I have a framed picture of me and my friend Conrado. We’re in the eighth grade, sporting Catholic uniforms on stage with our elementary school principal for the annual spelling bee. It’s down to the wire with us two volleying back and forth sputtering letter-by-letter SAT-type vocabulary words to be designated the queen bee. I’m sure our classmates were rolling their eyes as Conrado and I glared at each other. The picture captures me smiling as I spelled my final word into the microphone held by our principal. Conrado, furious, sat in his seat looking away.
I treasure that picture because Conrado and I have been through it all. ALL. He was the new kid in second grade who I only really befriended when we were paired up to do a report on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism) several years later. His household–a five-minute bike ride away–was double the size of mine. His house was brimming with crap. And even better, his freezer was jam-packed with ice-cream! The first thing I did whenever I went to his place was sit myself down at his kitchen table and help myself to bowls of ice-cream. His hard-working parents probably never realized they were indulging another kid’s sweet tooth.
We giggled our way through high school and leadership camp. When he went away to UC Santa Cruz and Spain, I’d supplement my letters with recordings of me on cassette tape. “Hi Conrado, you know you’re not really missing much over here. Berkeley is kicking my ass. I swear I’m going to get a C in my Physiology class…”
After I graduated, I made that excursion to Europe that most college grads take. I was so proud to travel with Conrado, who was living in Spain, and have him translate everything. I don’t know anyone else who has such a gift for languages. It is truly impressive.
What’s telling about our friendship is not that we’ve known each other for almost thirty years or that we grew up together, but that even after adversity we are still there for each other. Because after I won that school spelling bee and he lost, guess who was there cheering me on at regionals.
Conrado is no longer a bike ride away. Truth be told, even if he was, I’d probably drive my ass over. But luckily our face-to-face time is frequent enough. If it weren’t, I’d get out my tape recorder. “Conrado, you’re not missing much, but seriously, it’s time to move home.”