The summer before first grade I inherited my older cousin Sarah's bicycle.
It was pink and white, had really tall handle bars, and best of all it was a "grown-up" bike, as I called it. Sure it had training wheels, but you could barely see them, I told myself.
That very first day, after drip-drying from an afternoon at the community pool, I asked my mom if I could go ride my bike in the cul de sac down the street before the sun went down. Remember when you had so much energy that the only recharging you needed after a long day swimming in the hot sun was a handful of chicken nuggets and a Hi-C?
Mom obliged. Lately, as I get old and farty, I marvel that my mom would let a gangly little, accident-prone, six-year-old ride her bike down the street unsupervised. Granted, we lived in what was basically a glorified seniors' community, but still, times have changed.
Anyway, I eagerly pedalled my bike out of our driveway and coasted down the hill to the cul de sac. The cul de sac was probably pretty small in reality, but to me it was a vast, open playground of potential. It could be a lagoon in which I could ride my dolphin. It could be an obstacle course where I could ride my monster truck. It could be the Olympic equestrian ring, and the speed bump was the winning jump my steed Turkin, the magical unicorn with the secret invisible horn, and I would soar over to win the gold medal.
That day I was just going for speed, zipping as fast as I could go around the circle, leaning at precarious angles as I avoided people's mailboxes.
Just as I was completing what I was sure was the fastest recorded cul de sac lap in the history of cul de sac bike riding (Under-10 Division), a commotion started in the Blue House on the Corner's carport, and a kid came barreling out into the cul de sac.
A brown-haired boy, with floppy, moppy hair, coke-bottle glasses, and a red and black "grown-up" bike, started racing me around the cul de sac, all the while making "rrrroooooommmm" motorcycle noises as he challenged me.
The floppy haired boy and I raced around for another few minutes before I came to a stop at the top of the cul de sac. He stopped beside me.
"I'm Sam," he said. I'll call him Sam because I always thought Clarissa's friend Sam was the COOLEST.
"You want to play?"
And that was that. For the next two years when we weren't at our respective schools we were inseparable.
We'd play "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," or horses, or some weird version of "Conan the Barbarian" and Unicorns I cooked up, or "He-Man," or "She-Ra," or Barbies, or restaurant, or adventurers, or really whatever we could come up with. Unlike with the kids at school, we never worried about playing "boy games" or "girl games," we just PLAYED.
I LOVED Ninja Turtles but I couldn't tell the girls at school that. Sam thought She-Ra and horses were cool, but he couldn't tell the boys at school that. Looking back on our afternoons spent running around, "whinnying" as horses, or making all manner of Ninja Turtle sounds around the neighborhood -- it's a kind of carefree, whimsy I now ache for.
One Christmas Sam got this thing called a "Nintendo." On it you could play this duck hunting game with a laser gun, or you could play this game where two overall-wearing brothers, one in green and one in red, jumped around through various "this song will be burned into your brain" levels in order to crush "koopas" and save a princess.
As we played Mario Brothers in two player mode -- him as Luigi, me as Mario -- we'd give the Mario brothers voices, and create a running storyline and commentary apart from the game. His Luigi had a deep, robust voice -- he sounded like Gaston. My Mario, in retrospect, sounded like Keanu Reeves.
But whether the brothers were more interested in scrounging up some Totino's Pizza Rolls that day -- a treat Sam and I loved too -- or they were wholeheartedly focused on saving the Princess, Mario and Luigi were devoted to each other to the end. If a mushroom guy killed Mario, Luigi (speaking through Sam) would valiantly chime in, "Nobody does that to MY brother! Prepare to die!" Sometimes Mario would call from the depths of the video-game after-life, "I am with youuuuuuu brotherrrrrrrr!"
Sam and I thought we would carry on like this forever. We talked about getting married in the most innocent of ways. We'd have a mansion with tigers and horses and a swimming pool. Sam could be on the SWAT Team, and I could be Veterinarian-Cowgirl-Game Show Host. I think I had the seedlings of a crush on Sam, and him on me, but we had no idea what that actually meant. He was just my best friend in the whole world, and I was his.
Then grown-ups got in the way of our future. Sam's dad moved away. Then his mom decided to move too. I don't remember much from Sam's moving away, I just remember his Blue House on the Corner slowly becoming more boxes and less furniture. Sadness didn't even really register at first. We possessed such optimism and confidence in our friendship, that NOT being best friends, NOT seeing each other all the time was simply not possible.
I remember very little about saying goodbye to Sam. I think our moms made us hug. We took a picture. I gave him bunny ears. He looked down, all I saw was his floppy, moppy, brown hair. He went to his house, I went to mine.
I do remember sitting in my parent's bedroom window, the window that I'd sat in so many times, watching for Sam to come home from school. It felt like I'd never NOT sat in that window. I stared at the Blue House on the Corner. I think I cried. I think my dad told me it was okay. I remember the window fogging over as the night air cooled, and my nose stayed pressed to the thin glass.
Then Sam was gone. I think I visited him once at his dad's house -- we looked for slugs, and played "construction site" in the bed of his dad's new truck. But then his dad moved again, and so did his mom. Sam kept getting farther and farther away.
A few years later, when I was "all grown-up" in the fifth grade, my mom told me she ran into Sam's mom at a mall outside of Seattle. Sam's mom said that Sam kept that bunny ears picture of us in his room up until this year when, at his birthday party, his friends made fun of him for being friends with a girl, and he took it down. She said he felt really bad putting it away, and went back and forth for a long time before finally doing it.
And that was the last I heard about Sam. I think his mom moved out of state with him, and in the time before interwebs and cell phones, the distance was just too great.
I've been on-and-off trying to track Sam down for years now. But, unfortunately, his real name is so common, most searches turn up hundreds of names. I've emailed and written to countless Sams all of which come up empty. Plus, I don't know if his last name is the same as when I knew him due to remarriages or whatnot.
But it's funny, and maybe this is the dreamer or long-buried optimist in me, but I am confident I'll find Sam again. That little Sam-shaped piece of my heart is still innocent and untainted enough to believe that NOT being friends ever again, is simply not possible.
Yes, people change. Sam will not be the floppy, moppy haired boy I remember, and I am not the same bossy, gangly, accident-prone girl he remembers (okay, two out of three). But I'd like to think we held onto a little piece of each other, a remnant of childhood, for the better. I hope, I hope, I hope.
I know it's National Women's Friendship Month, so I don't know if this exactly falls into those specified parameters. But I'm a woman, and my friendship with Sam was legit. And those two years feeling free and unencumbered by gender bias and expectations did more to positively shape me into the woman I am today than countless female friendships I've had.
We were just Louise and "Sam," and in our own little world, everything was possible.
I miss you "Sam," I can't wait to find you.
Do you have a long lost friend? Did you find them? How did you do it?