When my daughter was scared on the first day of kindergarten, Gabby held her hand as they climbed the stairs onto the big yellow bus together.
When Sophie was anxious those first few days of school, Gabby was there to wrap her arm around her best friend and let her know everything was going to be alright.
When Sophie was too shy to speak up, Gabby was her voice. When Sophie was sad, Gabby was always there with her mega-watt smile to make everything better. When Sophie needed a someone to talk to, Gabby was there to listen.
For nine years, Gabby was everything a little girl growing into a young adult could ever want from a friend … and more. They were polar opposites in so many ways — Gabby was bubbly and outgoing, Sophie has always been a pensive and more stoic child. Gabby loved fun and new adventures, my daughter has always been an old soul, grounded in convention.
They didn’t even look the same — Gabby, despite being almost a year older, was shorter and had the most beautiful blonde hair and hazel eyes. My Sophie was always a few inches taller with brooding brown eyes and a dark shock of hair atop her head.
All of those differences, however, seemed to make them the perfect complement to one another as they became best friends from the day they met in preschool.
I’ll never forget the first time I met Gabby Ellis. I was chaperoning one of Sophie’s preschool field trips and, when I came into the classroom, she and Gabby were sitting at a small table together coloring.
“We’re leaving here in a few minutes, Toots,” I said to Sophie, throwing out one of the nicknames I frequently use for her (which she hated then and hates now — but not nearly enough to make me stop using them).
Gabby stopped her coloring project and looked up quizzically.
“Is her name Toots?” Gabby asked me earnestly.
“No, I just call her that,” I said, smiling back as a grin broke out across her cherubic face.
Gabby then began telling me all about herself. She was — and would remain — one of the most precocious kids I’ve ever met. Ten minutes later, I felt as though I knew her entire life story.
“And what’s your name?” I managed to sneak in while she was telling me all about herself.
“Gabby,” she said, nodding her pigtails up and down.
“Well, that certainly is a perfect name for you,” I said.
Gabby and Sophie were three years old. They immediately became inseparable. They would continue on through school together at Heywood Elementary School, where they would remain best friends. Teachers and staff knew that where you found one, the other wasn’t far behind. As they became friends, my wife and I became close friends with her parents, Todd and Jessica, who — much like their daughter — were two of the kindest, friendliest, most genuine people we had ever met.
The fact they also had a son the same age as our son seemed to make everything a perfect fit for all involved. We would go out to dinner together, go bowling together and sometimes share in life’s more serious moments with one another. We trusted them to take care of our daughter like one of their own children and I’m pretty sure they felt the same way about us with their children.
For the past nine years, Sophie and Gabby grew up together, from toddlers to pre-teens on the cusp of becoming young women. As close as they were, we all just figured they would be together forever.
Until this past weekend, when Gabby and her grandmother died tragically in an automobile accident. Looking my daughter in the eye and telling her that her best friend was gone is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my entire life. As hard as that was, however, it can’t possibly compare to what her family is going through.
Our daughter — and our family — all were blessed to know Gabby for the short time we did. She truly touched our lives and improved them every time we were together. It’s hard to make sense of how or why this had to happen.
What we do know, however, is this: Gabby may not be here any longer to hold Sophie’s hand on the first day of school or stay up late texting on a Friday night, but she’ll forever be in our daughter’s heart and soul, as she will with everyone whose lives she touched in her all-too-short time here on Earth.
Because, in the end, that is the truest friendship of them all. No amount of time or space can possibly tear apart the bond my daughter had with her friend. It is a friendship that will last well into eternity and a love that is never-ending.
Rest easy, little one. We’ll never forget you.
David Fong is an editor with the Troy Daily News. Contact him at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong