“Crystal, there’s a new girl with your name! You have to meet her!”
I was about 7 years old. Her name was spelled differently – with a K and an I, instead of a C and a Y – and she was so much my opposite. Kristal and I immediately became best friends. Like, within seconds. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do. We had the same name, after all.
She lived in a duplex down the street from me – which was as far away from my house that my mom would let me wander (for fear of kidnappers in windowless blue vans). I often padded over to Kristal’s house, barefoot and bedraggled. My feet were tough as nails and black from running around outside all the time.
“Where are your shoes? Does your mom know you’re running around outside like that?” her mom asked me on more than one occasion.
“My mom doesn’t care,” I’m sure I said.
Kristal’s parents dubbed us Pete & Repeat. I was Kristal’s shadow. So much so that she used to tell me to stop crawling up her butt. Sometimes she got irritated with me and we fought. We would take weekends off from being best friends and then make up on Monday, usually. Most of the time, though, I clung to her for dear life. She was my one real friend. To me, she was always so brave and beautiful and strong – all things I wished I was. I was a tiny slip of a thing, always getting stepped on or ignored. I wanted to be her instead.
I loved her family and spent as many days at her house as I could. When I was politely told that my mom probably wanted me home, I didn’t take the hint. “No, I could stay as long as I want!” I would exclaim. No, you need to go home now.
I didn’t want to go home. At home I had to take care of my brother and sister. I had to fight the never-ending battle with my mom’s live-in boyfriend. Home wasn’t home at all and it was the last place I wanted to be.
Kristal didn’t care to spend time at my house, either. My mom’s boyfriend creeped her out. She got frustrated with my mom’s lack of attention to my siblings and me, as well. We had long ago accepted that our mother would space out and didn’t hear us when we called her name over and over. Kristal couldn’t accept it, so she stayed away.
I was happy to spend any time I could at her house anyway.
Kristal spent summers at her grandparents’ house a few hours south, while I moped around and slept the boredom away. The first year that I went with her, I had to leave less than a week in. I said I was homesick but really, I’d had a nightmare about my sister being hurt. I couldn’t be away – I needed to protect her. I knew no one else would, that it was up to me.
A year later, I went again and I stayed the whole time! And it became the thing I did in the summer. And then holidays were added on. I no longer spent Christmas with my family, if I could help it. I even did chores at Kristal’s house – on Sunday mornings we would polish the furniture. I helped her fold clothes, too. After dinner, I dried the dishes while she washed. I wouldn’t know how to do any of those things if it wasn’t for Kristal’s family.
When Kristal moved away – I believe it was sometime around fifth grade – I was devastated. I had no other friends. She’d been popular and had many, so I sought out her friends. I found another pair of girls who were joined at the hip – Stacey and Melinda – and I hung out with them, the awkward third wheel. It wasn’t the same at all. I changed the spelling of my name. I decided I wanted to be Krystal. A hybrid, of sorts.
Kristal and I were still friends. I visited her at her new house in Utah and then, when her family moved back to California a couple hours south of me, I spent many weekends there. We sent letters back and forth and talked on the phone in between seeing eachother. I still held on for dear life.
During high school we drifted a bit but still kept in touch.
Later, Kristal was my maid of honor when I married Joe.
When Joe and I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, she lived with us briefly. She and Joe didn’t get along and I felt very stressed trying to keep the peace between my best friend and my husband. I admit it – I was a little relieved when she moved out. It meant I didn’t have to question my relationship with my husband as much.
I should have paid attention to that. But I’m stubborn, if nothing else.
We drifted from one another more and more after that. And then my childhood caught up with me and I disconnected from everyone who had been a part of it. I went into therapy and opened Pandora’s Box – I couldn’t discern between friends and enemies anymore so I swore everyone off.
Just about the time I split from Joe, though, I sought her out again. The two parts of my life that didn’t go together didn’t have to anymore and it was a huge relief. I wished I hadn’t lost years with my friend, though.
We’ve seen each other a couple times since then, but life has gotten in the way of much more. She met the man of her dreams and settled down, and so did I. In fact, when I met David, I immediately thought of something Kristal had said to me back when we were kids – that when I met my true love, I would have a quiet and gentle love. She was right, I marveled.
I can’t imagine my life without Kristal. It would be immeasurably different if Kristal and I hadn’t become fast friends on that long ago day in elementary school. I know I would have never found my own bravery, strength, and beauty if it wasn’t for her. She was my hero and she helped me hang onto myself through so much hardship.
Kristal, you have always been so much more than my first best friend, I hope you know that. You are my soul sister and I love you.