A few weeks ago, my best friend Alaina and I were at Salvation Army picking out a costume for Halloween. Thursday night, we were Garth and Kat from Saturday Night Live, but Friday night, she got to pick. 

“I just want to look like a girl,” she said, throwing up her hands. “Last night I looked like a potato.”

***

One of my best friends, Alaina, hates when I use “best friend” in the plural. “They can’t all be best. That’s not what best means,” she says, talking with her hands.

When I say someone I haven’t talked to in years is a “best friend,” she goes on a rant about this and that, loyalty and honesty and whatever. She gets exasperated over little things like who gets the title of “best friend,” things any logical person, in my opinion, would regard as trivial.

But I maintain that I have about 10 best friends. My best friend from sophomore year of high school, Erin, moved to some town in Wisconsin when we were 15. She checked in later that year to tell me a local megachurch was burning copies of the Harry Potter series for promoting witchcraft.

“I’m scared,” she said, but I figured she could fend for herself and left her to it. We ran into each other at Lollapalooza last summer.

See? Besties.

I wonder if someday Alaina will be like Erin — off in some remote corner of Wisconsin, hoarding her Harry Potter books beneath a floorboard in her room before the militia comes looking for contraband.

“OK, fine, you say we’re best friends,” Alaina says, waving her arms wildly, “but how many people have you said that to? Twenty?”

Who are the others? I won’t list them for time’s sake. But there’s my best and first friend, Jack, who I talk to more than any person I don’t live in the same house with, and who will probably be the best man at my wedding. When we talk, I have the sensation of opening a favorite book to a random page and finding I remember the characters and plot just as well.

But there are other best friends I don’t really talk to. There’s the best friend I got in a fistfight with. That ended the best-buds stage of our friendship. And he’s still my best friend because I owe him that, because at one point we would have done anything for each other. I still honor that. We may not be best buddies, but he’s my best friend.

And then there’s the best friend I fell in love with, by accident, and whose doorstep I showed up on halfway across the country, expecting who knows what, and for whom I found that I was too late, that we were going to stay best friends — nothing more, nothing less.

I think that’s really what it comes down to: A best friend is someone you love.

***

Appearances are another thing I think any logical person would regard as trivial. I prefer to look clever, and I told her, “We need a costume that makes you look hot and me look funny: I got it.”

But she didn’t like my idea of going with a “sluts and wizards” theme. So, she decided we were being Danny and Sandy from Greece. “Simple,” she said. “Just wear jeans and a white T-shirt and slick your hair back.”

Except that I’m an asshole, and I thought this was a pretty stupid idea, so I showed up dressed as a wizard anyway. Boom: wizards and sluts. I wore a white T-shirt and jeans underneath my costume, though, to change when Alaina went berserk on me. Honestly, I was just trying to get a rise out of Alaina because I was bored, and I wanted to look funny, and I liked the attention from people at the party. Alaina was upset, but she let me keep the wizard cloak on because, she agreed, it was sort of funny. She looked hot, and I looked funny. Perfect. So then we got on this bus to go to a party downtown and I figured everything was fine.

Fast forward to the bus back from the party: Alaina is crying and covered in fake blood, because I found a bottle of fake blood and told her it’d be funny if we changed from Sandy and a wizard to dead Sandy and a dead wizard. The bus is broken down at a gas station 10 minutes outside Detroit. It’s been a half an hour. My friend Connor is lying on his back in the parking lot, chain-smoking cigarettes. Alaina refuses to speak with me, and is in a corner crying tears of blood. She is freezing to death in a Sandy costume because she just wanted to look hot.

I took off my wizard cloak and covered her up with it. And just like that, I was unintentionally dressed as her Danny Zuko. I didn’t want to be. She wouldn’t be freezing if she’d just gone as a fur-covered Wild Thing and I’d gone as Max, like I’d said we should.

But she cared about all this. About looking good for once. About who her best friend is.

My point is this: You never really know what people care about, whether that’s stupid, little titles or looking good. But if you care about them, and I do, then you start to care about how they feel, even if you think what they care about is stupid.

So Alaina, I’m sorry. You’re not my best friend. But I do love you. I hope that’s enough.

P.S. I’m sorry I ruined your night and covered you in fake blood. 

Tom West can be reached at tkwest@umich.edu.

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