Do you remember the first time we met? Twelve years old, first day of secondary school. You sat beside me in Irish class, then talked to me to kill the boredom.
But that’s not actually the first time we met, is it?
When I was seven, I went to a park with my mum. While she was playing with my sister on one of the slides, a little girl with curly hair appeared beside me and said “You look lonely.”
I thought that was a very rude thing to be saying to a complete stranger so all I did was give her a quick glare and then looked away. I didn’t realise that was you until years after we had met.
That’s just something about you that’s always been true. You always have some insight to impart when it’s needed most. Because you were right. Of course, you were right. I was so lonely. And then, there you were.
Do you remember my first break-up? Derek Lucey, the little prick. Dumped me two months after we started dating, directly after a cinema date but before we could go to either of our houses.
I was devastated, because that’s what you are when you’re fifteen and you’ve never been in love before. You are devastated by people who will mean nothing to you in the future.
He broke up with me, and I almost slapped him, but instead I ran crying to your house. And of course it was raining, so by the time you opened the door I was soaked to the bone.
You took me upstairs to your bedroom, you gave me a fresh towel to dry myself off, and some dry clothes to wear. You went downstairs and made me a hot chocolate with two huge marshmallows and brought me three chocolate biscuits.
I told you what had happened. You didn’t say much, but just being there was enough. You let me sip my drink in relative silence and absent-mindedly played with my drying hair. I had never felt so comfortable in my life.
Do you remember my sixteenth birthday? We had one of those classic birthday parties you see in the movies - bowling alley, arcade, pizza, and cake. It was you, Amy, Sarah, Jason, and David.
You won bowling, by the way, I don’t know if you remember that. I thought you would let me win, what with it being my birthday and all, but no. You didn’t let up. Have you ever considered going pro? You’d be good at it.
We had one pepperoni pizza and one cheese pizza to share amongst the five of us. David wanted Hawaiian, but you and Amy reminded him that you’re both allergic to pineapple. Funny how rare that is and yet there were two of you there.
The food isn’t why I bring this memory up though. And it’s not the bowling game either. It’s the friendship I felt that day. Four might seem like a low turnout for a birthday party, but all four of you were there for me.
And you in particular. What did you get me for my birthday? I wasn’t expecting much. Who does, from their fellow teens? I think Amy was the only other person to get me a present, and hers was just a Penney’s voucher. Appreciated, but nothing too radical.
You got me a CD. Joni Mitchell’s Blue. A classic if ever I heard one. You said it was your favourite album, and you thought I would like it too. And you were right, again.
I loved that album. I still do. I sat on my bed and listened to it from start to finish and thought about you doing the same. What do these songs make you think about? Do you think about me when you listen to it now?
Still didn’t let me win at bowling though, did you?
Do you remember the time you saved my life? We’d always lived near the beach but I didn’t like going often. Swimming was never really my thing. But it was a nice summer’s day, and we figured why not? A bit of sun and water couldn’t hurt.
Of course, that was what you said. I was indifferent to the whole idea. Not because of my already established apathy towards bodies of water. I was in a strange state of depression that summer.
Coming to the end of the school year I entered a sort of fugue state where I just went through the motions without really thinking about any of it.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my future. I didn’t know what I wanted to become. I didn’t know who I was going to love and if I would ever find someone to love me the same way. I felt lost.
That’s why, ten minutes after entering the water, I decided to stop floating.
I don’t know how long I was underwater. I don’t know how long it took you to notice. I don’t know if you realised what happened or why I did it. But the next thing I knew you were dragging me to the sand and breathing air into my lungs.
I coughed up water and tried to breathe again. And I looked up at you staring down at me. The sun was directly behind your head, forming a sort of halo that cast your face in shade so that I almost couldn’t see you. But your piercing worried eyes shot right through me.
I had never felt so seen in my entire life. I had wanted to disappear and then you pulled me out of the water and I wanted to lie in your shadow forever.
Do you remember what you said to me the night before graduation? You stayed over at mine, in some kind of mirror of that break up night. We ate crisps and drank coke, and chatted late into the night.
We were sitting opposite each other, cross-legged on the floor at 1am. There had been silence for a short time as tiredness was finally starting to wash over us, then out of nowhere you spoke.
“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Ruth. I never thought I would ever meet anyone who just… got me. You make me feel like I’m not alone, you know? You’re always there to say something, or to hug me, or to laugh at my stupid jokes. I’ll never meet anyone like you again. And I don’t care what we do after this, what colleges we go to, what jobs we get, where we live, who we marry. I want to be your friend forever. Sorry, is that too much?”
No. It’s not too much. I stared at you, mouth agape, because I felt the exact same way. I didn’t reply. I burst into tears, and you held me tightly.
Do you remember? Do you remember any of this? How often do you think of me? Have I crossed your mind at all in the last 10 years?
I loved you, Alyssa. You were my first friend, my best friend, and then you went away. It’s not your fault, of course. Sometimes people just grow apart. But when we grew up, our roots were entangled.
We nurtured each other, listened to each other, helped each other. You enriched me and made me into the person I am today. You said that you wanted us to always be friends, always be together. Like a team, an unbreakable duo.
But we didn’t. We went to different colleges. We called for a while, but then we talked less and less, and then one day you just weren’t my friend anymore. You slipped away and I don’t even know if you remember me. Do you remember me?
Do you remember all of the things you did for me, big and small? Do you remember what it felt like to share conversations with someone who really understood you and felt understood by you?
Do you remember me the way that I remember you? Do you lie awake at night and stare at the ceiling in search of my eyes? Do you think that I have forgotten you?
Please. Please, pick up the phone. I remember you. I remember everything.