Henry and Haley met at daycare when they were each somewhere around nine months old, and their friendship grew as their paths took them through the same preschool and elementary classrooms. Like me, most of Henry's friends have been girls, and Haley has always been his best friend. They shared toys at daycare, took turns on the slide in kindergarten, collected flowers and leaves in the first grade, and played tag in the second grade. They even shared a dance at the school's Valentine's Ball.
Most importantly, though, Haley was Henry's protector. She sat next to him in class to keep him on task and helped him navigate the politics of the playground.
A few weeks ago we learned that Haley and her family would be moving away. This afternoon they invited us to a farewell party at their summer home on the beach. Henry had a wonderful time playing in the sand and the sun, drifting from one friend to the next but always thinking of what would happen at the end of the day. Even as he was paddling in the bay or building castles in the sand, he would wander back to us from time to time and ask how much longer it would be until we had to leave. He had already warned us that he would probably cry when it was time to say goodbye.
As the sun began to set and cool breezes started teeth chattering, it was time for us to go. Henry and Haley stood next to each other for several pictures, then hugged each other goodbye. Henry walked bravely to the car, but on the drive home I noticed his lip quivering in the rear view mirror. I reached my hand back and set it in his lap. I felt his small hand in mine and listened to him cry. His heart was breaking, and so was mine.
Henry was sad for the rest of the night, first lying next to his mother on the bed, then sitting in my lap as I watched a baseball game. I tuck Henry into bed every single night, but tonight he needed something else. He needed a little extra love. "Mama's gonna tuck me in tonight," he told me, and said goodnight.
Tomorrow I will tell him about Elissa. Elissa lived across the street from me when I was Henry's age, and she was my best friend. We hatched plans, shared imaginations, and even said "I love you" to each other -- that last part was a secret until just now. My family moved away when I was in the third grade, and Elissa disappeared from my life but never from my heart. How could you ever forget your first best friend?
When I tell Henry the story and show him the pictures, I'll tell him that I was just as sad as he was when Elissa and I said goodbye, but I'll also tell him that my story has a happy ending. Two years ago Elissa reached across cyberspace to find me, and now we're friends again.
Haley might be moving away, but they'll always be friends.