Having spent the past four days visiting my best friend from high school, I woke up this morning in a curious funk. I should have felt refreshed and happy, on a post-vacation high. Instead, I was melancholy and moody.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Hanging out with someone who giggled with you when you were a pimply faced teen with braces and a poodle perm surely lights up something inside you akin to a heroin rush (I assume given that I have never partaken in heroin). Of course, the rush is followed by a crash and major withdrawal, which is what I find myself fighting with today.
Friend withdrawal is a bitch.
I met S. when we were 15. She was the new kid from Minnesota; I was the kid who’d lived in the same small town my entire life. We were as different as night and day, and like the positive and negative ends of batteries, we clicked instantly.
When she joined me on my family’s vacation to St. Louis a few months later, we bonded like only teenage girls can, and it wasn’t just because six people were crammed into a car built for five. We belted out “Elvira” at an Oakridge Boys concert. (For those who don’t know the song of which I speak and for those who want a painful flashback, click here.) She also saw me lose my shit at the zoo when my dad, in a rush to get who knows where, refused to slow down or cater to our pleading for a drink in the 90-degree heat. One of the finer moments of the trip involved me screaming, “I am not a camel! I need something to drink!”
Not only did S. not drop my friendship like a hot potato when we returned, or worse spread vicious rumors about my lunatic family, but she signed up for the long haul and saw me through far worse situations over the years.
We spent our last two years of high school at football games and eating pints of cheap ice cream in my parents’ basement. She was the only one bold enough to tell me I was an idiot to get engaged at 17 (she was right).
In college, we drowned the sorrows of our bad breakups with beer, held one another’s hair over the toilet, stole pint glasses from bars and danced wildly to Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” (so much better than Elvira!) no matter how many times the DJ played it. To this day, I cannot hear that song without thinking of her. She is the keeper of my darkest secrets, and I find that comforting rather than frightening.
Life moved on and so did we, traveling in opposite directions in more ways than one. She went as far east as New York State before returning to her home state. I went just as far west, to Colorado, before returning to mine. She married the boy from the bad breakup, popped out three kids and became a stay-at-home mom while I found someone new to love, went to grad school, worked on my career and finally gave birth to the most amazing creature on the planet.
For two decades, our friendship subsisted on a meager meal of emails, phone calls and very rare visits. We once went more than a year without talking—time merely got away from us. With one call, however, we resumed our friendship as easily as clicking a play button that has been on pause.
Until this week, S. had never met my daughter and I had never met her youngest (already age 9). And yet, when I walked into her newly purchased home, it felt as if I’d been there a hundred times. I’ve known her husband nearly as long as I’ve known her, and her children are a wonderful, smart, funny blend of them both. Within 10 minutes, our daughters were immersed in the land of make believe, emerging only to eat.
Meanwhile, S. and I chatted endlessly, just two brown-eyed 40-year-old girls, kicking back with cups of coffee and bottles of beer. We told her two teenage children our crazy stories, leaving out certain details. Sometimes they laughed, but mostly they rolled their eyes, surely thinking that their mother and her friend were totally lame (or whatever word is the equivalent of that in today’s teen-speak).
We even shared the camel story. But friendships cannot survive for 25 years on memories alone. No matter how fun it is to reminisce about the past, no one wants to maintain a friendship that is permanently stuck at 15.
I’ve wondered at times if it was mere history holding our friendship together, but this week’s extended visit answered that question.
She and I are still as different as night and day, yet S. is my touchstone. As much as I love my other friends, there are times in my life when no other friend will do.
Partly this is because she’s known me in a way that my adulthood friends never can and partly because of who she is. S. has always been the one who could get me out of my head. She’s at times painfully honest in telling me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. She’s the one who says “stop worrying and drink a beer.” She is the only person allowed to call me a bitch without being punched.
She’s that friend who tells me to get over myself, to stop overthinking, to just go with the flow. She is exactly what I needed this week because she’s the friend who tells me to be the opposite of everything I am—and sometimes you really need a friend like that.
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