The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart. ~Elisabeth Foley
The saying “there’s no friend like an old friend” has always been true to the friendships I have made during the decades of my life. Probably my closest, most cherished friend is one whom I met in third grade. I can’t tell you exactly when or how we became friends in Mrs. Rembey’s third grade class. (Was it that our desks sat close to each other in the first row facing the green chalkboard? Did we happen to eat with each other in the cafeteria? I doubt it was playing games at recess, she being a natural athlete and myself, well, not so much.) What I can tell you about this friendship that I have enjoyed since the age of nine, is that she is a gem of a person—one worth holding onto for a lifetime.
In fourth grade, we suffered the devastating news that we would not be in the same classroom that school year. It was a tough blow, but not as difficult as the time toward the end of the year when I had to tell her that my family would be moving away from the beloved New England state where our friendship was forged and blossomed and back to either my home state of Pennsylvania or to some foreign land called “Ohio.” We made the best of it, but tears were shed. My memory recalls a desperate attempt to keep me there by asking her mom to adopt me (Hey, at least my parents would have my other three siblings to care for and love. They’d hardly miss me!) Our plight was turned down, but not without pain in her mother’s eyes coupled with an anguished smile to send us on our way. We tried and failed then, but our initial failure would be conquered by eagerness to stay in touch in the pre-Internet era with random phones calls, cards, and the occasional handwritten letter by me (not her).
Years passed us by and I grew up in a small farming community in that foreign state called Ohio. My family and I traded in living across the street from the town high school within walking distance of everything convenient for quite a different lifestyle. It was my parents’ dual dream to own a rural home surrounded by acreage amidst a forest of beautiful trees, and a place to plant a flourishing vegetable garden and rose bushes galore. Driven by this ideal, our lives were transplanted from one universe to another, it seemed. I truly believe my mom begged my dad to buy the house I ultimately called home just because of the lilac bush that bloomed with gushing flowers of deeply purple fragrance in view from the breakfast nook tucked inside. This new country home of ours was situated across a winding, gravel road overlooking a working farm with horses, sheep, and an annoyingly prompt rooster. In the days and nights that followed this sudden move from a place I truly loved, I grew accustomed to a new, calmer lifestyle and learned to appreciate the surprisingly different landscape that I was sure I was going to hate. (There are no mountains in Ohio? No beach like the Cape?) The years ticked by and during the first nights in this strange new home, I experienced my first bouts of insomnia that have plagued me at stressful times in my life since. It was difficult for me to relax without a little bit of noise. I had to trade listening to cars driving by at night along the New England roads I was used to as I now fell asleep to the sound of nothing except the occasional chirp of crickets. After a few months of living in rural America, I succumbed to the quiet loneliness at night and peacefully surrendered to nature at its best—during both the day and night. As my heart softened and new friendships were forged, I slowly began to forget all about New England life and the short time I spent there, but never forgot my dear friend no matter the space between us.
During our senior year of high school, I traded a spot on my high school’s annual senior class trip to WashingtonD.C. for a first trip back to my former New England home. Flying into LoganAirport, I felt exhilarated and free. Although I did not stay with my dear friend during this visit, we did spend a lot of time together and that short time was magic. Even though we grew into somewhat larger versions of our elementary school selves we learned that our differences were apparent. But differences aside, those few days together proved that hardly anything had changed between us–especially in our fondness for each other—as we caught up from our fourth grade selves to the present. During those nine years that flashed by in an instant, we found small ways to stay connected, and I believe these minor attempts definitely helped to keep our friendship real and strong. Even if we hadn’t though, I believe our lives would have crossed eventually. My trip was cut short due to the sudden death of my grandfather and my subsequent departure to Pittsburgh in order to attend the funeral and be there for my family. But the little time my friend and I shared during my short stay opened doors to a new path for us and possibilities of continuing a lifelong friendship. As we laughed in awe about how we chose the same teal green prom dress, talked about our current boyfriends, caught up on family life, shared dreams, discussed the colleges we would attend as well as the compounding fears we held for what was awaiting us in the very near future, my friend and I solidified our lifelong friendship—because that’s exactly what we were—friends at nine, at 18, and later on as I lived a two-year tryst in Boston during our tumultuous yet exhilarating 20’s where I held my first job in publishing—we were friends then, now and forever.
Sometimes different friends come and go in our lives for a plethora of reasons, and I have made peace with that fact of life. But, some friends are friends for life. No matter our differences (and there are many) my lifelong friend and I accept and love one another for who we are, what we’ve been in the past, who we’ve become now, and even what we might be looking deep into the future. Every day I think of her. Every day I wish she could just come over after a long day of work (and in my case, parenting three children) and share a steaming pot of tea. But, I know she is living the life she is meant to live in that beloved, enchanted New England place surrounded by her family and with the love of her life. And I— I came back to that once foreign place called Ohio to marry my soul mate and make a life of my own. But, when I think about the years ahead, I know that I have at least one true friend I can count on to share in all the joy and the pain that life provides. And, no matter the time or distance between us, we are friends for the long haul.