My freshman year of high school I met who I considered to be my best friend for the four years following. In an effort to remain anonymous I’ll just call her E. E and I started off in the same confused way most high school students do. We were both struggling to find our niche in this overly expanded realm where we were now the bottom of the food chain. I don’t think we could have been more different when I look back at our past together. I, being the nerd, had the requisite amount of shyness that society demanded from me. She, however, was the type if person that, on the surface, fit in.

I think that mostly in the beginning she tolerated me more than anything. She was running a campaign for election to student government at the time we met, and I sat alone at lunch and read books. We met in health class, which was taught by a coach who had defected from a rival school that year to work with our junior varsity football team. I remember this only because my friend outside of school at the time complained because he went to that rival school and they had lost one of their better coaches. He was deep into football, and badly wanted to play despite his small size. My friendship with him ended about the time that I met E. I’m not sure if it was just that our lives were taking different paths, which they most definitely were, or that deep down inside I knew I only had room for one friend at a time.

E and I had only one real thing in common at first, we were both in the JROTC unit, though for differing reasons. My reason was that if you participated in JROTC you did not have to participate in gym. While I was not afraid of the exercise that gym had to offer, I was afraid I’d havi g to wear those dumb gym shorts. I wasn’t quite fond of dressing out every day. And, of course, I had no real love for playing sports at any time. E’s reason was much more simple, she was dating the student commander of the unit, and had been for about a year. I don’t think there was any collusion on their part, but it only made sense to be involved together.

I think the first few weeks, and maybe even months, of our friendship neither E nor I really had any idea where this was going. We only had one class together and to be honest the fact that our interests didn’t seem to mesh well at the time really didn’t help things. Somehow, though, I got involved with her campaign for student government, I’m not quite sure what the slogan was anymore, but I remember something to do with a bee. So here we are in health class, the teacher looking over football information and the rest of us just sitting around talking. I was helping E stuff candy into bags so she could give it out to other students and the thought occurred to me that after this whole thing was ove that things might indeed go back to the way they were, me the dorky kid in glasses reading in the back of the class, and her fresh with her victory out lobbying for cleaner bathrooms or a coke machine on the second floor.

E did not win, though. In fact I don’t think she came very close at all. That was when her secret was revealed to me: she didn’t want to win. It had been her mother’s idea that she run for office as it would look good on her applications to college. E confided in me that she had a very strained relationship with her mother, and most times she did things simply because her mother wouldn’t like them. After that fact, our friendship began to grow, she had someone to talk to about the things she hated, and soon that grew into talking about dreams and aspirations.

Over the course of the rest of the year we grew what I would consider close. I was never much for having friends that were constantly around, but we would occasionally talk on the phone, and once or twice we hung out outside of school. With my outlook on privacy and the fact that I was dating someone from another school, when summer came around I didn’t see E for three months.

The common link between us was growing though, as we both had been moving up through the ranks in the JROTC program. We were both slated for promotions, which meant a trip that summer to be trained in the art of making our fellow classmates feel inferior. My trip was not destined, though, as I suffered a broken collarbone in a motorcycle accident. She returned my superior, and I was subordinate, though still higher than my classmates.

Over the next year our interests began to merge as we delved further into the program. We also had a class together and were able to have lunch with each other. Now you might notice that the title of this mentions the word love, but so far nothing has had anything to do with that particular topic. Here is where the emotions come into play, though.

The fact that we spent so much time together, and that her boyfriend had graduated and moved away, and maybe the alignment of the moon awakened some thoughts in me regarding E that I hadn’t ever considered. She was quite attractive, fun to be around, we made each other laugh. I began to realize I had feelings for her, and that realization changed things, as it so often does.

My own relationship was in a perilous state, and stayed that way for several years. The truth was that both of us wanted something better but didn’t have any options of finding it. We stayed in an on and off mode for nearly four years. That perhaps fueled the situation with E, if only I could be with her things might be better. However, before I could express my feelings she had found a boyfriend, someone I felt was ill suited for her, but I kept those thoughts to myself, for a time.

Eventually the truth was told, in what I thought would be a revelation that would change both our lives. Instead, I was met with mild surprise and shocked silence. The subject was dropped and promptly forgotten, like a nightmare that awakens you in the night, you struggle to forget it and move on. The rest of the year was met mostly with the same kind of attitude, we continued on the friendship with this silently avoided thing between us. Occasionally I would bring it up, just to see if the sentiment had changed, but nothing ever really did.

I still tried to be the friend she could turn to when she had a problem, and I think for the most part I stayed just that. It seems I have a knack for being that unmovable rock in which people can throw themselves against and be caught. Even today I serve that role for many people, and sometimes, I think even my parents. The year progressed, we both advanced in JROTC, and the chance for me to go to training that next summer arose. I jumped on it, and she went again, I’m not sure if it was because she wanted to go, or because I was going. She was runner up for top cadet, a picture of perfection.

Our junior year saw a major change in the way things worked. We still ate lunch together, had a class together, but we each had our own commands. She was the battalion executive officer, as a junior, which meant next year she would be in charge. I was on the track to do her job next year, we’d be working together to run the unit. She had broken up with her boyfriend, and things were rocky with my girlfriend, so I decided that this would be the year that I would make things a reality. She wasn’t exactly receptive of the idea, but she never shot it down. She claimed she needed time, and so I spent the majority of that year just waiting.

Eventually my waiting resulted in finding out she had started dating someone. I was a little shocked, and I remember a heated discussion between the two of us. She was dating a senior, and she really seemed to like him. I just remember thinking that I had been robbed. That was a tough year for E, though. Her mother and father and been divorced for some time, but her dad recently found out he had cancer. After a long battle involving chemo, he died. I got the news, and went to see her at the funeral home. I spent eight hours there that night, just being there for her. Her own boyfriend had to work, so it wasn’t until later that night that he got there.

I remember that night most of all because she hugged me, and started crying. Sobbing on my shoulder, she let it out, and I realized right then that my desire to be her one had to be usurped by her grief. That night changed things forever between the two of us. I don’t blame her, it was a traumatic event, and I think it started a new chapter for her, her life after her father.

The next year we drifted apart, partly because my overwhelming desire to be with her was shattered, and partly because we both were moving our lives in a different directon. I prepared for college, she prepared to join the national guard. I can remember thinking at the time that it was the end of an era. We spent senior skip day together, went to the park, walked around the lake, and just had good conversation. The last time I remember seeing her was the day before graduation, we went out to eat, and she gave me a photo framed in the words “The best thing about friends is that they are always there to show you love when you need them.” The photo inside was taken at the state capital, and I was strangling her.

It’s been several years since I graduated high school, and obviously I still think about E’s impact on my life. We lost touch after I left for college, my girlfriend who worked at a bank saw her. She told my girlfriend that she was getting married and wanted to talk to me. I never heard from her, and I never got an invitation. I can’t really blame her for that either, it had been a couple of years, things had changed.

I recently found her on a social networking site. I added her as a friend, and she accepted. I sent her a message, and never got a response back. I know the difficulty of keeping a friendship over distance, so again I don’t blame her. I understand from her profile that she got her degree, moved north, and is happy with her husband. I’ll still always remember her though as that girl I stuffed candy into bags with bees on them.

I don’t know what life lesson I should take away from my experience with E, I am afraid that it will happen again with someone else. That perhaps I’ll be that good friend, and I’ll feel so strongly about them that I’ll do anything for them. Maybe that is what makes someone a good friend, is that when it boils down to everything, they love their friends. Maybe it isn’t the type of love I felt for E, which I know really wasn’t love, but at the time I thought it was. Maybe real friendship is love.