My friend and I had very different childhoods…
We laid side by side under the covers, close enough so that I could feel her trembling.
Sleepovers were a common attribute to our friendship, and continued even through our transition through adolescence. They usually took place at her house. This time it was at mine.
There was a year and a half gap between the two of us, and the older we got, the smaller the bed seemed to get and the bigger that gap seemed to become. Sometimes it felt like I was slowing down my pace so she could keep up. Not with walking, but with everything else.
She was scared, like she always was after scary movies. And I felt guilty. I was just as scared, but was always able to convince myself there wasn’t a monster under the bed, no matter how much it felt like there was.
My best friend’s mom was ever-present. Her mom redecorated the house every few months, and she stopped to talk to people at grocery stores. She had time and spent most of it on her kids.
Her mom preserved my best friend’s innocence with a fervor, skipping over sex scenes in the movies, swatting our heads when we said bad words, and bundling us up like the Michelin Man the moment the thermometer read negative.
Attention was not something I’d commonly receive, at least to the same degree. When I played with my best friend, I was also under the temporary care of a woman with lots of time. I’d drop off my stuff after school and immediately make my way over to their house. I wouldn’t ask for food, but I’d make rather obvious hints that I was hungry.
But, it wasn’t just the food that I was there for, it was the conversation. Sitting on their kitchen island, grabbing handfuls of Goldfish crackers, sipping apple juice from straws, her mom would lean over on the other side and let us in on the neighbourhood gossip.
The bubble-wrapped kid and the latchkey kid. A 21st century friendship.
It sometimes felt as though my best friend’s mom knew me more than my own, but as I grew older I knew this wasn’t the case. My Mom went to work at a stressful job and came home to do her stressful paperwork. Time was a luxury she did not have even for herself, and even if she wanted to give me more.
I looked over at my best friend whose fear made her cry. Sometimes it felt like the responsibility of retaining her innocence was in my hands too. I would get glances from her mother that could only suggest that she was aware I knew more than I was letting on. Thinking of the look I got when I’d let it slip I didn’t believe in Old Man in Red when I was eight years old reminded me to avoid a similar conversation three years later when I stopped believing in the Old Man in the Sky.
It wasn’t as though I was neglected, in fact not at all, but when I came home from school, I didn’t have anyone tall enough to close the blinds, I learned how to get a chair and grab the box of cereal on the top shelf, I watched the war torn news because it was my thumbs pressing the buttons on the remote.
Some part of me wondered if my best friend knew how lucky she was, but as I watched her trembling, I didn’t know if lucky was the right word.
I reached out, grasped her trembling hand in my steady one, and stayed awake until she fell asleep.