The first time I met Hugh was after a long day of professional development right before school started. It was the summer of 2013. We had just moved to Lawrenceburg only a few weeks before. My mother-in-law was watching the boys, and there was an extra one sitting on the couch. At first, I was a little frustrated. Who was this strange kid in my house? My mother-in-law must have sensed my consternation. “This is Hugh. He lives a couple houses down.” I was still looking at the smiling child.
“Yeah, I’m Hugh,” he said.
“Is your mom okay with you being here? Inside a stranger’s house?” I asked him.
“Yeah, she’s fine. I’m not a stranger. Joe is my new friend,” he said. And they continued watching whatever cartoon was on, giggling and smiling.
That was right before they started kindergarten together. Nine years later, they are still giggling and smiling together. For the last nine years, Hugh has been our semi-child, and Joe has been an honorary member of the Murphy family. They are almost-brothers.
Years ago, the two made a plan. They would go to college together and be roommates. Then they would marry sisters so that they would finally be real brothers. Then they would buy houses right next to each other. They would be family.
Almost every snow day we’ve had in the last nine years have been spent together by Joe and Hugh. The two would sled down the hill by the pond. Beth, Hugh’s mom, would watch over them until they were old enough to go by themselves. Then they would come inside, taking turns at each other’s houses, and eat snow cream, watch movies, and play video games.
On one particular snow day, we were baking cookies together and talking about nicknames. All of my boys, the three Potters and one Murphy, were with me in the kitchen. As Hugh worked on cutting cookies, he chimed in, “My nickname is George,” and continued working on his cookies.
“Who calls you George?” I asked.
He looked up at me with that cute little-boy face. “No one. I just like it.”
“Well, I’ll call you George,” I said. I did for the rest of the day. Every time I said it, Hugh (aka George) giggled. I’ve called him George ever since.
The boys trick-or-treated together nearly every year. Hugh was there for Joe’s baptism.
We took Hugh to the lake with us many times. Joe went with the Murphys on vacation to Florida. They both have spent weekend get-aways with each other’s grandparents. Some of our first-day-of-school pictures include Hugh. Hugh went to see Star Wars with us. Joe went to VBS with Hugh every year. Sleepovers, parties, games, field trips, choir, trips to King’s Island, the zoo, the movies. Hugh calls my mother-in-law “GraMary,” just like the other grandkids do.
Hugh went with us to watch the musical at the high school one year. He got sick during the show. I stupidly followed my reflexes and tried catching the puke in my hands. Beth and I still laugh about it.
When Joe broke his arm a couple years ago, I was in the Atlanta airport on my way to Europe. Sam was with him, but I called Beth anyway. She was already on her way to the hospital. “Beth, please, please, please, can you give him a mom-hug. Sam can’t do that. He needs a hug from you, please!”
Of course she did. She never questioned how silly my request was. She hugged him and made him feel better, the ways moms do.
Neither of them played football after that season.
Joe and Hugh got caught by the police walking on the thin ice of the pond when they were in elementary school. The cop, who lives in our neighborhood, walked them back to Hugh’s house. They never did that again. Hugh’s sister, Hannah, told the story over and over for weeks. We still laugh about it, now that we are over the terrifying thought of them drowning in icy water.
Hugh is smart. I know I’m biased, but it’s true. That kid is a genius. He has pushed Joe academically all throughout Joe’s school life. If Hugh could do it, Joe was going to try to. Same goes for Hugh. They are good for each other in that way.
They argue like brothers, not friends, with intensity, emotion and heartbreak, because they love each other. And they always mend things. They have to–they are family.
For years they have been on the same soccer team. Our families sit together, which is a big deal. Traditionally, we Potters sit by ourselves at soccer games. But the Murphys belong with us. Watching the two boys play together is something special. Hugh is the goalie and Joe is a defender. They seem to know each other’s next move before it’s made. They are there for each other on the pitch, just like they are in life. When one makes a mistake, the other covers. When one makes a great play, the other celebrates.
When we were contemplating moving a few months ago, Hugh was my biggest reservation. How could we separate the boys like this? They don’t know what it is to not have each other right there. And they are so good for each other.
Ultimately, we made the decision to move because it is what is best for our family, for a lot of reasons. So, Hugh will be spending lots of weekends in Louisville, and Joe will be hanging out in Lawrenceburg often.
They played their last soccer game together a few nights ago. As usual, Beth made sure to pose them and get some great pictures. She’s been doing that for years. Seeing our boys hug, with the sunset in the background, I lost it. I grabbed Beth and wept on her shoulder. “I don’t want to leave this. I don’t want to leave you.”
Through her own tears she said, “It’s not over. This is not over.”
She’s right. It’s not over. Hugh and Joe will still be almost-brothers. Their friendship will look different, but no less special. No matter how many other friends they make, they will always have each other.
Maybe they will still go to the same college, marry sisters, and move in right next door to each other.
But maybe not.
What I am sure of is that Hugh and Joe will always be friends, real friends. They will always be family.