My childhood best friend was someone I met in my first year of preschool. He moved away after that, but still close enough to visit, and remained an ongoing confidant whom I saw regularly through my primary school years. While get-togethers became less frequent in our adolescence, we still stayed in touch until graduating high school. Our first encounter coincided with the second coming of Mars in my life, (If you’re not aware, according to astrology Mars returns to its original position in the sky from the day you were born every ~2 years.) so I’m going to refer to him as Mars for this reason, in order to protect his privacy and emphasize this poetic coincidence. (I don’t believe in astrology, but it’s an interesting pseudo-science.)
When you’re trans and come out post-adolescence, there’s always a sense of regret coupled with the belief that if you’d only transitioned sooner, your life would be infinitely better off. I’m not exempted from this unfortunate situation, but if there’s one saving grace of enduring the “wrong childhood,” it undoubtedly came in the form of my friendship with Mars. There’s no way we would have met, much less become anywhere near as close, if not for him asking me to play with blocks that first day of preschool. From there, our coincidentally shared first names were a huge source of amusement between ourselves and our parents. It was like destiny that we be together, or so others might joke. If I had been a girl at the time, it’s extremely unlikely he would have initiated contact, much less stay in touch years later. I wouldn’t trade our friendship for anything, even if it meant getting to be myself from the beginning.
A Vivid Imagination
Mars and I shared a name just as we shared a love of dinosaurs, Ninja Turtles and Super Nintendo. He always had a knack for making things far more interesting than they really were. To Mars, it wasn’t just that we beat Turtles in Time for example, it was that we were now on an elite list for having done so–we were famous. He used to make up pretend backstories on the spot for our video-games as we played, filling in his personal mythos level by level, incorporating each new enemy sprite or location into the new narrative. Sometimes it was just simple things: like his idea that Slash was the Turtles’ father, or that the white foot soldiers were the technicians for all the mousers and roadkill rodneys. Other times, it was telling a story of how the Empire created those weird giant ants in Super ROTJ, or reinterpreting the Sail Barge sequence as our hero trying to stop a plane mid-flight. (As a result, we would go out of our way to destroy all the pipes which leak fuel when attacked when we played that particular level.)
After getting our fill of videogames for awhile, we’d usually chill in my room or the basement to play with Star Wars and Jurassic Park action figures in elaborate plots we’d make up. I had other friends who were willing to play with physical toys, but they all grew out of it far earlier than Mars did. As someone who liked to exercise my own imagination as well, I always appreciated the free reign that came with physical toys as opposed to electronics. We’d sword fight as Peter Pan and Captain Hook, or play Batman and Robin in the vein of the animated series. I remember my first sleepover was at his house, where we watched Angels in the Outfield and The Swan Princess together. (Mars wasn’t worried about enjoying feminine media or characters, unlike nearly every other boy I knew then. I recall him being a fan of The Little Mermaid for example.)
As far as movies in the cinema go, I recall seeing Disney’s Atlantis, Jurassic Park 3 as well as the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films together as each debuted in theaters. While the first two certainly don’t hold up very well today, at the time we were enthralled by them. I recall Vinny from Atlantis appealed to us particularly, with his imitable accent and dry sense of humor. As for Pirates…well, the first was arguably the greatest theater-going experience I’ve ever had. Just pure fun and excitement, and a big part of what made that particular summer so special in my memory. The second was great at the time, though far less magical and ultimately it hasn’t aged as well as its predecessor. (Mars and I never saw the subsequent Pirates movies together, and after the monumental disappointment of the third installment, I stopped watching them altogether myself.)
When the two of us spent a week together at a sleep away camp for the first time, Mars had all the other kids in our cabin mesmerized by his stories of sentient Cheese-men fighting a war of dominance (I was rooting for the “Lemonanbaloney Cheese” myself). I remember he was so gentle that the camp counselor’s daughter (who was ~5 while the rest of us were approaching 10) once approached him and asked for a piggy back ride. Similarly, Mars was so righteous that he once chewed out another kid for throwing a stone at a butterfly and crushing its wing. Everyone else there seemed to respect him, and while I was more shy and introverted in comparison, Mars remained supportive and reverent towards me in particular. To be his best friend was a special feeling that I can only describe as mirroring how Gene Forrester felt towards Phineas. That is to say, I was a little envious of his easy-going confidence to be sure, but mostly full of gratitude and awe. (Hence the A Separate Peace imagery throughout this post.)
A Softer Side
In stark contrast with other boys from my childhood, Mars was comfortable and even romantic around girls from the first. He always looked out for my sister and found ways to include her in the game if she had nothing else to do, where my other friends would have been happy to leave things “boys only.” He had us make up our own pretend girlfriends; mine was named “Treeflower” after theAngry Beavers character, and as I recall his was named “Laura” after a girl in our class. They’d come with us on our adventures–I remember once we even played house where our two make-believe families were next door neighbors. Mars and I raised our pretend kids together and built our houses on an icy mountain. In actuality, this “mountain” was the staircase, and we’d make a show of falling down the steps a few times before finally prevailing the trek to make it to the top.
Sometimes after running around all afternoon and getting tired out, we would sneak away from our parents or the crowds at a party and just lie in bed together, talking. There was one such occasion where we reminisced about some unrelated surgeries we both had done recently. Unlike anyone else in my life back then or for many years into the future, I felt comfortable admitting to Mars that I had been scared. Rather than belittle me for it, or tease me, he admitted he was scared too. (See, Mars wasn’t like other boys I knew; he didn’t get caught up in trying to hide emotions or one-up other people.) In any case, that special moment represents the closest I’d ever felt with another person before, or for quite some time afterward. I remember a similar occasion when we were 8 or 9, we snuck away from our families to his parents’ bedroom and watched old TV shows on Nick @ Night. They were showing The Facts of Life, and we talked about which girls we thought were the prettiest and what our future wives would be like in a fanciful fashion.
There was another instance like that between us, when Mars and I were playing outside and a freak thunderstorm occurred. We judged his house to be too far, and therefore ran into his shed. Once inside, we just chilled there until it passed, talking about what our child-brains imagined caused lightning…
Those were some great memories, to be sure. He was far and away the best part of my childhood.
A Comforting Presence
I sometimes wonder how life would have been different had Mars not moved away–would we have remained besties if we had went to the same schools, or grown apart? Did the separation later in life cause us to lose what might have been an even closer bond or did it foster a healthy distance so we could remain companions without losing touch because of emerging cliques or social orders? Either way, I’ll admit that come Middle School and High School I sometimes dreaded seeing him again. Not that I didn’t want to hang out, but I worried that I wouldn’t live up to Mars’ status anymore. After getting bullied a lot around that age, seeing someone from before it had started was like a reminder of old potential and how far I’d diminished in the years since. I feared that he might sense that I was no longer in his league.
Fortunately, Mars always surprised me for the better, and each time we reunited it was as though no time had passed. As an example of our close bond through the years, I recall one time where the two of us were in our teens. We happened to be lounging side by side on the couch watching Season 1 of Family Guy, and his mom walked in. She saw us and said affectionately “you guys don’t miss a beat when you’re together.” A year or two later, I recall us having a sleepover at my house and waking up in the middle of the night. We flipped through the channels at 3 or 4 in the morning, caught the last half of a Mission Hill episode and laughed so hard we woke my parents. At times like these, it felt like losing Mars as a protective and reassuring friend had caused my life to go astray in his absence, but with his return I was on track and worthy of affection again. It was a devastating blow every time we had to part ways; nobody else in my life made me feel as happy as he did. At least, not during that otherwise terrible period in my life–fuck secondary school.