Today would've been your 23rd birthday, so first off, Happy Birthday. That's how the summers always went; with my birthday at the very end of the school year, yours just before school would start again, and one million playdates in between. So many things make me think of you, but birthdays might be the biggest one, because it seems like we were always at a birthday party, mine or yours, Roy or the twins. Birthday gifts too, because I always knew what you were going to get me before you did, and by the way, I still have my heart necklace and my Hilary Duff magnet.
I am surprised by how often I think about you. I am surprised by how many of my memories are tied to you. When I think of home, and being on Pomeroy Avenue, my mind always skips next door to your house. I can vividly remember watching your family move in, with Carina, through our living room window, when I was in first grade and you were in Kindergarten. I saw lots of your toys before I saw you (specifically the pink Fisher-Price vanity!), and that was my first clue that I was getting a new friend. And I didn't even know the kind of friend I'd be getting.
No more than a day could have gone by before the twins & I came running over to your backyard, and I'll never forget the first thing you ever said to me: "Do you want to see a dead lizard?" That makes me smile because it should have been a tell for how much you loved animals. I used to get so frustrated with you, because whenever we played house, you wanted to be something crazy like a cheetah, instead of something normal like my sister or daughter. I remember running over (or perhaps climbing through the backyard fence) when you got Angel as a puppy (I maintain that we brainstormed her name together!) and her being the tiniest little fluff ball. She's still there, keeping your mom company.
Then a couple years later you came to Pomeroy Elementary, and I still remember seeing you on the playground on the day you started. It was so, so fun running into you at school, and playing with you at recess, knowing that as soon as I got home, I would run over and we would keep playing. I have a montage of memories of long days just spent playing all day. My mom would always come to the door and tell me it was time to come home, and we would always try and convince her to let me stay longer.
When I first heard the news, I was completely in disbelief, and praying in my head and out loud that it wasn't true. Once I confirmed it was true, I desperately wanted to do something, and apart from talking to my whole family, there was nothing I could do. I opened my journal to try and figure out how to process things, and what came tumbling out was a page full of random, one-liner memories, in just about five minutes (things like: Ghost in the Graveyard, afternoons at Homestead little league, pogo wars, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Playstation games, listening to In The Zone as we carpooled to Peterson.) I'm amazed at how many memories I found, just off the top of my head.
When I talked to my siblings, everyone had something to say. Even Coren & Sundar, who were around but only just, had so many memories of me and you and the twins and Roy running around. The five of us (and the two of us) were such a crew. How many movies do you think we watched on your sectional (after running home to get them approved by my mom?)
I visit your mom every time I go home. I know that's not much, but it's the only thing I can think to do. She misses you so much. She loves talking about you. She was, and is, so proud of you. Not only for being a wonderful daughter and companion to her and your dad, but a sister to Roy. I haven't seen Roy in a while, but I know Tarif is still hanging out with him some.
I'm sorry I didn't stay in better touch with you. I'm sorry I always bossed you around when we played together. I'm sorry I stopped running next door to see you in high school, and when I came home in college. I suppose I thought we had grown apart, and if I came and saw you, we wouldn't have anything to talk about. Honestly, I thought you didn't really want to be friends anymore. But your mom told me that when you would see me through the window over the past few years, you'd say "Mom, Mom look it's Priya!"
That's how I know, you were the same girl I knew, this whole time. That's the most heartbreaking part to me. After seeing you nearly every day for ten years when we were kids, I feel like I still know you so well. I know the kind of girl you were, and who you wanted to grow up to be. No matter what happened, and everything you grew up to be, you're still the same girl to me. The girl that would call me "Priya riya lemon squiya", and choreograph dance routines to the Lizzie McGuire soundtrack in the backyard with me, and give me Sanrio stickers for my sticker book, and use your allowance to buy us Sour Punch straws at baseball games.
There's nothing like a next-door-neighbor friend. I find myself thinking that a lot these days. I hope my daughter can have a friend like you to grow up with one day. Gina, you're the gigantic piece of my childhood that will never be forgotten.