My first best friends were girls. The first of them all was S, the daughter of one of Dad’s best friends. She was born exactly a week after me, so having known her all my life, I guess she’s my oldest friend. She was the princess, I was the prince, her baby brother was the horse, as we got ready to live these lives of ours happily ever after. Just not together.
Then there was M, a girl I played with at Grandma’s place when I was maybe three or four, and us being friends seemed to be a big deal for Grandma who used to often bring it up years later.
“Oh, I remember how you guys used to play here, in that sandbox over there,” she’d say.
Or, “You were so cute, you and your friend M.”
Yes, then there was M. My best friend. Her name wasn’t M, of course, it was Monika. She was a pretty little girl with a sandy blonde hair. I was a little younger, a little smaller boy in a cool hat, and we played outside Grandma’s kitchen window. We probably did everything together that summer, and I’m sure we were inseparable. When Monika started a sentence, I finished it. And then we laughed and Grandma would pour us more of her homemade juice.
Oh, Monika. How we laughed, and shared stories.
Oh, Monika, not only do I not have any idea of where you are, I have no idea who you are. Or were.
Kids don’t need much to become friends, or at least to play together. All they need is a space. The parents can then just push the kids closer to each other, tell them to play, and they will.
I have a photo of Monika somewhere, and I’ve heard stories of us being friends so many times it’s sort of become a part of the family legend: The summer of Risto and Monika.
However, if I’ve been told why she was at Grandma’s that summer, I’ve forgot about it. Maybe her mom worked there, because I assume that had we been related, we would have met again over the years. Maybe she had been sent out to a farm for the summer, maybe she was there visiting just for a day, or a week, but it’s become a little bigger than that in the stories.
Not that there are stories, in plural. There isn’t even a story, in singular. There isn’t a story of us doing anything specific, there’s no narrative of Risto and Monika setting out to do anything. There’s just the memory of us playing together that summer.
Since I don’t know who she was, she could be anybody I meet. I’ve worked with a Monika in Finland, maybe that’s her? Maybe she was that woman who sat behind me on the plane last week? Maybe she was moved to Sweden and works at my grocery store? I’ve seen several sandy blondes there.
Maybe that’s how I should think about people in general. What if the lady cutting in front of me in traffic were Monika? Surely I’d just wave and smile and let her go. What if Monika was the bus driver who closed the door even though she must have seen running towards the bus? Well, we all have our jobs to do.
After all, we were friends once. We’re friends.