I already missed my cousin, David, when we rolled up to our new home, a two-hour drive from our old one. I missed all my cousins of course, and now lived closer to others, but David was my first best friend, more like twins, down to the same shade of hair (though he was a year younger). I didn’t want to move. Most of our belongings were already inside and I felt lonely.
My worry about new friends dissipated very quickly, however, as I looked several trailers down the grey-rock-covered roads to one with a large square yard edged with a simple brick-red, wooden fence. A wiry little girl with wild amber hair climbed all over that fence and we watched each other. I think she waved and called, “Hi!”
I looked up at my mom. “Well, go on, make a friend.” And so I walked over and met my new best friend. At this point many memories push for attention, we spent a LOT of time together, sleeping over at each others’ houses, weathering hard times, going on adventures.
At one point I was playing with my little brother around our trailer area (a game of chase, I think) when a somewhat older girl, Beth, opened her door and yelled at me for playing too loudly while her little sister was trying to sleep. We considered Beth a friend and I apologized and managed to stay quiet all of 15 more minutes, though I did stay away from her trailer. Apparently Beth wanted total silence all over the park. She stomped back out of her trailer to the small field across the rock-covered road and called me over.
I started apologizing and explaining how I thought we were far enough away now when she slammed her fist into my stomach, knocking my breath out. I doubled over in tears and ran home crying. It hurt badly enough that I didn’t even notice the sharp little rocks that usually meant agony on my bare feet.
I cried in my bedroom as my mother went outside and talked to hers. All I really remember after that was seeing police officers between our two yards and finding out someone called them on Amber, my best friend. Somehow, she found out what happened and it took police intervention to peel this 9-year-old wildcat off the (13-year-old? 15?) bully who sucker punched her best friend (I was 10).
I remember being shocked when I found out. She was my hero. She still is. I looked up to her and her loyal protectiveness inspires me still today. She taught me then to stand up for myself, something I’m still learning, I confess. She made me feel like I was worth standing up for. Sadly enough, I never had a friend do anything like that before. A few quick examples come to mind. Primarily, my friend Sarah, who acted like I was a barely tolerated nuisance when any other friend visited her (to the point I usually left crying while my big sister seethed over why I bothered to call that “brat” a friend in the first place). Even David, when one of his school friends started hanging out with us, wanted me to go away and pushed me down in the waves at the beach because his friend laughed and found me annoying (we were really little and he was sorry later and never did anything like it again). Not that nobody ever defended me, my sister and mother got pretty protective many times as well (among others). Amber was just the first time a friend not only didn’t play part in being mean because others were, but made the other person sorely (literally) regret their cruelty.
We drifted a little apart after my family moved again. I remember she had a mind to confront my middle school bully too. Our mothers even agreed to a sleep over on a school night thinking it might help the bullying situation. Straight-laced me almost decided to skip school with her instead when she suggested it. I knew Amber easily outmatched Tanya (the bully), size difference aside, and she might even stop her like she stopped Beth. Then again, whatever Amber dished out might be visited on me as soon as my protector returned home. Either way, given how they treated my friend, Charlee (the ignored me for once in favor of throwing rocks at her for being my friend), I knew confrontation would happen. I chose confrontation avoidance and purposely debating long enough about skipping that we missed the bus. Then my mom drove by and spotted us clearly not at the bus stop and drove us to school. We told her we missed the bus. As much as I wished for an end to the bullying, I wanted my valiant defender unpunished for her support.
So, one of my childhood best friends, Amber Richards. She inspires many of my strong female characters. Plenty of attitude, loyal, fiercely protective, smart, strong, and perhaps a little bossy. There’s a reason “Boss” became one of her nicknames. I miss her lots and wish we lived close enough for routine visits. We’ll have to settle for virtual coffee and occasional exchanges on Facebook.
I love you Amber.
I look forward to hearing about your childhood best friend in comments. What memory sticks out most?