I don’t remember meeting Kristen, but we’ve been told the story so many times that I feel like I do: I was 3, Kristen was 4. I was wearing yellow, my favorite color at the time, from head to toe. She was at the park with her older siblings. I was there with my dad. They all encouraged us to play.
Very quickly, Kristen and I became best friends. Our childhood was marked by her mom yelling at us for climbing the fence in her back yard, singing Good Charlotte while we tried to break into her forbidden attic and telling secrets late at night until my mom came in to tell us to be quiet. When I was 11, my mom died and I moved in with my dad, who lived about an hour away. Kristen was the only person I could really talk to about missing my mom and our life together. I called her every day after school and visited her at least one weekend a month.
When I was 13, I came out as queer. Kristen was one of the first people I told. “What if I like girls?” I asked her over AOL Instant Messenger, and then paused my mouse over the “away” message button, wanting to take it back. I typed again quickly, and then pressed enter: “What if I like you?”
“Maybe I like you back,” Kristen said. Was she queer, too? Maybe I’d gotten those vibes when I was hugging her extra-tight to see how she’d respond. Maybe I’d felt something when I grabbed her hand on Halloween, pretending it was a “just friends” thing.
We began dating almost immediately. All my AIM away messages were signed with the date we became “official.” We’d write each other love letters during class and store them in a pile for when we saw each other. These letters weren’t much different from the ones we’d written before we started dating, except that they said things like: “Do you love me? Check yes, no or maybe.” I bought a pair of best friend necklaces at a Claire’s accessories store and gave one to her, explaining: “But it’s for you as a girlfriend.” I never took mine off, even when my dad told me I was going to get it tangled in my sleep and choke to death.
We were together for about two or three months, which felt like forever when I was 13. We’d kissed three times but we weren’t allowed to “make out,” according to my dad, who let her sleep over but made us keep the door open when she was over. We held hands when we went on dates to the mall and the movies, and I yelled loudly at every straight guy who snickered.
One day, Kristen told me that she didn’t think she was bisexual any more. “I like a guy,” she told me. “I think we should just be best friends.”
Kristen and I stayed friends but barely. She didn’t love me the way I loved her, and that was hard to handle. She no longer wanted to be prom dates when we got to high school. Every time I looked at her, all I could think about was that she liked somebody else. Someone who wasn’t me, someone who hadn’t fought over a locket with her when we were 10; someone who hadn’t stayed up until 4 a.m. with her playing Sorry; someone who hadn’t cried with her while reading the book “Searching For David’s Heart” out loud to each other at a sleepover.
We toned down our monthly sleepovers to seasonal, and our other best friend, Jessica, became the glue that kept our friendship together. All of our hangouts were the three of us, because one-on-one hurt me too much. I dated a few other girls, but I never really connected with them. It wasn’t until I started crushing on a new girl, Macey, who was also a friend, that I finally felt comfortable around Kristen again.
Kristen was dating one of her guy friends, and I started dating Macey. Almost immediately, things were different with Macey. When I reached for her hand, I could tell that she wanted to hold it. We didn’t listen to the rules about making out. I’d glance at the clock and realize we’d been talking on the phone for four hours.
When I was 15, my easy best friendship with Kristen started to fall back into place. We joked that both of us were so socially awkward that we’re “undateable,” which not only makes me wonder how we’re both in long-term relationships but also how we ever dated each other. It’s a joke we make now every time we do something awkward, such as make weird eye contact with a waiter after a laughing fit at the Cheesecake Factory, or talk about someone we find attractive in front of them in Gibberish, a code similar to pig Latin that Jessica taught us when we were 12.
This past August, on the anniversary of my mom’s death, I got out of work and started driving on Interstate 93. I wasn’t sure where I was going until I ended up in my childhood neighborhood in Malden, Mass., and passed the park where Kristen and I met. I texted her: “Are you around? Sorry it’s last minute. It’s my mom’s death anniversary. I didn’t plan this, I just ended up here.”
She immediately told me to come over, and we sat outside on her porch, hiding from the heat under an umbrella. Just beyond the fence in her back yard, I could see the park where we met. “I’m so mad that they covered up the sand with concrete,” I said. “I never found my Sailor Moon locket,” a trinket I’d buried when we were 7 during a game of Treasure Hunting. We stayed on her porch until the sun turned burnt orange and I started getting hungry.
Kristen and I still hang out, and we’ve even gone on double dates a few times. With her sarcastic banter with her boyfriend, and my inside jokes with my girlfriend, it’s obvious — Kristen and I are still soul mates. Just not in the way I thought we were when I was 13.