I have seen plenty of different definitions of “best friend” since elementary school, but I personally never gave it much thought until recently. What is a best friend to me? Have I ever had one? In my opinion, a best friend is neither the friend I spent the most time with nor the one I could relate to the most. Best friends are friends that taught me about myself and life. I based this off all the so-called “friends” I could think of, from kids who simply said hello sometimes to the kids that chased me on a sidewalk as entertainment for their birthday party; through this trip down memory lane, I came to the realization that many of my relationships with others outside of my family was pointless fun or failed attempts at being social. As an introverted child, I rarely tried to hold meaningful conversations and would rather avoid any communication at all, and that is why my friendship with Eric would stand as special for a lifetime to come.
Everything happened so quickly in the third grade: First day of school, awkward introductions, try to learn names, avoid conversation, try to act friendly, and suddenly say hi to a new Korean kid. All I could think was: Just a simple hi, just a simple hi, just a simp- oh, hey! The only similarities between us were glasses and an Asian ethnicity. Unlike me, he was athletic, open, outgoing, and loud. Yet, we were soon able to learn each other’s names. At first, I thought all of this would be temporary… just another friendship that would be recorded as getting to know each other a bit and playing around in the scrapbook of my head only to be discarded as soon as somebody moved classes or such. I was a young gauche kid after all, and I didn’t really think about friendship in another way. Yet, as time went on, we learned much more about each other than I initially expected, and this spiraled into a journey I never thought I’d have the courage to take.
First, I visited his house on a day during break; this may not sound amazing in any way, but it was to me. I had never gone to someone else’s home for reasons outside of a birthday party or church group meetup. A random playdate was brand new and I couldn’t help but feel lost as I approached a labyrinth of apartments up ahead. The buildings were tall and lightly painted with a small area of sidewalk and lawn attaching each other in the middle. Inside large entrances were concrete stairs and a corridor of doors per floor. I had my mother to help me find the right door to knock, and once we finally got there, I felt a smile creep onto my face and a nervous sigh escape my mouth. Being the social one, Eric greeted us by asking, “Hey, how’s it goin’?” All I could say was “Hi!” in response. We toured around the apartment, careful not to disturb the floor under us, and went outside to run around and be kids. What would a childhood be without playing tag and soccer like this occasionally?
After the first year, we had grown familiar with each other, and Eric even made new friends within his apartment complex. We hung out more often and our families also got to know each other, including our younger brothers. He started coming to my church and quickly got along with my friends there, Sam and Jehu. Finally, he visited our house with his family. I wasn’t completely new to guests, but I felt the need to be respectful more here. Well, only in our last few minutes at least. Eric was asking to stay longer, and all four parents pointed out it was already midnight. Both kids didn’t care. We ended up making a deal: Eric and I turned on some random music and danced to waste time while the mothers had phones out, recording all of it. That night ended when Eric and I both fell asleep at 2:30 AM in the morning.
On one occasion, we decided to test paper airplanes outside since it was sunny out and I had an impressive model if I do say so myself. It could do flips, dives, and turns depending on how I threw it, and I was so enthusiastic about it I forgot about wind. The airplane ended up on the porch of a stranger’s apartment. Perfect. We made our way up to the apartment, and once we had arrived, I knocked. I immediately regretted being up front when a middle-aged woman came out to greet us with “You want somethin’?” Before I could run away and act like it was an accident, Eric was already asking her to check the porch. We got back the airplane, but I was still too in awe to care. A similar event happened in my own neighborhood when we decided to go hunt for another friend of mine who apparently lived nearby. A wrong turn, caused by the absence of an address. We got the wrong door. I was scared. Yet this time, I caught my breath and was able to ask with Eric instead of relying on him solely.
I found throughout the three years with Eric that he was very decisive and easy to read. He was a kid who enjoyed sports and was athletic to match. Yet, he strove to be like his dad and become a superb neurosurgeon, seeking to help others in desperate need of medical help. To be honest, I was embarrassed that he had such a huge ambition while I was still questioning whether I enjoy school or not. I always over-think everything, and this has led to an inability to plan and hold on to dreams I think of on a whim. Yet, Eric’s personality pushed me to seek what I enjoy and want the most. What should I become, and for what reason? While my answer changes year to year, at least I’ll have a temporary answer for now.
Unfortunately, Eric left to go back to Korea right before the transition to middle school with the rest of us. It was neither a sad farewell nor a happy one since we both knew it was bound to happen. We got each other’s contact, promising to keep in touch. The final words I remember him saying to me and a group of friends was “I will be back for college, so see you guys then!” I still hope to see him back here, as we have only met in person once in the past 4 years. Yet, I can’t help but feel a bright glow of joy that comes with excitement through waiting.
To restate, my definition of a best friend was someone who taught me something about myself- a valuable lesson to guide me.
So, what did Eric teach me? Well, he taught me about being open; he taught me what a real friendship is like. If it weren’t for him, I never would have gotten to know more about my other friends. I found a courage through him I never thought I would have. That is what made our friendship strong, and while it is difficult to keep contact due to time zone difference, I still remember the friend that defined what a friend meant to me.