When I met him, I had no idea who he would become to me. I didn't know I would have over a dozen nicknames for him, or that I would learn all his favorite foods, or that I would spend more time with him than anyone else on our team of 60+ people. This is what it's like to know him.
Let's start out with a name. We'll call him... Ned. That's one of his nicknames; my grandfather once called him that by accident and I, of course, thought it was hilarious, so it stuck. Ned and I met when I was fifteen and he was fourteen, a wee tiny thing who was shorter than me at the time. Now he's pushing 5'9" (his words, not mine) but that's with shoes on, so we'll say he's 5'8".
My first memory of Ned is floating in a pool with him at a mutual friend's house. She was throwing a party for a reason I don't remember, maybe just to hang out, but we were both there and had been pretty much all day. It was getting late, and I was tired of playing chicken fights, so I was floating on my back and looking up at the few stars I could make out. All of a sudden there was this scrawny kid floating next to me, and he said, "they really are something, aren't they?" in reference to the stars above us. I said, "yeah, they are," and it seemed at the time like such a little thing, when in reality it was the first sentence of a book that was going to change my life.
We became fast friends, both in the drumline in our school's marching band, both a bit of an oddball, both quieter and less obnoxious than the rest of the people in our section. We'd practice together, hang out together, and laugh together at jokes that weren't even funny. We'd make puns together (my favorite: whilst being teased about something, he grabbed a small tree branch and shouted, "LEAF ME ALONE!"). He saw me through a really tough time without even knowing it; being his friend was easy.
Fast forward to a year later. He finishes freshman year strong and I limp out of sophomore year like a wounded gazelle. The tables began to turn—he'd had my back for a year, and it was time for me to have his.
Now is when I get lucky enough to really know Ned. I know his favorite three colors in order (purple, pink, blue), his go-to sick food (toast with cinnamon and sugar, he doesn't like soup), and what he has every year on his birthday (brownies, because he doesn't like cake, either) (he's a tad picky). I also know he has knee problems, and his back cracks like a Ziploc bag from bottom to top, and he once drank a bunch of NyQuil and proceeded to see how late he could stay up.
I also know he's scared of change, and the unknown. He's scared of not being enough, of never knowing what or who he wants to be, of never finding love. He can hold on to a good memory forever, cling to it even if it can't happen again because it still makes him happy. He speaks mostly through metaphors and song lyrics, and most of his analogies have something to do with space. He wants kids, just one though, so he can spoil them. In a zombie apocalypse, he would do his best to round up his family and get everyone to a deserted island and make a go of it there. He told me once if we were both single at 34, we'd just marry each other, but he might've had some NyQuil before he said that. He breathes really loudly, and he loves Golden Oreos.
Fast forward a bunch of years, and I still know him, just like I did all that time ago. Knowing him has been one of the great blessings of my life. It has not been easy, it has not been simple or even always good. It's been really sad sometimes, and even heartbreaking every once in a while. But we laugh so hard we can't breathe at jokes that aren't even funny, and I can tell what kind of day he's having from a hundred yards away. Knowing him has been synonymous with knowing me. I've never regretted a moment of it, even when it hurts, even when it isn't easy. I never will.