We were just kids when we met, me and Bridget. She was a bit of a bully even then. Not really a bully. But even then she was demanding and overly critical. She didn’t play well with the other kids in the neighborhood. She often chose to play alone by herself rather than join in our reindeer games.
And I knew why.
I used to climb into her bedroom window when we were like ten. Up the trellis, along the porch roof, and I climbed right in. Bridget was always a heavy sleeper so it always took some doing to wake her up and not wake her parents. We’d sneak out to the tree house in the woods behind our yards. We don’t know who built it. It was just there.
There we’d sit, criss-cross applesauce and over the glow of our flashlights tell each other our deepest secrets. I knew all of Bridget’s secrets. There weren’t many, and they weren’t terribly nefarious. But I knew her biggest secret of all. She was afraid of everything.
Bugs, bats, frogs, flying, falling, losing, failing. You name it, Bridget feared it. But most of all, she feared people. People being disappointed in her, people not liking her, and people knowing how scared of everything she truly was.
So she played tough guy. She was good at it, too. No one knew that behind her tough exterior there was a scared and frightened little girl. No one but me.
We were close all through school. Even when it got to the point where boys and girls weren’t supposed to be friends anymore. We still sat together at lunch, ignoring the snickers and chuckles from the other ten year olds. It never made sense for Bridget and I not to be together.
By the time I realized I was in love with her, it was way too late. Our friendship was too critical to each other’s survival to mess with it. I tried to kiss her once, but she just laughed at me. To this day, I pretend that I was too drunk to remember any of it.
So, I settled. Better to have her for a friends than to not have her at all. I settled for her friendships and tried to move on
I dated. A lot. And I tried really hard not to compare them, but none of them could even hold the match that lit Bridgey’s candle. They were all just wax with no flame.
I was hopeless. It was hopeless. All I could do was stand by and wish for Bridget to be happy. That was all I really wanted. Ever.
My alarm sounded before dawn. I hated that. Waking in the darkness. Jolted out of sleep by some horrendous beeping, heart pounding, palms sweating. Every morning I woke up like this.
Needless to say, I was not exactly a morning person.
It didn’t help that I didn’t exactly look forward to going to work every day. Don’t get me wrong. I was grateful that I had any kind of a job in this economy. Most of my fellow college graduates couldn’t get any job after we graduated. So I tried not to complain about mine, even though it had absolutely nothing to do with what I studied in college or what I wanted to do with my life. It was a job. It paid well. So I didn’t mind.
Except in the mornings.
Mornings had always been tough for me. I was always a heavy sleeper. “You sleep like you’re dead,” Kip always said. But I was nowhere near dead. Inside my head, I was alive. I had the most spectacular, vivid dreams. Every night. I looked forward to sleeping and seeing what my brain had in store for me. And every morning, when the alarm went off, I was ripped from my dreamland kicking and screaming leaving me quivering and sweating.
It was morning. Time for work.
I worked at a financial services firm. Not exactly my cup of tea as I usually tended more towards the creative side of things. But after graduation it became pretty clear pretty damn quickly that the creative thing didn’t pay the bills…at all. So, I put my dreams of being a writer on hold in favor of financial security. It wasn’t exactly what I had planned on, but life never is.
Kip couldn’t do it. Take a job just for the money. Of course, he had a fairly significant family fortune to fall back on so he didn’t have to. It just killed him that I took this job. I think he had some romantic vision of us running away to some kind of artist commune. I would write all day, he would perform in plays all night. It sounded like a dream…but that’s all it was. A dream. After graduation, I got ripped out of that dream, too.
Of course, Kip and I had been friends so long the idea of a romantic relationship was almost preposterous. He tried to kiss me once. At a party, we were drunk and I just laughed at him. It seemed so silly, the idea of kissing him. Seems cruel now, when I think about it. Laughing at him like that. I hated when I hurt him. Fortunately, he was too drunk to remember any of it.
Kip couldn’t stand the fact that I had “gone corporate.” It wasn’t my idea of a good time either. Turns out, people are pretty much jerks when it comes to their money and they had no trouble speaking to me like crap. But it was time to grow up, time to live in the real world. Kip hated the real world.
But I didn’t have the luxury of hating the real world. All I could do was accept it.
We were four when my parents and I moved in next door. We were both only children so our Mom’s were pretty thrilled to find Bridget and I were the same age, thrilled for us to be playmates. We weren’t so thrilled at first. All her toys were pink. Not that it mattered because she wouldn’t let me touch them anyway.
When she came to my house, she looked at my things with the disdain of a teenager and clung to her mom’s leg.
Our moms kept getting together for coffee and eventually, out of total and complete boredom, we started playing together. Cootie was the game. I played by all her rules, only building when the die fell on the right number. I won. And then I smashed my bug. Bridgey giggled.
That’s when it started. She giggled and I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to make her laugh.