Most of my elementary school notions were not particularly heartbreaking but a missed snack had me locking my thoughts of hunger way back in my mind.

In elementary school my friends were trivial to the adults in my life, but to me they constituted the whole of my schoolgirl experiences. There was the kid I drew dinosaurs with, the kid I jump-roped with, the kid I thought I loved in my blonde-pigtail way, and then the most important: the girl who taught me to stay up way past my bedtime exchanging stories. They taught me lessons that adults have forgotten or purposely omited from the classroom. No longer valuable to adults but cherished by kids, these lessons are a part of growing up.

Now that girl is gone. We’re still technically in contact. Facebook can be a blessing and a curse. Even so, we communicate sparsely, and when we do it is only superficial pleasantries. Now, these chats are virtually nonexistent. A plain “how are you?” doesn’t even occur to me anymore. Is it really distance that separates us? Or is it time?

Perhaps she’s been replaced. Friends aren’t always permanent facets of our lives.

Would I be a different person if she were still my best friend? Most likely.  To be honest however, I knew as we got older we were drifting apart. At the middle school, her ponytail would whisk around the corners before I even said hello.

But so would my ponytail.

Amicably smiling at her in the hallways didn’t cut it. I lost my closest friend to distance, whether it was measured by miles, minutes or minds.

So maybe she was a friend that I outgrew. Maybe we weren’t meant to stay friends. Maybe our differences made us spheres that didn’t touch anymore. I’ve always advocated that differences make us who we are. And yet I struggle to live by that motto.

I’m not sure if I miss her, or I miss the times we had. Maybe they are one and the same. Without her, I lack a girlhood friend bound by spit shakes and secrets that formed our close-knit bond. That’s what I miss the most.

New friends, though they might challenge or inspire you, aren’t the same as the old, who taught you to climb ice mountains in the Lomond parking lot.

Not replaceable, not fixable, and non-refundable, old friends are vital. New friends are just as important, but the memories of the old will shape the new relationships I establish now.

I can’t bring her back. But I can learn by heart the messages we shared in secret and the actions she evokes in me: being a friend isn’t a perfunctory duty; it’s a mutual, empathetic obligation.

In California, I’m not sure if the cold still bothers her, the way it still does me, but I can still remember the click of Buddy’s paws on her hardwood floors when we finally chased him back into the warmth.

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