In seventh grade, Heather was the new girl in school. She was chubby and bookish and wore weird, gaudy clothing - denim hats covered in puff-paint flowers, neon orange skeleton earrings that dangled to her shoulders. During a game of kickball, she sat in the gravel on the sidelines, drawing circles in the dust with her sneaker with her face buried in a huge, hardcover Unabridged Shakespeare. She carried that book with her everywhere. I adored her instantly. I didn't want to play kickball either. I sat down next to her and we were best friends.
There's a surprise twist in this story, but I don't want you to feel waylaid when it comes, so I'll spoil it now: Heather dies in her sleep, at the age of twenty-five, of an undiagnosed heart condition.
It's difficult to articulate the process by which two twelve-year-old girls with a lot of things in common - archetypally awkward, voracious readers, intellectually far ahead of their burgeoning social skills - become inseparable. It feels predestined, unfolding with the simplicity of a teen-movie montage: sleepovers, slasher movies, painting each other's fingernails, singing into hairbrushes. It's hard to imagine that there was a time I didn't know her; that there are aspects of my personality that predate Heather. It feels like we created each other from scratch, scribbling in the details and watching ourselves take shape. We like scary movies. We say "fuck" a lot. We write poetry. I learn to think of myself as strong, confident, unaffected by adversity, because that's how I see heather. Without her I would be too self-conscious to be the first person on the dance floor. But she is always there beside me, throwing her long hair into my face, and I'm not embarrassed if the two of us are together.