My first friend was my dog Reggie. He was a beautiful, loyal German Shepherd who would listen to me, play with me and was always there for me. I lost Reggie when we had to move to the projects in California. They don’t allow poor people to have pets, and Reggie would’ve been too big for our apartment.
In the third grade, I had a girl-friend. Everyone joked that we were destined to get married. She had long brown hair and was, ew, a girl. Still, we were friends who spent recesses and lunch together.
In fifth and sixth grades, I reached the height of my childhood popularity. I knew a lot of people with whom I was friends. Many of them showed up for my birthday party at Marine World Africa, USA – a story I wrote up (with an account of Reggie) in “My Life in the Projects.”
In sixth grade, I had an actual girlfriend. Girls weren’t so “ew” by that time. I also had a couple of friends that I regularly played Dungeons and Dragons with. They were upset when we had to move to Oregon to get away from the violence in the projects.
A father and son lived caddy-corner from us in the projects. They were older than me, but we were still friends, even after we moved. I played chess and watched anime with the father. The son and I kept in touch until after I graduated from high school. We played a role-playing game that he made up to entertain me. I lost touch with them when I went to college.
Even before all of my human friends and about the same time as Reggie, I had a group of friends and protectors who kept me safe in the dark of nights and provided solace in the darkest of times. My stiffed animals were fun to be around, and they could always go with me, no matter where we moved. They were steadfast, loyal, and some told amazing jokes.
I haven’t kept in touch with my childhood friends. We’ve grown apart – separated by time, distance, and experiences, even in this electronically and virtually connected world – and that’s on me. I have, however, kept my stuffed animal friends, tucked away in a box somewhere, waiting for me to bring them back into my life, to enjoy the sunshine and the laughter of an old man they still see as the child that once was. Until I am able to, until I have the space to house them, I’ll keep collecting plushie friends from the amazing penguins my wife hand makes to the multiple examples of Olaf the Snowman. And when I am finally able to bring them all together, we’ll have an epic party to celebrate our friendship.