My best friend Steph and I were pregnant together, her four months behind me. I gave her half the cloth wipes I’d sewn, and we walked together every morning when I was nine months and she was five (we didn’t get very far). I remember exactly where I was when her husband called and told us Steph had just had a boy, which they named Sean. A boy to match mine. A boy to be Blaise’s best friend.
We put the babies together on the floor for the first time. Sean laid there, unable to move. Blaise could at least roll over to look at him, which he did. I saw in this a good portent of things to come. They would be friends. They would fight with sticks, and trick-or-treat, and go to kindergarten. We called them best friends before they could speak. This was how hard we wanted it. We were best friends, so how could our sons not be?
I nursed them together so Steph could sleep. They stole toys from each other. For their first Christmas, our friends handed out piles and piles of wooden blocks, some for each of them. Blaise seemed most enamored with a plastic coke bottle, but we called the morning a success. They’d spent their first Christmas together.
And sometimes, just once in awhile, you get what you want. Maybe it was the repetition. Maybe it was natural affinity. But Blaise and Sean became best friends. As they grew, they tottered towards each other. They played with costumes and blocks and boxes. The next Christmas, this time at my house, they wore matching pajamas.
It went on like this for years. I could always call Steph to watch the boys. She could always call me to watch her kids. We alternated Christmases, complete with matching pajamas and gluten-free waffles. Sean started preschool, but Blaise stayed home; it didn’t affect their friendship. I’d go over to Steph’s in the middle of the day with Jamaican food; we’d stuff ourselves in fried bananas and hide them from the kids. We had brunch every Sunday. We had egg hunts every Easter. They were family.
And then, suddenly, they had to move.
Steph’s husband needed a new job; he’d found one 10 hours away. It was the perfect opportunity for them. So we began the long, drawn-out process of explaining to the boys that Sean was moving. We knew Blaise understood when he sobbed, deep, wrenching sobs that went down to the bone. His best friend was moving. His best friend would not be here anymore. There’d be no Ninja Turtle fights or light saber battles or climbing on top of the bunk bed. It was over. The giant sandbox would go to someone else. The tree swings, the ones that could arch 20 feet at their peak if you pushed hard enough, they’d come down. They’d be gone.
I helped Steph pack. I stacked boxes in the corner of her bare living room. Her husband would arrive from the new house, load them, and leave for their new house again. I stacked and stacked and labeled. The kids were at my house. Sean and Blaise needed all the time together they could get.
Then it was time to say goodbye. The boys managed it casually, as if in denial. “We’ll come visit,” both sets of parents assured them. They hugged amid the boxes. “I love you,” each said. And we got in our minivan, strapped the kids into their seats, and drove away.
We saw them again that Christmas. While we didn’t do Christmas day, we still had matching pajamas and presents. The kids fought with sticks. Before they left, we ate at a barbecue restaurant. The kids spilled into the parking lot. We were going to Target, they were hitting the road. My son was confused.
“But isn’t Sean coming to Target with us?” he asked.
No, we explained, they were going back home. He knew that. But he started to wail. “I want Sean to come to Target with us!” he sobbed. He was crying almost too hard to hug his friend goodbye.
It’s not the same anymore. We send cards and presents to Sean and his sister; they send cards and presents back for birthdays and Valentine’s Day. They usually come up here for Christmas. Blaise will still say that Sean is his best friend. And the few times they come up, the boys pick up right where they left off, sleeping in the same bed, playing the same games. But Sean always has to leave.
They miss each other; we miss them. But there’s no way to fix it, and that may be the hardest part: to see your child’s grief and know there’s nothing you can do to ameliorate it.More On