Ezra started calling Ed my brother when they were three. Ezra and Ed, and later, Ed's sister Reece, converged on the sidewalk in front of our houses innumerable afternoons over the past four years, learning to toddle, tricycle, scooter, ride bikes. We parents sat in the shade of the giant old maple tree watching the kids wear a groove in the sidewalk. When I found out last month that Ed and his family were moving, I went into a tailspin.
I was supposed to have another baby and I forgot and now it's too late and Ed's moving and now Ezra is going to be alone forever!
That hysteria mostly waned in the ensuing weeks, but it helped if I tried not to notice the growing tower of packed boxes through their dining room window. It's not fair to say I'm so sad every time you run into your neighbors on the sidewalk.
I want a brother, Ezra told me recently. Apparently he knows which button to push to send me into paroxysms of self-reproach.
Do you want a brother like Cooper? I asked him later, as our friend's three-month-old played on the floor.
No, Ezra said. I want Eddie to live with me. Like me, Ezra doesn't relish the thought of a baby around here. Like me, he wants the insta-fun of developmentally appropriate friends. Is it too much to ask for the new mystery neighbors to have a five-year-old boy?
A windstorm last October brought a huge piece of their old maple crashing into our yard. A tree service took the rest of it a few days later. No more meeting place. No more shelter from the hot summer sun. Maybe that old tree was the ballast and without it, it was inevitable that one of our families would fly off into space.
During our last-hurrah gathering, all the grown-ups tried to huddle in the shade of the small Catalpa that's left. We gave up and moved the party into the back yard where the space was shadier, if less communal. The kids stripped down completely, tearing through the house and yard with unselfconscious abandon for hours. They partied like it was their last night together, and maybe it was.
We adults don't have that kind of freedom, but we have beer and sappy speeches, and wiped-away tears. We have all the customary things to say: We'll stay in touch. I hope your new commute is easy and your new neighbors are great. We'll come crash your pool some time.
What we mean is
Don't forget us.
We'll miss you.
Thank you for growing up with us.
I hope we're not alone forever.