His Pain is My Pain

At the end of another busy day, it was just me and Alex coming home from choir practice in the truck. When I’d picked him up in the playroom, he’d been on a play high, but as we swooped down the entrance ramp to the interstate, homeward bound, he crossed his arms and said in a quavering voice, “Mommy, I don’t think Kevin* is my best friend anymore!”

I remembered the boys on a playdate a few weeks ago, bickering incessantly about Transformers vs. Legos, and sighed. “What makes you think that?”

“Because he didn’t want to sit with me at lunch! He wanted to sit with Walt!”

I might have smiled privately, except suddenly I had a vivid memory of fifth-grade self, standing beside the pencil sharpener mounted on the frame of the wide closet where we hung our coats and backpacks, while my best friend announced with great formality and no eye contact that “I think we should be friends with other people. I still want to be friends with you, but I want to be friends with other people, too.” Even at that age, I knew a breakup when I met one in the classroom. She never spoke to me again. I never let on that it bothered me—even to myself. I was guarding my heart, covering it with a thick shield of nonchalance to avoid feeling the pain of betrayal and abandonment. Because I knew it was about me, specifically. Me, the unpopular, socially inept and highly introverted kid who never, ever dressed like the other girls, who never, ever did the things the other girls did, because I was raised differently. For over a year, I went to school and came home friendless in my class—because my whole life I’ve really only had one really close friend at a time, and I don’t leap from one to the next.

All this flashed through my mind, the pain I would give a great deal to spare Alex, the years of self-doubt and feeling not good enough. But at the same time, I know that if he’s lost a friend, it’s at least partly his own doing. He’s got such a strong personality…okay, let’s be honest, he can be really, really bossy.

How do I distill the wisdom of twenty-five years of life experiences, of the search for my place in the world and the painful growth that it took to find it…how do I sum that up in words to comfort a six-year-old?

I can’t. I knew it as I began, haltingly, to speak of friends growing up and growing apart, about finding new friends, and about those who will always love him, no matter what: me, his daddy, his brother and sister, the baby. Wholly inadequate, I knew, giving him no answers.

And I realized, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, that his pain is my pain. Because I’ve been there before, and I know how hard it was. I know there’s no easy answer; only time, and new friends, can heal the pain of lost friends. Some of the drama of small childhood I can smile about, be as heartless and unsympathetic as my parents seemed to me when I was younger. But these moments of self-doubt, of heart-pain—they will always make me ache, too.

*Names changed. Just because.