Today, my parents and I helped a friend of the family move house. Her daughter, Rachel, was there to help.
I think my mum met her at a mother & baby group, but wherever it was, her daughter and I became best friends in nursery school, and stayed like that until I went to secondary school when I was 11.
We did everything together; from learning to ride bikes (two of us on one bike was a common sight) and roller skates to sleepovers and daily fights. Rach even broke her foot the same week I broke my toe (in completely unrelated incidents I must add) and we spent two weeks at play-time sitting together on a wall outside our classrooms.
When we went to separate secondary schools, she made friends (and had friends from our old school) while I went to a private, all-girls place with only one girl from my school; who I barely knew. I made two friends in my five years there, and then went to college and made two more friends (one is now my partner, so he doesn’t really count). Of those four people, only one contacts me when I try to connect.
So in 2005, I discovered online friends and am very grateful to the three wonderfully stable best friends I still have: Kami and Josh in America, and Amma who lives in the nearest big town to where I grew up. Through Skype and smartphones, I’ve been able to see a live woodchuck on the campus of an American University and hear the laughter of these friends, despite the miles between us. I meet up with Amma an average of once every 2 years, and I speak to Kami or Josh once every 3-4 weeks on Skype.
This morning, I met that girl again; that best friend from my childhood, Rachel. That sweet and pretty little girl who rode on my bike and whose hair caught fire due to sparklers (I think I just laughed, but we were only 3 and 4)… is now a beautiful woman living in a flat with her partner and a full-time job and car. And she studies at her job to boot! I’m in awe of how much she has achieved, as I still remember her, aged 3, crying with her hair on fire.
It felt awkward to say hi to her again, as I’ve spoken barely 20 words to her in the last ten years. This grown up lady who I’d vaguely heard updates about from her mother, and had seen the odd picture of on facebook, sounded so different to those memories I had.
But after carrying heavy furniture together down some stairs, into a van, onto a trolley and up to a storage place; I was hugging her and we were taking photographs together. I expected so much to have changed in that decade, but after 3 hours together, it was like I had my best friend back. It still felt odd to hug her, but it’s something I used to value more than anything; the feel our arms behind each other’s back; because that’s how best friends used to stand together. United against anything; inseparable.
I made a goal at New Year to make sure I connect with people more. I’ve made a consistent effort to make it to the pagan meet-ups, to celebrate the seasons and to honour the tradition of seeing my friend from college.
I’ve tried to see the possibilities and the potential in everything, and to trust that some people are good examples of the human race. I grew up with the lesson “people are mean and you need to be meaner to succeed” and it’s taken a lot of time and experiences to redefine that: to recognise that some people will give, just ‘because’.
I haven’t had a close friend I can regularly see and hug and laugh with for ten years. And in re-connecting with my old best friend, I’m realising that’s something I’ve really needed. Especially as my partner’s three counties away and I’ll soon be moving to a new town.
I’m sure Rachel has changed, just as I have. But she stills laughs at my jokes and we still say the same things. We were almost finishing each other’s sentences again.
And now I feel sad, because I’m leaving and I’ve lost ten years of that. I hadn’t fully realised how much of a hole not having a best friend leaves.
So I’m hoping to change that by seeing her again before I move into my flat; and maybe when I return for weekends or Christmas. If nothing else, it’s a lesson about connection I’d rather learn now, than in thirty years time when we may have lost touch forever.