About a year ago, a good college friend called to tell me her husband had gotten a job transfer. Amelia was moving the family to Australia in two weeks.
What followed was a frantic exchange of emails and voicemails with proposed times to get together, but in the end, we couldn’t get our schedules in sync. I left a final goodbye on her soon-to-be-inactive cell phone wishing her the best and making her promise she’d be in touch once they got settled.
In the months that followed, I wondered how she was dealing with the challenges of moving your school-aged family to a new country.
Were the boys in an expat school or were they going native?
Where did they live – upscale condo, sprawling company compound, quaint local home?
How would she make new mom friends?
And I waited for that email – or Skype call – that said, “We’re doing great.”
It never came.
So I had to wonder whether my first instincts about her had been…wrong.
From the moment our eyes met in the locker room, I felt that we would know each other for the rest of our lives.
(And no, it’s not that kind of story!)
Perhaps we had known each other in a different life. She was striking, yet shy. I was short, yet shy. But driven by the knowledge that I knew her – or at least, would know her, I struck up a conversation about shin splints and Adidas. We were on the track team together at our Div III school, which basically meant that labs, study sessions, and heck, even office hours, trumped practice. She was a mid-distance runner. I was a sprinter, and we met in the middle during our 4×200 relays. I kicked off the race; she closed the gap at the end. That’s just how we were on the track and off.
I was the first to land a “serious” boyfriend. She followed a few months after. Of course, her relationship lasted much longer than mine, which is unsurprising when you end many a makeout session by reaching for your watch as he’s fumbling for some condoms (I assume) and you cheerily wave that you’ll see him tomorrow or whenever because there’s a Jodie Foster/Greta Garbo/Ladies-We-Love retrospective at the student union and you already promised some friends from the girl’s rugby team that you would meet them there.
“How was your date,” I asked her, when we meet up later in our dorm’s basement snack joint.
“Good. He plays guitar,” she swooned, then recomposed herself to ask about my cinematic outing.
“Equally good. This one girl Marcela was there. We’re in film class together. She’s just so cool. We’re going to hang out again tomorrow.”
Amelia smiled to herself, but said nothing. It was a look she would give me over the next few years, any time I brought up “this one girl x” – the names changed with the season – “who is just so cool.”
She was my best friend, my confidante, my witness.
And I was hers.
I kept her anchored during her prolonged bouts with depression. She kept me afloat during my extended coming out. I held her as she cried over the senseless jerk who had broken her heart…again. She shamed a drunk heckler who had attended my stage debut…in the stinky basement of a stinkier coffeehouse. And through homages to the porcelain god – where we swore to forsake all future drinks – and promises to our preferred gods – where we swore to forsake all future suitors – we were there for each other.
Last week, I emailed her husband’s work address – easy to find on the “interweb” considering Anthony’s big-shot corporate gig.
“How are Amelia, Austin and Aidan” I put in the subject line, hoping to make it past his gatekeeper with mention of his wife and kids in the subject line. Then in the body I continued, “Hope Australia is treating you well!” The family’s affection for the letter A always amused me.
“We’re good,” he wrote back. “But we’re in Chicago. We never left.”
What the what what?!
All this time – she was just 10 miles away, not 10,000.
What hadn’t she called in all this time?
More important, why had it taken me a year to contact her?
It’s so easy to make excuses: we’re too busy with work, family and…well, life. And it’s easy to forget the people who knew you before you were an endless series of client meetings, basketball practices, homework sessions and yard work…
Back when you were still discovering who you were, still defining who you would become.
These friends – even soulmates – who have always been there.
Who you can call without guilt – no matter how much time has passed, and and say without judgment – no matter what has happened between you:
“I’m happy you’re still here.”