In America 9/19

You think, people can’t be friends like this. Things can’t last forever. But it’s another year gone by, and she’s still here, and so are you. When everything is blowing up, you cling to that, that some things don’t change.

You had to know her when she was eight to really get it. You had to know her as an eight-year-old who had no friends, who walked around and around the border of the playground because she had nothing else to do, and suddenly beside her was a funny girl with long hair and rainbow-striped socks who told silly stories. That was the first great gift she gave you, this knowing that there was one person who didn’t care if anybody else liked you, she liked you. She was that confident in her own choices. You envied that confidence, along with other things: her artless beauty, her cool parents, her funky house, her dog.

In the third grade you played with Star Wars toys and promised one another: I will be the maid of honor at your wedding to Luke Skywalker. I will be the maid of honor at your wedding to Han Solo. A dozen years later she stood so tall and lovely at your wedding, a glamorous girl with piles of curls and a long black dress. You weren’t marrying Han Solo but she was there, that part of the childhood dream came true. You reminded her of that when she burst into tears as you put on your wedding dress. How many people keep promises like that? Not many, you suspect.

You ate cheetos until your fingers turned orange and ran around the playground pretending to film your stuck-up classmates. You fought in the sixth grade because there was another girl you thought she liked better, a stupid fight, and now you can’t believe you wasted ten seconds of being her friend over something like that. In the seventh grade she moved three states away and you thought you’d die of the agony until the first letter arrived. You have the letters, all of them, stuffed in a plastic bag, and every now and again you look at them: There’s a picture of the two of you at Girl Scout camp, in short shorts and stringy hair. The zipper on her duffel bag had gotten stuck and all her clothes were trapped inside; she wore the same shirt for days. She remembers all the names, first and last, of your grade school classmates.

You lost touch and found it again, went months between phone calls or e-mails but she never got mad about it, just talked to you until you’d caught up. You visited her in high school and partied with her friends, who accepted you because she liked you and that was enough for them. You kissed a boy she’d liked at a party and she didn’t even get mad.

She married a boy you’d love to have as a brother, who truly gets how funny and kind and generous she is, and when they came to visit you you rented movies and spent so much time laughing and talking, laughing until your sides hurt and you couldn’t breathe, that you forgot to watch half of them. You stood up at her wedding and tried to be eloquent, but all you could think to say was that you loved her and were proud of her. She kept her promise again, asked you to be there.

The goofball thing hides a strength so profound you’re awed by it; in times you wouldn’t write about she just looked ahead, said, “okay, we’ll do this now.” Everyone around her fell apart; good god, you wondered, what would you do without her? She lifted her head, stubborn as a damn mule, and refused to give up.

You have new friends now, people who don’t go back that far. People you met last week, people to whom you are, essentially, a blank slate. But there’s such perfect safety in knowing that somebody knows everything, every single stupid mistake, and somehow refuses to give up on you. In knowing that you can talk about DeRango’s Pizza and Mrs. Letsch and your stuffed hippo, and she’ll know what all that means. She remembers your sister as a baby, and is as amazed as you that the little girl you played with is going on 20 now. Your friendship is going on 21.

Nobody, nobody on earth, can make you laugh like she does, and she’s still the one you call when you’re about to do something stupid and want to be talked out of it. And the best thing about her is that sometimes she encourages you to go ahead and do the stupid thing anyway, because it’s just so much fun.

Happy birthday, Beanie.