Before I turned fourteen, my best friend died. I had other friends with whom I had more in common, but only one who was always there when I needed him, whose grin always made me happy, whose common sense outweighed my imagination. Johnny Howard was the first boy I ever knew. In true Anchor Point style, he stayed with us when his mother had to leave town to see a doctor. We fought over the same toys, slept in the same bed. It never occurred to me whether I liked him or not or he me. We belonged to each other in a way that my other friends and I did not. No matter what, I knew we would always be friends.
Then he went swimming in a frigid lake, got a cramp, and drowned. Another friend, another Johnny, was there. He couldn't help. I couldn't believe it. When my mother said she was going to the funeral, I insisted on going with her.
It was an open-casket ceremony. My mother went up. I didn't. She came back shaking with sobs. "That wasn't Johnny," she told my shoulder as she cried. My mother never cried.
I stared at her. Of course it wasn't Johnny. He had no place in this little church where people sang hymns and plastic flowers filled the front of the room. Johnny was outside somewhere, waiting for me, grin exploding in his freckled face, drawling out my name. What was going on here had nothing to do with him at all.
But I couldn't find him, ever again. Now I know that when people say they've "lost" someone, that someone is "gone," they aren't employing euphemisms. Just when I needed him most, as I stopped being a little girl and became something I didn't understand, I lost the boy who would have helped me through all of this. I know somewhere in the woods where we used to play or near the river where he went fishing, Johnny Howard is there. He's waiting for me. I just have to find him.