missing friendships.

My best friend when I was a kid was Tyler Nelson. We were in kindergarten together. Even then I knew he was a good foil for me. He enjoyed physical challenges. I enjoyed mathematics and spelling. I once told him "You be the brawn; I'll be the brains!" Betty and Susan fought over him as their partner in gym, and girls remain a mystery to me. He watched Black Hawk Down, and the scene when the Toy Story bully's misfit toys come out still gave me nightmares. He could wrestle his older brother like an equal; I could only tease mine until punches led to melodramatic tears. We ran laps around other kids while talking about N64 shooter games. We traded words about what a crank the recess cop Mrs. Mallard was until we came up with the perfect line, "She needs a vacation." He told me to look after his girlfriend Kristina when we went to different middle schools. We both intimidated those brats who stole our skateboards (we left out). We both got freaked out by the zombie level of Metal Slug, but swore to beat the game one day. We were both there when his mom slapped his brother in the kitchen for swearing on God's name for a lie, and I can still recall smoothly speed-skating down the steep, dimly-lit slopes of his apartment complex just before his brother broke his leg the year we graduated 8th grade.

Then we were both freshmen in high school, and every solid memory evaporates into a haze. Maybe his brother moved in with his dad, and he did too? I didn't know enough to pay attention then. I remember even then wistfully thinking about the Sims 3 tip, "Friendships are like potted plants; you have to water them daily or miss them when they wither" as I let my first and most steady best-friendship disintegrate. Entropy wins the day when good people do nothing. In high school, I made new friends and kept old frenemies, and as a history was being written into each of our lives, the same mistake was retraced as friendships so rich went unappreciated by a boy so poor in spirit.

My friends graduated high school and went to the four corners of the earth, well, mostly in-state universities, while I remained homebound. History repeated and I was none the wiser for it. My insecurity manifested inward and outward. I let fester what could have been a fun summer relationship into a miserable monthlong-distance boyfriendship. I stopped being in communion-by-proximity with my friend-circle and stopped reaching out using these beautiful phones that erase distance & teleport voices. I stopped writing texts and writing altogether. I isolated. In some poorly-constructed illusion of safety from loss, I stopped manifesting my insecurity outward and grew inward, and that manifested itself deeper as an eternal depression. I was completely stopped, so I slept. I slept on friendships and I kept distance from brave initiators. I rejected invites to leave my handmade hell. Better to suffer alone than for others to suffer by my hand became my maxim. I was a sulking, introspective ghost of a teenager whose leading trait of playfulness had soured into self-seriousness. I clung desperately to each hand of every kind person who gave to me when I only took, a black hole of need. The saving hand of my mother helped me up. The guiding hand of a therapist led me out. Then I got an honest job for the first time in my adulthood. Next came romantic feelings after a half-year of self-work. Followed by a better job, a committed girlfriend, the crushing blow of a layoff beaten away by an even more fulfilling job, then yet more encouragements and disappointments and changes.

Now I'm reclaiming, mourning and celebrating my lost time and friendships and loves fought for & forgotten. I'm missing all my missed connections. I have so much love in my heart, and "the heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love." Inward and outward.

Adam Papes