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First Love: Watching My Daughter Fall in Love With Her Best Friend

“Jude and Lucy like each other,” my 8th grade daughter said, when I asked her what was wrong.

“Oh honey,” I said. Her hair smelled like wood smoke. “And you’re sad because… do you like Jude?”

She shook her head.

“Do you like Lucy?” I asked.

She burst into tears and ran out the door. From the moment I first held her, I dreaded the day my daughter’s heart would be broken. Scraped knees I could fix with band-aids and kisses, but I couldn’t fix this.

Lucy had transferred into my daughter’s school that fall, and I’d heard a lot about her. Lucy is the star of the soccer team and the basketball team. Lucy was born in Italy. “Look how pretty Lucy is.” And now Lucy was “dating” (whatever that meant in 8th grade) Jude, a boy my daughter had befriended in 3rd grade and leaned into like the brother she didn’t have.

I sat next to my daughter on the bench swing. She said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

The Crush

Lucy and my daughter roomed together on the 8th grade trip to Washington, DC. In 9th grade I took them to the mall where I bought my daughter a girly dress that I knew she only wanted because Lucy said it looked good. I was out of town on business so another mom sent me videos of the girls getting ready for the 9th grade homecoming dance. They all wore matching cocktail dresses in different colors. Lucy, in bright red, stood above my daughter, fixing her hair with a curling iron. I could see in the way my daughter’s shoulders curved, eyes closed, she still loved Lucy.

Lucy went to the dance with a JV football player.

Falling in Love with Your Best Friend

As I write this, I hear a knock on my bedroom door.

“Do you have a minute?” my daughter asks.

I don’t tell her I’m busy writing about her. I don’t tell her I’m busy at all. For 16 years I have paused anything for my daughter. I will do it for the rest of my life.

“Guess what happened at the prom committee meeting?” Her high school has decided to hold junior prom. Outdoors, masked, with food trucks.

“What?” I ask.

“A bunch of moms were there and they totally took it over.”

“Oh no,” I say. “Was it the wine moms?”

“It was,” she laughs and tells me about how the popular-girl field-hockey moms dominated the planning. The phone she’s palming, an extension of her arm, exudes a snort laugh.

“Is Lucy here?” I ask.

“I am. I’m just being quiet,” says the phone.

During this eternal pandemic, my daughter and Lucy carry each other around on FaceTime for hours a day. They text each other during online classes. They negotiate a deal that if they get Covid tests each Wednesday, they can hang out in person on the weekends. After three years of friendship, my daughter and Lucy are a couple. They know that I know, but they’ve only told a few other people. I don’t think Lucy’s parents know anything about it. It’s not mine to tell. It’s a lot to hold.

“Hi Lucy,” I say.

“Hi.” Lucy has a cute husky voice. She’s smart and tortured and talented and confused. She loves my daughter, I know she does, but she struggles with what it means in a way my daughter does not.

My daughter is not unsure about who she is.

They are having the kind of intense love you’re meant to have your junior year of high school, despite the pandemic, despite the world being upside down.

On Saturday afternoons I hear laughter roaring out from her room and then long stretches of silence. I don’t know what to do with myself. I go outside and stack wood.

I buy my daughter the black suit she wants for prom. Lucy texts a picture of high-heeled boots.

“Don’t you think she would look great in these?” Lucy asks.

“She would,” I say, “if that’s what she wants to wear.”

I know my daughter would be more comfortable in her Chuck Taylors. I know she’ll wear heels, partly to gain on Lucy’s basketball-star height, mostly because Lucy says she likes them. I am shown pictures of Lucy’s dress, bright red (again) with a thigh-high slit. Lucy sewed them matching masks. They’ll hint at their coupledom while under the camouflage of a girl group.

The pandemic is wreaking havoc on teenagers, leaving them isolated and depressed. My daughter has fallen in love with her best friend and is as happy as I’ve ever seen her, hormone-flooded and cheek-flushed. It feels tenuous and necessary.

The Worry

“I’ve never known anyone who fell in love with their best friend, played the long game, and had it work,” I say as I check in on her before I go to bed. She’ll stay up for hours more. “Except maybe in a John Hughes’ movie.”

I tell her that I admire her: “You love who you love and you know it’s a risk but you are willing to take it.”

I tell her that I worry for her: “I like Lucy so much but you shouldn’t have to keep yourself secret…”

“I know. It’s not going to end well,” my daughter predicts. “I’m in love with a straight girl.”

“Yeah, she’s not that straight,” I say, “and yeah, it’s probably gonna end in heartbreak.”

I give her the concerned look that always makes her say, “Mom, I got this.” We say goodnight.

I brace myself. There’s no band-aid for the pain that might come and mine are not the kisses she needs.

Erika Higgins

Erika Higgins is a writer; marriage and family therapist; mother; and activist who lives in Western Massachusetts. Her work has been published in Juice Magazine, Mommy Poppins, LA.com, and Stagebill Magazine. Higgins was a founding member of the all-girl band Big Panty (many moons ago). She is currently working on a novel.

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