My Best Friend Joey
I was seven when I first started writing letters. It was the year my father passed away. He was on active duty in Iraq. At the time, I did not understand why we fought with a fellow country and I did not understand why my father was killed. What I understood was that I had no father. Students in my school took that as an opportunity to bully me. My mother worked two jobs a day to take care of me and my little brother, Adam, and I didn’t want to disturb her with my sob stories. That is why I started writing.
I wrote to my imaginary friend, Joey. I wrote to him about everything that happened in my life. Whenever people bullied me or made me cry, Joey would know. Whenever I missed my father, Joey would know. I wrote to Joey about every little thing that happened in my life. I was seven when I started and my letters were nothing but scribbles and art interpretations of what I felt with very little words. As days progressed to months and blended into years, my letters became more legible and coherent.
It continued for ten years. I wrote a letter whenever I wanted to and hid it in the bottom shelf in my closet. No one else knew about my habit. Most of the letters were marked with my tears. Despite the sadness, I felt contented and satisfied the moment I finished the letter knowing I had some to talk to.
Things took a different turn when I turned sixteen. I didn’t have time to write as often as I used to. It turned to a monthly occurrence. In the beginning, it was because I was trying to find a job so that I could help my mother with the finances. After I had found a job, I was so worn out at the end of the day that I couldn’t lift myself off my bed for any reason. I worked, studied and took care of Adam and made sure he was not bullied.
It was my seventeenth birthday and I had asked the manager for a day off. After spending the evening with my mom and brother, I sat down to write a letter to Joey.
I am seventeen today. According to mom, I look a lot like dad. I had a look at the old photographs and I must say that I do agree with her. I can’t believe it has been ten years. I can still remember the last hug he gave me. He asked me to take care of mom and Adam. I miss him a lot. I wish he had come back. I wish Adam had gotten to know him like I did, at least for a short while.
I am sorry, I haven’t been writing to you as often as I used to. My schedule is hectic and I know that you would understand. You are my best friend, Joey.
Talk to you later,
The next day, when I returned from school, I saw a man in his early forties standing in the kitchen with a mug of hot coffee. My mom welcomed me with a smile and a hug like she always did.
“How was school, honey?” she asked me.
I dragged my eyes away from the man and looked at her. “It was okay.”
She introduced the man to me. “Alex, this is Joseph. We have been friends for a few years. Joseph, this is Alex, my elder son.”
Joseph gave me a warm smile and said, “Nice to meet you, Alex. Your mom has told me a lot about you.”
I nodded not knowing what to say.
“Do you want something to eat before you go, honey?” mom asked before the awkwardness set in.
I shook my head. “I have to go.”
“Joseph can drop you at work.” She turned to him and asked, “You can, right?”
“Is that alright with you?” she then asked me.
Not knowing what to say, I nodded.
As I took two steps at a time to go to my room, mom stopped me and said, “Joseph helped me fix the broken shelf in your closet. It should be alright now.”
“Thank you,” I told them and ran to my room.
The broken shelf was where I had hidden the letters. As I opened the closet, I saw that everything was in its place. As I was about to turn around, a red envelope caught my attention. It wasn’t mine.
I pulled it out from my letter pile and opened it. There was a folded paper nestled inside the envelope. Unfolding the paper, I saw a letter addressed to me in a very neat handwriting. I was shocked when I saw that the letter was from Joey.
Happy seventeenth birthday!
I should have wished you in person a long time back. Look at all the time that we have lost. Yet, I wouldn’t let that worry me. Do you know what they say about better late than never? It feels amazing to know that I can finally talk to you. Having lost my own father at a very young age, I know what it means to not have such a person in my life. If he had had a chance, I am sure your dad would have never left your mom, you and Adam to fend for yourselves and I am sure that your dad would have thought about you all the time.
Even though I am not family, I want a chance to share my life with the three of you. I want to be the father that I have always dreamt of being. Even though I can never be your dad’s replacement, and I don’t want to be his replacement either, I would love to fill up the void that he left behind. I would love to be Adam’s dad and give him all the love that he never had. I want to call the three of you my family.
If you don’t want me to be anything more than a friend, I can understand, Alex. I will always be your friend. Your best friend.
I was confused. I didn’t know who had written the letter. As I heard my mom call me, I replaced it in my closet, changed into a t-shirt and jeans and went to the kitchen.
“Shall we leave?” Joseph asked me.
He parked in front of the book store and before I could thank him for dropping me, his phone rang.
“Joey here!” he said.
I looked at him in shock.
“Wait a minute. Let me see if I have it.”
He reached over to my side to open the glove compartment. He pulled out his wallet and spoke to the person on the other end of the line.
Something in the glove compartment made me look twice. My eyes were fixed on the red envelope that looked like the one I had found in my closet. I was lost in my own thoughts and I hadn’t noticed that Joseph had finished his phone conversation until he touched my shoulder.
“You are Joey?” I asked him.
“I am Joey for friends.”
After a long pause, I said, “I have to go.”
“I’ll text you my number. Call me when you are done. I’ll pick you up.”
I took a few steps away from the car, thought for a second and then turned to face him. “What about people who want you to be more than a friend? How are they supposed to call you?”
A shocked look crossed his face and he turned to the other side but not before I saw the moisture in his eyes.
A few seconds later, when he faced me, there was no evidence of the moisture. His lips were curved upwards in a huge grin.
I returned his smile for the first time since I saw him that evening.