What Best Friends Forever Really Means

Friendship through the decades

6/11/20246 min read

Karen and I have been friends for 49 of our 50 years, ever since my mom babysat her while we were still in diapers. Since I have no siblings and my parents are gone, she is the only person who has known me my entire life and knows how I became who I am now.

The picture above was taken at an escape room several years ago. Just off camera are both of our children and a group of strangers with whom we were paired. We managed to escape the room without any arguments amongst the whole group.

The early years

When we were very young, we were competitive, each pushing the other to improve. I was just old enough that my motor control was better, and I could color in the lines. She became jealous and worked on her drawing and coloring.

Her mom was a teacher and worked with her on reading. She could read at two and could read the newspaper by age 4. Being five months older, I became jealous and taught myself to read that summer.

She was always an unusual child. Once I was grown, my mom liked to remind me that Beebers (Mom always called her Beebers as her last name is Habeeb) always wore her mom’s nightgowns to sleepovers and would laugh endearingly.

While playing on my front porch at about five years old, Karen asked me “Have you ever wondered if everyone sees colors the way you do?”

I had no idea what she was talking about, so I replied, “They have to. We all call them the same things. Everyone calls red red and blue blue.”

“No, I mean, How do you know that they are seeing the same red as you are seeing. You always call red red because it looks the same to you every time. So does everyone else. But maybe what they call red does not look the same to them as what you call red looks to you.”

Recently, I was remembering this conversation and how unusual it was for such a young child to think about this. “I don’t remember talking with you about this, but I remember my mom talking to me about it. She liked to bring up thought exercises for me.” So maybe her oddness, like the nightgowns, just came from her mom.

Our families intertwined

Her parents made me feel part of her family. We would play board games and do jigsaw puzzles together. They would read to us and take us to the movies and the park.

Her dad would chase us through the house, pretending to be Darth Vader. We would run from him, screaming, to break down in peels of laughter when he grabbed us and spun us around.

Her sister, who never got along with her, would play with me once Karen went to bed. Because of them, I knew what it was like to be part of a traditional nuclear family.

And my mom considered her to be a second daughter. For life. Karen always said that she would probably not like anyone else calling her Beebers, but she loved it from my mom. My mom made us popcorn for sleepovers and took us to play in the sprinklers in the park. And took us to Holiday World every year. In every sense, except the biological one, we were sisters.

The teenage years

As we got older, we began adding people to our friend group. She brought in a friend from middle school, then another from high school, and the two of us became the four of us. Like with all groups of teenage girls, this created a little drama. There were secrets and ingroups (even among the four), and the ingroups were constantly shifting.

Some friends stayed for longer than others. Some made holes that required long discussions and even longer recoveries. Some we never think of.

Once I got my license, Karen was the first person I picked up, and we went out for a soda. We used to drive for hours. This was when gas was less than a dollar a gallon, and we could do so. Sometimes with other friends, but always together.

There were not only friends but also boyfriends and partners. When I was a senior in high school, and Karen was a junior, I had gone out to eat with her and her first-ever boyfriend. I was driving them back to her house as they made out in my back seat.

I stopped at a stop sign near her house when a stranger stopped at the sign across the street. She saw me driving with two people making out in my back seat. This was pre-Uber, so I am sure it was quite a sight. We made eye contact, and I shrugged. She laughed full-on and continued laughing as we passed each other.

Early adulthood

Our closest friend group lasted into early adulthood, and they were all bridesmaids at my wedding. Karen, of course, was my maid of honor. Before she walked down the aisle, while I was standing next to my dad getting ready for my own march, she turned to me and said “Thank you for being my friend all these years.”

Just after this, we started to have cracks in the group, and while we lost contact with the other two, Karen and my friendship continued to go strong.

The next year, Karen moved across the country to Portland, Oregon. We talked on instant messenger most days. She would fill me in on her new job and her new friends. And her new boyfriend.

My son was still an infant when she married that new boyfriend, so I could not go to her wedding. I regretted this, but he was too young for me to leave him for this long. She brought him into town so that I could meet him, as, obviously, I had to be a part of such a big part of her life.

Then she had her daughter. And she brought her to town so that her extended family could meet her. Not only was I part of this, but my mom was also. My mom insisted that she “bring that baby to the house.” I have a picture of my son, Josh, sitting in my mom’s living room chair at three years old, with her daughter (who was about six months) propped in his lap. This made it into my son’s annual Snapfish baby book.

Afterward, we took our children to the zoo, and it was a perfect zoo day. Blue sky, warm sun, breeze. We posed our children with the animals and the obvious photo op areas. We talked about being new mothers and about our plans.

Once she and her husband divorced and she and her daughter moved back, we had dozens of other zoo days. We have watched tiger feedings and seal shows. We played in the zoo playgrounds and splash park and rode the zoo train. But none have stuck in my head as much as that one — our first zoo trip together since we were children ourselves.

The difficult years

I called Karen one February afternoon. She was my first call, after calling my dad. She immediately knew something was wrong as we always use IM instead of calling. She picked up “Every OK?”

“I have been up all night at the hospital with Josh. He tried to overdose on Immodium.”

“Oh my God. Is he ok? Are you ok?”

“He is in the children’s psych ward. They made him drink that activated charcoal stuff at the ER. I am ok, I guess. I should done something sooner. I am just so tired.”

“What’s next? What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

We spent the next several years (and still now) discussing raising children with mental health difficulties. And raising gay children in today’s society. And what that means and how to help them. Again, Karen, with her thinking that is so different from my own, was able to help me see different angles. I like to think that I did the same for her.

The next year, just after my dad was diagnosed with cancer, my dad, stepmom, and I ran into Karen’s dad at McDonald's. I gave him a hug, and her dad and my dad spoke for a minute about how long it had been since they had seen each other. Our families intertwine again.

It felt odd to me that they did not recognize each other until I re-introduced them. Since her dad was once such an important part of my life. And here I was with my dad, who I knew I was about to lose, who was always my real best friend and so important to me.

I lost my dad in May 2020, during very early COVID, so she could not travel to be here. But she came to town as soon as she could and held my hand while I cried, sitting outside a coffee shop so we could talk unmasked.

She knew my dad, but not as well as my mom because my parents divorced when I was very young, and I lived with my mom. But she knew what he meant to me and was the only person I had who had been there through my entire life and relationship with him. My mom was still alive, but by this time, Alzheimer’s had taken her ability to understand what was happening.

Three years later, when my mom was put on in-home hospice, Karen came into town to say her goodbyes. “Hey Bev. It’s Beebers.” My mom did not know her; she didn’t even know me. But she was happy to see her anyway.

“Thank you for being my second mom and for helping raise me.”

My mom smiled at her. At this point, she could no longer understand what was being said, but was happy to have people talk to her.

“I always loved your atomic tea. And you were the only person I knew who cooked popcorn on the stove. And I remember the green bowl you always put it in.

“Thank you for giving me my best friend.”

Then, when Mom passed away a few months later, Karen came into town again. She sat with me at home for the two days after she died, sharing old memories and helping me with grief. We both laughed and cried and laughed some more.

I told her I was having trouble writing her obituary, and she told me things she loved about my mom. “I remember how welcoming she was. She hugged everyone who ever came into her house. And how much she loved babies and kids. And how she liked to feed everyone.”

Karen had to leave before my mom’s funeral, but her mom came. Again, mashing up her family with mine while I was grieving, and I needed to remember that others helped raise me and loved me.

Which brings us to now

It has been one year since then. We continue to chat nearly every day, most of the day, through IM, just as we began when she first moved away 20 years ago. We tell each other about our plans for the day. I tell her about my grief and my recent surgery and recovery. She tells me about fights with her husband and their impending divorce. I try to support her as much as I can from afar.

Karen is coming into town this week, and I look forward to spending time with her and catching up on all of her work and relationship gossip. I will have dinner with her, her daughter, and her parents.

We will talk about our kids, our families, our friends, and our jobs. But also probably the same odd ideas we discussed as children. And the same science, philosophy, and politics we discussed as teenagers. We will reminisce about old friends and a lifetime together. As much as things have changed over the past five decades, I am so very grateful that so much has remained the same.