This photo was taken of my two best friends at my sixth birthday party. during the summer between kindergarten and first grade.
I know it was my 6th birthday because of the bicycle with the balloons on it in the background. (The Smurf motif could have covered a few different years.) The three of us met the summer before Kindergarten, when we were four years old.
I’ve known those little girls for over thirty years.
When people talk about BFFs, I’m not sure they even remember that it stands for “Best Friends Forever”. I’m not certain they even understand what that means.
Me, I know what it means. I’ve got two of them, right here.
When the three of us were in Brownies together, they had a song that we’d sing in a round. Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold. I liked the tune. I liked the sound of little girls’ voices singing it in a round. I like that it’s simple enough that I remember it 30-odd years later. But let me tell you, those six-year old little girls singing the Brownie song? They didn’t get it. They didn’t understand what the value of old friends would be, because their concept of an “old friend” was limited.
What is the value of a friend who has known you for most of your life?
Perspective. Memory, Mirroring. Honesty. Familiarity. Comfort. Safety.
I admit to suffering from a little existential despair from time to time. I think Sartre had it right when he explained the nausea of never knowing how the rest of the world perceives us. I also remember the three things that we can do to glimpse what others might see: sleep and dreams, mirrors, and love.
I think, maybe, that long lasting girlfriends are the kind of love he meant, way more than romantic love. Romantic love has blinders. It has desires. A romantic love doesn’t want to hurt our feelings for the sake of perhaps stealing a kiss. A platonic friend’s love, however can tell the bitter truth because this is a service you provide one another.
A friend who you trust in the now can tell you honestly whether jeans make your butt look good. Worth shiny silver!
A friend who has known you forever can tell you honestly whether you’re being true to yourself. Now that, that’s gold.
I had fallen out of touch with both of these tremendous women during our 20s. I reconnected with each of them about eight years ago. One I hike with. The blonde in the birthday hat, the woman on the right in the photo is Choir Girl, the fearless leader of the AT adventures.
The other, I probably talk more on the phone with than anyone else, to this day. We spent our teen years disrupting party lines, and now her kids ask “Are you on the phone with Alicia?” I don’t know whether they can tell it’s me because of the special timber of her voice, or because of the time we spend talking and the range of topics we cover.
Sometimes, we forget patterns and stories from our childhoods. Having someone else’s memory banks to dip into can be invaluable to figure out patterns that are repeating themselves now.
And sometimes, sometimes the thing we need most is the comfort of being around someone who knows us so well that we don’t have to put on any masks. We can just be.
That’s what BFFs are. That’s what they mean. They mean people who know you better than you know yourself and who are unafraid to tell you so.