Boyhood & Best Friends
It is hard for me to remember exactly. I was about to turn four. My parents and I had our Christmas and home and visited both sets of grandparents, but in January or early February, my mother and I moved in with her parents. I don’t recall being upset about it. I loved my grandparents, and I was very much at home in their house at 351 Main Street.
By that age, I had already met the boy who lived two doors down. His house was on a flag lot, so it was very close to rows of fruit trees in my new backyard. His name was Jonathan (never Jon) and he had a slight German accent. It turned out that his birthday was two weeks after mine (except for leap years) and we were both soon to become sons of single mothers.
By April we were both four and outdoors as often as we could manage. It may seem strange today, but it was common for us to be out playing unattended in our unfenced back yards at that age. I didn’t know it, but our mothers were in telephone contact and one or the other would have us in view.
Jonathan and I were different. I was a rule follower while he was a free spirit. My bedroom had books and stuffed animals and toy cars. His had a mini jungle gym and a rope swing. I liked to climb trees. He liked to poke critters with sticks. He talked a lot. I liked to sing. He sometimes wandered from the house without clothes. I learned to tie my own shoes on my fourth birthday.
But we were fast friends despite our differences. In the three and a half years we were close neighbors we went through critical life changes. We both lost the men in our lives. My parents divorced, my grandfather died, and later my father moved out of state. His father died in an accident in their garage one evening. He went out to work on his hobbies and didn’t come in for dinner.
We started school together, too. Our mothers walked us up to the front door where we parted ways and didn’t see each other again until afternoon. We often walked to and from school together, but in three grades we only shared a classroom for less than two months.
By the time we finished Kindergarten we were six and old enough to roam the backyards of our neighborhood. We befriended an older boy down the street, Bobby, and got to play with his dog. Then Jonathan got a dog, too, and we turned into a pack.
We started out on tricycles when we met. Soon I had a two-wheeler, but Jonathan’s mother held off for a while. The summer before first grade Jonathan got an expensive and flashy “Chopper” bike. Then we were off to the races. We could go up to Bobby’s house, ride the cornfield road, and race up and down his long driveway.
To say we were inseparable would be a stretch. But most of the time we were best friends. We learned a lot about life together and about loss and loneliness. And then we learned about parting.
I was the first to move away, but soon moved back. Then my mother remarried, and I moved across town, but I was still in the same school and we had lunches and recess together. After second grade, his mother remarried, and they moved to Clinton, two towns away. But some new kids had moved in next door to me, so I wasn’t lonely that summer.
During the second month of my third grade year, my parents bought a house in Clinton. I was excited to be near Jonathan again, but the story has a strange twist. When I started at the new school, I learned that Jonathan was not in the third grade. They had held him back and was doing second grade over. We didn’t have lunch or recess together and I seldom saw him. And he was adopted by his step-father, so his last name had changed.
Jonathan’s house was not near mine, but it was near my mother’s office. Several times I went to visit his house, but things were different. There was a little brother for one. But Jonathan was different. I thought we had gone through the same experiences together, but apparently things were different.
Even at the tender age of eight I knew something was wrong when he remained in second grade. Jonathan was an intelligent child. He was smarter than me. I was in the top group in school. So what was wrong with Jonathan? Then my mother told me than Jonathan stayed back for “emotional” reasons. And that made sense to my young mind, because he seemed oddly immature to me.
I don’t know why things affect children differently. We are all so different. For a little while I thought I might have failed him. I remember wanting to fix it and not knowing what to do.
After fourth grade, I never saw him again. He receded from our friendship during his third grade year, even though we could have spent lunch and recess together. For fifth grade, I moved to middle school, but I shifted to private schools after that.
I hope that he found peace and excelled by high school. He had the smarts and the energy. And if I am offered the chance to meet him again, I will. Even if I just finally admit to him how jealous I was about the incredible bike.