It was my first day of preschool, September 7, 1996 at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Astoria, Queens. I had gotten up extra early that day because I was so anxious. I must have changed my dress three times before my parents gave me my Disney princess lunchbox and we were on our way. A million scenarios ran through my head as we walked to school. What if my teacher was crazy? What if the kids in my class didn’t like me? No, I thought to myself. I have to make at least one friend, just one.
As my parents and I approached the school, I saw a group of kids with their parents outside of the classroom where I was headed. I immediately started scanning the crowd for potential friends. Once the teacher let us in, I sat down at the nearest empty round table in front of some blank paper and crayons. I began to doodle and as I reached for a new crayon, I noticed a new girl sitting in front of me.
“Can you please pass me that blue crayon,” I said to her.
Without even looking over at me she slid the crayon across the table. I thanked her and continued to doodle. A few minutes passed and I began to wonder about this new girl in front of me.
“What’s your name,” I asked her.
She looked up and responded “Celestina”. Jeez, I thought to myself. I had to pick out the girl with the weird name. After realizing that was a minor factor,I said “My name is Ashley!”
She looked up again, stared at me and then, she began to cry. I panicked. Soon enough both of our parents came over to see what was going on. It turns out that our parents had been talking as well. Coincidently we also lived on the same street so we all ended up walking home together. I really can’t remember what happened after that on that first day. What I do know is that somehow, after that day we became inseparable. From that day forward, we just assumed that we would be best friends forever.
There was a girl in our grade who would always come up to Cel and me in the hallway and ask us if we were sisters. At first we were annoyed, but after awhile we just started saying yes. We couldn’t even blame her for thinking so. Even though I hated sports, I joined the basketball team so that we could be on it together. And even though Cel hated going shopping for dresses, skirts and cute halter tops, we would buy matching outfits just because we could. We joined girl scouts and planned to sell the most cookies out of the whole entire troop so that we can say we did it together.
In the fourth grade, we had to take a New York State English exam. The essay question was something like “describe an adventure you have been on with your best friend”. Naturally, I thought of an adventure I had with Cel. I wrote and I wrote about the first time her mom let us take a walk around the block to the deli by ourselves. We took longer than expected and she had her phone in her hand ready to call the police to report us missing. Cel and I were nine years old at the time and thought it was hysterical, but also thrilling because it was the first time we had ever been on our own. After we finished the exam that day we talked about what we wrote about on our walk home from school and realized we had written almost the same exact essay. We both stopped to look at one another and simultaneously said “They’re going to think we cheated!” We laughed and continued on our way knowing that we were happy to have written about the same thing. It made us feel closer than ever.
When I had reached to fifth grade, my parents could no longer afford to keep my brother and me in Catholic school. In the fall, I was to transfer to P.S. 122, and that meant I had to make new friends. Up until that year, I didn’t feel the need to make other friends. Cel was mad because she too had to make other friends, and unfortunately, she didn’t have very much luck. The little separation between us meant a lot more to us then it did to most people. We cried for days. We made time for each other on the weekends, and we were always on the phone after school. No one and nothing was going to truly separate us, we thought.
I have so many good memories from being at Cel’s house with her family. Her family is Italian, so I guess I can say I was also raised Italian. Her Nonna makes the best meatballs I have ever had in my entire life. She also always forced me to eat even when I was not hungry. And she didn’t have a problem with giving us super strong espresso at ten years old which kept us up for hours during sleepovers. I’m not sure what we would talk about until three in the morning but I do know that we had a lot of those nights. We would do each other’s hair, eat a lot of marble loaf cake and just gossip away until one of us fell asleep.
By the time we hit middle school, Cel and I had gone through many ups and downs. I was always having family problems and when things got bad I “ran away” to her house. I also got bullied in middle school so we thought it would be a good idea if we took some Jujitsu classes. The summertime before high school began and we thought it would be the best summer of our lives. We both started working at a day care, which we both agreed was an absolute nightmare. We had our days planned filled with plenty of water fights, chasing after Mr.Softee, playing football, having Bop-It tournaments…Then, it happened.
“I’m moving,” she said.
As we both sat there in silence, we knew what this meant for the both of us. We would be separated for the hardest time in any teenage girl’s life: high school. We were both terrified of starting high school. It was a bigger school with a lot more competition and older kids. We needed to start thinking about college. It was a completely new and scary beginning which is why I am extremely shocked at myself for remaining so calm up until the day she moved. Then the day came and I remember being so angry. I was angry at her parents for wanting to move, I was angry at her for moving, I was just heartbroken. How could this be happening? How was I supposed to go through high school without my best friend?
The day she moved I remember all of our other friends chasing after the cab after it left from her house. I stayed behind to console her Nonna. I remember her crying , asking why and saying some other things in Italian that I could not understand. I just held her and told her that it was going to be okay and that I would visit her often. In my head I kept asking myself the same question. Why did she have to move? I cried so much that day. I remember telling my mom that it felt like a little piece of me was missing.
As sad as we were, we made efforts to stay close. We would send each other letters in the mail. She would come to NY during her breaks and I even went to see her in Las Vegas one summer. We met each other’s new friends and still knew everything that was going on in each other’s lives. But it just wasn’t the same as having her around the corner like she used to be. Even though we both made a lot of friends in high school, for some reason I never found a girl that I could call my “best friend”. I remember going out with a group of girls and at some point in the night everyone would pair off to talk and I always found myself sitting in a corner alone. This happened for four years.
There is one birthday party in particular that I remember. Six other girls and I went out to a Mexican restaurant and we had to couple up to sit across from each other. I was the only one sitting by myself, which left me out of most of their conversations that night. That made me really upset so I picked up my cell phone to text Cel. I spent the entire night texting her about the party and when everyone else got up to go home I said my goodbyes and pretended that nothing was wrong. It had been a couple of years since she had moved so I had been trying to pretend that it didn’t matter. I tried to pretend that I could make other best friends. Best friends that wouldn’t leave me.
Growing up, I never realized how it was more important to have one really good friend, rather than having lots of fake friends. I made the mistake of trusting a lot of people I probably shouldn’t have, and doing a lot of favors for no one who would have my back in the end.
Two years ago, Cel moved back to the east coast to go to culinary school in Providence, Rhode Island . This made both of us ecstatic because that meant that we could see each other more often. Two weeks ago, Cel moved back to New York to do an internship. We try to see each other every week even if it’s just for a quick coffee to catch up. We are both practically adults now, but now more than ever we cherish the friendship we started that first day of preschool. I now realize that Cel never “left” me. She was always there for me regardless of how many miles away we lived from each other. I’m glad I made that wish that first day. One friend was all I really needed.