I grew up playing with the boys. My cousin Daniel and I are 18 months apart and our mothers were close, so we were always together.
I had my own sleeping bag in his closet and a toothbrush in the bathroom vanity. When I would stay there, we’d often stay up late at night talking about what we'd do when we were big. I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, Daniel dreamed of going pro in an ever-changing sport.
We also spent a lot of time together at our grandmother’s. There we had separate bedrooms and in between them was the laundry shute.
We would dare each other to take the plunge to the basement. Neither of us ever did it. Instead, we'd send our transformers down.
There we also became allies against another of our older cousins who liked to make scary faces at us across the breakfast table or twist our arms in indian burns when he caught us in the yard later. We were each other’s lookout and each other’s comfort when we got hurt.
In the summer, weeks would go by when we were together every day, all day. We spent most of these at the swimming pool, where we were watched over by the trio of our respective mothers and Grandma.
Other days we spent afternoons playing in Daniel’s basement or out in the neighborhood with all the other boys. Daniel's house was across the street from two of my other young male cousins and his best friend, Sean, lived next door. He too had two little brothers.
I was always in the mix and almost always the only girl. No one seemed to care much though.
We invented fantastical games to play, that always involved aliens or armies and always some kind of escape plot. These normally involved climbing trees or clamoring over a fence in a jiffy.
I never remember them teasing me about being a girl, or telling me I couldn't join in because of it. I was just as fast and just as strong as they were. Sometimes even more fearless.
Gradually, though, as we grew older, the other boys on the street began to notice I was a girl. They increasingly pointed it out in the most crude ways.
About the time I turned 13, the neighborhood bully zeroed in on me. One day, his comments about my changing body and the laughter it drew from all my peers embarrassed me so badly I started to cry and ran away in shame.
I had slammed headfirst into adolescence. Nothing would ever be the same.
Suddenly, no other boys besides Daniel could be simply friends. There were always either alternative motivations on one side or the suspicion of them.
I no longer could just hang out with the boys as I’d always done. I had to make girl friends and do more girl stuff.
Eventually, Daniel and I drifted apart too. He went left and I went right down the road of life.
Yesterday he turned 32, and I couldn’t reach him. I just wanted him to know that I will always cherish those years we spent as the best of friends.