How often do we not see what is closest to us? I was five years in Japan, beginning with seventh grade, and through the entirety of those five years, one girl was always there, best friend, confidante, sister, and mother. We had secret names for each other. I called her Annabel Lee, because of some connection between us regarding Poe, and she called me, for no reason I can recall, Asa Nero. In our five years of friendship, we never dated, we never were at the same parties. We shook hands once, to seal an agreement. And yet, when our families were separated by this move and that (no home is permanent in the military), somehow we stayed in touch.
This maintaining of a connection in itself was rare and strange. You learn, living in the suitcases and trunks of Army life, that all relationships are ephemeral, that your best friend may be stateside for good next week, and you'll never see him again. When I tried to assimilate into civilian life, during college, I learned that people "stayed in touch" in spite of distances they never expected to close. An alien concept. Even now, I think of moving away as a little death.
But Annabel and I sustained this bond for five years. She cried over lost boyfriends on my shoulder, I went to her for love advice. Even when she moved back to Virginia, we promised to write and write we did, huge elaborate letters. I sent her stories and poems and she sent back critiques. Then my family came stateside, to New York, where I finished high school. And I began to realize that what we had, Annabel and I, was the thing that solid, permanent marriages were built on: affection, understanding and respect, a real love of each other's company, a true coupling of minds.
So of course I went to Virginia, the summer of my Freshman year of college, to see her and tell her what I had discovered. We spent the day together, and sitting in a park, holding hands, she told me she had met the man of her dreams, a Marine officer. I congratulated her and wished her, sincerely, all the best. And went back to college, where I careened through three love-of-my-life relationships in less than six months, culminating in a marriage to a woman I had known for one month.
Ten years, I was haunted by what happened next. I wrote to Annabel Lee, soon after the marriage, to tell her that I too had found my life's mate. What I got back was an incoherent stream of well wishes and sentiments. The undercurrent seemed to be her realization that she had always expected that I would be there like an insurance policy, what she could have if what she wanted didn't work out.
Annabel may well be the only person I might have had a life's friendship with. I didn't keep that letter, nor mine that prompted it. As my marriage revealed itself as one of the great mistakes of my life, I thought often of that correspondence, wondering what would have happened if I had written before I married rather than after.