A friend for all time

I have a friend coming to see me today, all the way from Ohio. I’ve known Emily since I was 4 years old. 

We weren’t always close: she came to my birthday party when I must have been turning 6 or 7, and my mother remembers her wearing a little suit. Back then, she must have already been preparing to be an entrepreneur and businesswoman, which she is now. The truth is I don’t remember Emily at my party. My first memories of her are from first grade recess: she and another little girl used to play “Boys After Girls” and “Girls After Boys.” These games entailed running around the playground in chase mode, always seeking or fleeing from the opposite sex. (Oh, if only we knew back then how that game would describe all of junior high.) I don’t know what happened if/when one caught up with the one being chased, as I never played. Maybe a kiss? That would have terrified me even more than the idea of chasing a boy, or being chased. I was interested in Barbies and Sunshine Family dolls; The Dukes of Hazzard, Hee Haw, and Lawrence Welk; and chasing my German Shepherd around the yard. 

Though we had the same friendship circles, and got invited to each other’s parties, Emily and I didn’t become close friends until junior high. We bonded over our crushes on boys named David and John, and our love of playing LPs on Emily’s turntable (Journey’s Escape album, Commodores’ In the Pocket—just before Lionel Richie jumped ship, and Prince’s 1999—we sang along to “Little Red Corvette” and “International Lover,” but I am doubtful now I really understood what he was singing about, only that it was something adult and mysterious). Our favorite food was mac n’ cheese, which we made in hot pots in each other’s houses after school. We lived five blocks from one other, a zig-zag of streets that passed Mills Lawn School and skirted the edge of downtown. She and I were constantly together, or talking on the phone. This was before call waiting, cell phones, and voicemail. “What do you girls have to talk about?” my parents said. “You just saw each other in school”—the insinuation being that they were missing calls from their friends who got busy signals from the time I got home until dinner. But there always was something to talk about, just as there is now. She is one of the few people who can keep a conversation going with me without us ever running out of topics. When we get off the phone, it’s because one of us has to go, not because there is silence.

Emily and I were still close as we navigated high school, as we dieted together, as we moved from mac n’ cheese to Rax salad bar and TCBY. We borrowed cars to drive to Beavercreek, we sat in the front row of all our classes, and we did not smoke or drink but also did not mind if our friends did. Emily was my constant, my confidante, my best friend. 

And then she did the unthinkable: she graduated high school in three years. She was already chasing adulthood while I was still running from it. Even now, I tease her that she abandoned me my senior year, but the truth is I know she needed to move on, and I needed to stay. I just wasn’t sure what that would mean for us, and I was (and still am) a person who holds onto things, and people, and time—an impossibility but a reflex all the same.

As we moved into our 20s, she was starting her career and getting hitched and thinking babies while I was focused on boyfriends and graduating college and writing poems. As you can imagine, we drifted, as two people will do who are in different life stages. There was a year or two or three or four (I cannot recall how long it was) when we did not talk. We were on speaking terms, but she lived in another state, figuratively and literally. She was in parenthood and wife mode; I was trying to understand love and fleeing from it at the same time, taking a job in Mexico and trying to learn another language and who I was. 

Then one day she called me from her childhood home. She was in town on a visit, and I was once again living in our hometown. Do you have time to come over? she asked. 

I still remember taking the zig-zag route to her house that afternoon. I passed the playground where she had once chased boys and been chased, and where I had hid behind the first-grade teacher’s leg, afraid of all the things my peers wanted. I crossed the street where the library sits, where I worked from sophomore through high school senior year. Back then, Emily would pick me up after work so we could leave town, go to the movies in Beavercreek with our friend Ellen, go putt-putting with our buddies Shawn and Eric, and go dancing at a club in Dayton (though I was the one who wanted to dance; she went along because she was my best friend, and that’s the kind of things best friends do when they aren’t consoling you about the boy you liked who didn’t like you back). 

The afternoon I went to see her at her blue house on Limestone Street is the day that changed our friendship—not to something else, but back to what it was. She had two kids by then, and I was dating the man I would later marry, but we managed to slip back into the closeness we had somehow lost for a time while we figured out the rest of our lives.

That afternoon, she and I talked for hours in the living room she had grown up in, where I, too, on some days, had grown up with her. We’ve been talking ever since, still chasing life, but never running again from each other.