How I Reconnected With My Childhood Best Friend

7 minute read
Karp is a freelance writer with a background in speech-language pathology. Her work has been published in The Cut, Salon, Newsweek, Insider, and other outlets.

It was raining the night we made our pact, sealed by the sacred act of a pinky swear. My childhood best friend and I sat on her bedroom floor and promised to be one another’s maid of honor. We were 10 years old, and it seemed like nothing could come between us. We couldn’t imagine anyone else fulfilling the role.

We were naively confident, but then we had been inseparable since the day we’d met in 1989, when she stood timidly behind her mother in the doorway of our classroom, joining first grade after the school year had already begun. Her desk was placed next to mine, and we quickly bonded over her dazzling array of markers, pastels and neons included.

Soon, she became not just a friend, but family. At her home, I’d indulge in treats and activities my parents didn’t allow, devouring Mallomars before dinner and experimenting with a handheld saw in her father’s wood shop. Sleepovers under her canopy bed were akin to spending the night with a sister. Her older brother and I had an ongoing sibling rivalry, further establishing the family-like atmosphere I felt in their presence.

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Her home became an extension of my own and it stayed that way for six years. Our families grew close through Friday dinners at the deli and summer camping trips where a lack of modern plumbing was offset by the tranquility of the lake. When my parents had to work, I stayed with hers and vice versa.

By fifth grade, we were producing our own radio show on cassette tape and developing a secret language. We listened to Ace of Base as we sifted through magazines of extravagant gowns, drew sketches of our wedding days, and imagined our future husbands. We envisioned our children growing up together with the same closeness we shared. I was outspoken and she was quieter, more gentle, but we balanced one another perfectly.

On the first day of middle school, we entered a new building unaware that it was our last first day together. At the end of sixth grade, my best friend moved 11 hours away. Our lives had woven together, yet we were torn apart, like strands of a Twizzler in the hands of a child. I was forced to walk the halls of a large school without the comfort I’d come to depend on. I’d drive past her home to find another child playing in the yard.

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We spent a month together at camp during the next two summers, but it wasn’t the same. The distance between us had etched a gap, separating our lives, even though she slept below me in our shared bunk bed. We’d each matured into new versions of ourselves, and our lives didn’t mesh like they used to.

The last time I saw her was in the summer of 1997 when my family visited her new home after our 14th birthdays. We then drifted apart, only reconnecting through social media every so often.

The author and her friend in a childhood photo.
The author and her friend in a childhood photo.Courtesy Lindsay Karp

I met my husband when I was 23, and when it came time to plan our wedding, I hadn’t seen my friend in almost a decade. Her friendship felt antiquated—a splendor of the past without pertinence in my modern-day world. So I never asked her to be a bridesmaid, let alone my maid of honor. It simply didn’t make sense to me.

When she learned of my bridal party through a post on social media, she reached out, aching from my abandonment of our childhood promise. “I’m not even sure who I’ll ask now,” she admitted. I was confused, unsure of what to say, and my awkward response ended our phone conversation.

Neither of us attended the other’s wedding, and I thought our friendship was over. We had drifted too far apart, I told myself, people move on.

I now believe I made a mistake.

Since becoming a mother 11 years ago, I’ve missed my friend deeply and wondered if perhaps I too easily let go of something irreplaceable. Seeing my boys trick-or-treating with their closest friends reminded me of the times we gallivanted around our neighborhood in costumes and devoured more Reese’s than our parents realized. Watching them kayak on our summer vacation reminded me of our camping trips and how we swam in the lake with our brothers and chased fireflies into the evening. As birthday parties come and go, I recall the celebrations we shared at the skating rink, the arcade, and the YMCA gym.

Not only was my best friend a piece of my childhood—she was my childhood. A pact I’d assumed no longer held the value it once did has started to feel equally as important as the vow I made to my husband on our wedding day. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become harder to build new connections that mean as much to me as the one that began over markers. I’ve yearned for the friendship I miss most and asked myself if it really was too late.

On a recent night, as the rain pounded my roof just as it did the day of that pinky swear, I wondered if she felt the same. Has she also looked back to the days of cassette tapes and a secret language with longing? Would she find it silly that I miss swinging with her at recess and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the cafeteria? Was she still hurt from my unkept promise? If I reached out and she didn’t reciprocate, I’d be hurt—but I needed to try to bring her back into my life because her absence feels like a misplaced puzzle piece as I wander through motherhood, watching my boys live the years I lived with her.

I began typing in messenger: I’m sorry about the wedding party. I miss you- I miss your family- and I miss the idea of our children growing up together. Please, let’s reconnect. I clicked send and crossed my fingers tightly as we used to when we were little.

Minutes later, there they were—the words I’d hoped to see: You shouldn’t feel bad at all or have any regrets about the wedding party. I made the same mistake.

I asked her to text me whenever she felt inclined to—please reach out about anything. We couldn’t reclaim the years we spent apart, but that didn’t mean the future had to be the same.

Picking up right where we left off wasn’t an option. She still lives 11 hours away, we’re both busy moms with personal and professional responsibilities, and there’s so much we don’t know about each other after all this time. But since our initial reconnection, we’ve texted multiple times, and even discussed the possibility of meeting halfway with our families.

Maybe, one day, we can watch our kids kick a soccer ball together. Maybe we’ll take our families on a summer camping trip like the ones we went on as kids. Perhaps our reunion will become an annual celebration of a friendship that defined our childhoods. Or maybe we’ll simply talk from time to time, knowing that we’re just a text or phone call away and the regrets from our past are behind us. It’s not the same as having her here beside me. But maybe it’s enough.

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