The first time we met, he was hiding behind his mom. I answered the front door with my Gameboy in hand. Unfortunately, this was in the middle of a heated Pokémon battle, so Sam and Lori received little attention. Lori said they always like to meet the new kids in the neighborhood and were stopping by to say “hi” and could you please stop playing your Gameboy and look us in the eyes?
We saw each other again on the first day of fourth grade. Kids rushed for desks next to their friends, but, as I was new, there was no place for me to rush. From his desk, Sam saw me standing by the door, gave me a knowing look, and patted the seat next to him. We were best friends not long after. All it took was a pat on a chair.
We grew up side by side for a decade. His parents became my parents became his. We rode our bikes to elementary school in the morning until the neighbors yelled at us for ruining their lawns. We spent hours on his carpeted staircase, crab crawling up and rolling down until his parents yelled at us to quiet down. We scuttled down my parents’ laundry shoot. We stayed up all night playing Super Monkey Ball when we were eleven years old, my first all-nighter. (We tried again when we were twenty and gave up. “Wow,” we said after half-an-hour, “this game sucks.”) We’d wrap ourselves in blanket burritos and fall asleep wondering about heaven. The first time I ever laughed until I cried was when we took turns drawing wildly crude pictures of strangely proportioned, anatomically correct people.
We were a friendship of firsts. I told him when I had my first kiss in middle school. I told him when I first got drunk in high school. I told him when I first had sex in high school. Sam was always there; always a listening ear, always a warm embrace, always a pat on the seat next to him. Still is.
Our freshman year of college, when I ran off to make friends with women (something I didn’t know was possible in high school), Drew gamed at his computer because he didn’t give a shit. I thought he was a nerd. I told him as much. Drew, conversely, thought I was a tool because of the time I volunteered to be in a Calvin Improv skit. I acted like an idiot on stage because I couldn’t answer the questions the Improv team asked without stumbling over my words and sweating so hard it was audible. To top it all off, I looked like an off-brand Justin Bieber. To Drew’s credit, everyone thought I was a tool after that incident. But as members of the same dorm floor, we couldn’t help but run into each other. Soon enough, I sat beside him in his dark room while he gamed, and he occasionally tagged along with me on dates with our sister floor. We were best friends not long after.
Our friendship was tumultuous and intense. There was a push and pull to our conversations, a constant searching for truth in each other and our words that lead to countless heated debates late into the night. Whether or not Brand New was a good band would turn into a conversation about whether or not Hell existed to “you need to get over Maria, dude” to defending why I read and accidentally enjoyed all the Twilight books to how much shorter I was than him to “oh my God, it’s four in the freaking morning” to “I love you.”
We would say it without worrying about whether or not it came off to anyone within earshot as romantic. As you say it to your family, so we said it to each other. We thought it made us more masculine to just say it, so we took pride in the words, though we really did mean it. And through Drew, I learned that I could say it to Sam, and so I did. Through Drew, I also learned to love myself. I thought that if he loved me, warts and all, I must be worth it.
Of course, he got married just weeks after we graduated. Drew: always a family man at heart, easy to love by any standard. It was only a matter of time. But at his wedding, after he exchanged vows with Abby, and I knew something was ending, Abby took me aside and said: “Will, I know I’m his wife, but I’m pretty sure you’re his soulmate.”
He’ll tell you he’s not funny. It’s not true, but it’s easy to see how he ended up spinning that narrative. The first time I met him, my RA at the time was introducing Will—who would be our new RA the following year—to the floor, showing him the strange people of Second VanDellen. Will carried a stern look on his face. He walked to every person on the floor, looking them in the eye, shaking their hand. His voice was precise and deep, his movements calculated. Maybe he thought he was too serious to be funny.
Incidentally, we were both in American Popular Music when he took residence on my floor. We sat next to each other in the back because it would be awkward if we didn’t. One day he fell asleep in class while writing a note and the words literally trailed off the page, like a dying man’s last message. Then a strange squeak escaped his mouth and he jerked out of his slumber. He looked over at me with wide eyes and mouthed “was that me?” I nodded my head. Our classmates cast bewildered looks behind them, trying to figure out the source of the squeak. I bit my finger to stop from laughing. Will snorted into his hands. We were best friends not long after.
I started wandering into his room even when it wasn’t time for the obligatory RA-resident one-on-one. We’d listen to Brand New, Thrice, and Coheed and Cambria and splay open the contents of the world while I laid on his blue couch. Our friendship was one of minds meeting again and again and again. Nothing was taboo. I learned from him that everything could be talked about rationally—even lust, even doubt, even jealousy. I could bring any insecurity to him and he would receive it without judgement, walking me through each feeling as if it were the most normal thing in the world. It became clear over time that he valued my mind, even its darkest corners. And through valuing it, brightened it.
And of course, if things ever got too serious, he just sang Al Jolson’s “April Showers” and we’d collapse in laughter. He has a loud, shameless laugh. It booms more in my memories these days than in person, and that may be the way it always is. But it’s a loud boom.
He was just a member of the Calvin English community. We shared classes, and sometimes sips from a bottle of Jack Daniels he carried to every group gathering (just in case), but we were never friends, just acquaintances. I messaged him on Facebook in the summer of 2014 and he impulsively invited me to live with him in his brother out in Seattle. Impulsively, I moved out two months later. Josh is never reckless until he is, and then he’s almost bombastically so. And with this reckless invite, we were best friends not long after.
It could have backfired. Probably should have. We barely knew each other before sharing a home, which even tried and true friends have struggled to do well. I told Josh once before when we were drunk and stumbling through the starlit streets of our neighborhood that God probably had something to do with it. How and why, I’m not sure, but I meant it and still do.
He gets me out of the house and into the mountains. I get his emotions out of his head and into his friendships. He challenges me to work hard for my dreams. I challenge him to pursue peace. Our friendship is a constant tug-of-war.
“I feel like our friendship is teaching us a lot about marriage,” Josh said to me once. He was smiling when he said it, of course, in an attempt to placate some of the awkwardness.
“Yeah, it’s true.” I said, and we both laughed. We were laughing at the truth of it. We were laughing at how quietly the depth of this friendship snuck up on us.
I know there will come a time when I’ll come home to a place where Josh isn’t, just as it has happened with Sam, Drew, and Will. I know that. I know that as adulthood goes, the best parts of many friendships become memories. New friends replace old ones as people move, marry, or pass. Our time of growing up together, sharing the pains and revelations, searching for peace, isn’t permanent. I know all that. I’m just not ready for it.