I lost my best friend Colin when we were both 10 years old. It was the summer of 1994, a beautiful year in my memory, when everything was bright under the sun, and I had few worries beyond the play of childhood. In the last few months of fifth grade—just before summer—though I constantly felt like an outcast with my painful shyness, Colin was always there. In a sea of kids I just didn’t connect with, he was a lifeline.
Colin’s face was slightly angular, with lots of freckles, high cheekbones, and a ton of brown hair like my own, and inquisitive hazel eyes. From the day we met in second grade, he seemed to understand me completely, and so there bloomed that special sort of childhood bond that seems to happen once in a lifetime, if at all.
Colin and I spent summers exploring the woods beyond our houses, jumping in between the boulders in the local creek behind the elementary school, playing Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis in the basement of his house. We had grown close over the years, and at the close of the school year that summer, we both endured incessant teasing from the other kids in our grade about how we were “dating.” Colin and I both knew it was nothing beyond the bounds of a true friendship. At that age it was impossible for me to even grasp the significance of dating and all that would entail. I remember our hidden code: We would get off the school bus, say goodbye and walk at opposite sides of the street, waiting until the other kids dispersed; and then once he got to his house, I would run as fast as I could to the open door as he waved me inside with a bright smile.
A month after school ended, Colin called me. “I need to tell you something,” He said. I walked over to Colin’s house, and he was sitting on the front step with an expression of utter sadness. “I’m moving away,” he said, looking away from me. The tree growing above his house rustled in the summer wind. I stared at the swaying branches, reeling, my heart squeezing in my chest.
“When?” I asked. “In a few days,” He said. “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you where I’m going.” I said nothing, trying to digest his words. I knew I couldn’t argue about it, privy to no details; he hadn’t mentioned anything about moving during the school year, or during the previous month.
I asked anyway. “I can’t even call you?” I hated the thinly veiled desperation in my voice, but Colin only looked at me with compassion. “No, you can’t,” he said, and I nodded and looked away from the tone of finality in his voice.
“I’ll come by the day after tomorrow to say goodbye, then,” I said, trying to hold back tears and failing.
“OK,” he said, and he reached out with his arms. I hugged him too tightly, no longer concerned what others thought, but only for a few moments. It still didn’t feel like enough. He hugged back, and then I pulled away quickly and ran home as fast as I could, not looking back as I began to cry in earnest. One day went by. I didn’t bother to call, figuring Colin needed time to pack with his family.
The day after, I once again walked over to his house, bracing myself for a painful goodbye. I got to the house and knocked; no answer. Puzzled, I looked inside the front window: all the furniture in the house was gone, empty. It was as if the family vanished into thin air, gone in a puff of smoke. They had already left. I stood in shock for several moments, then fell slowly to the front steps in anguish. I tried not to cry and then broke down, weeping into the crook of my arm. Colin was gone.
He isn’t dead, I told myself. It’s not like he died, it’s just that I’ll never see him again. But at least he’s alive. The reasoning of my young mind didn’t soothe my broken heart, however. He is alive, I told myself later, but I will never see him again, so I lost him just the same. Despite my best efforts, I could not argue with this point. So began a new chapter of my life. Of course I made other friends, moved on, grew up. But I never saw Colin again, and the joy of our friendship has always been tarnished by its sudden and inexplicable loss.
I’d say: Colin, I don’t care that you didn’t tell me, that you couldn’t tell me, where you were going. I don’t care who you have become, who you are with, what you experienced. I know the person you were, the person I was, and the friendship we shared, and I know it was a real one. When you and I pledged to be best friends forever, I know we both meant it. The only thing I would change, is the last day I saw you I would hug you just a bit tighter, for a bit longer, and wave goodbye to you instead of running away.