The first time I considered someone a “best friend” was in the first grade. I used to live a few houses down from a little blue-eyed blond boy named Johnny. He and I used to play on his pretty awesome Matchbox racetrack at least twice a week. He was my best friend for about a season.

My second grade best friend was a bully named Chris. He was pretty much the toughest kid on the playground. Our friendship ended when he decided to bully my older brother, Joey. It backfired; and Chris was left with a black-eye and bruised ego. Subsequently, I decided to replace Chris with a tougher kid — a Samoan named Otto.

After Otto came a curly-haired nerd named Eddie — a quiet, super smart, shy kid who loved to play with those little green Army men. He moved, too. Our friendship lasted about a year.

After Eddie came Joel. He and I watched Saturday morning cartoons, played marbles, and invented a game which involved TV toy commercials.

After Joel came a string of close friends, but none whom I considered best friends.

In fact, I didn’t think much about having a best friend until middle school. Girls used to make what are called “slang books,” which were simple binder/notebooks filled with questions. Basically, one would answer a different question on each page of the notebooks. The questions ranged from “What’s your favorite song?” to “What’s your favorite movie?” to “Who is your best friend?”

During that time, I wrote only one name: Rodney (pictured here with me at our 8th grade graduation). He and I were inseparable until he moved to Oakland. We’re still good friends today.

Middle school is also when I began to understand the true value of friendship. And since then, I have never taken any close friendship for granted.

My closest friends came from the streets. Streets like Norwood Avenue, Cerrito Way, El Zuparko Drive, Burdick Way, 8th Street, Montalvo Drive, Sullivan Avenue, and Jamaica Way.

The streets haven’t changed, but many of my friends reside in other areas, and while our cherished friendships have been separated by time and distance, my memories have kept them close.

May you all celebrate this season with love and friendship.

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