Today is Jen’s birthday. She and our friend Ashley are my best friends after my husband. We grew up together and have so much history behind us. We met in, I don’t know, second grade? By the time we were in fourth or fifth grade, we were best friends. And we had rocky times, as I think all friendships do, but we recovered and now I have two friends that I can always, always go to with anything.
Jen moved to a neighboring town when we went from elementary school to middle school, so we stopped seeing each other every day. We would see each other once a week or once every other week for Girl Scout meetings. When we graduated high school, Ashley and Jen stuck around and went to the community college for two years before going away to school. I went away right from the start. I’m not a friendly, outgoing person, so I was so worried about making new friends. It was nice to know that no matter what happened at school, I had friends back home who were there for me. I did make friends at college and I had a lot of great experiences, but the friends I made then don’t really compare to the friends I already had when I started.
Now years, jobs, and marriages later, they are still my best friends. At some point, the three of us started email strings where one person would start an email to the other two and then we’d go for a week or so, replying all together to keep in touch and talk things out. Eventually the string dies out and we go a couple weeks without typing our thoughts to each other. Then something happens to one of us, big or small, that becomes the beginning of a new string of emails. We also, most recently, have started video chatting together about once a month or so, because now we live in three different states.
When Jen moved to Arizona from New Jersey, I was sad. We’re at that time in our lives when things like marriages, babies, and jobs start getting in the way of all close friendships. So I knew putting states between us wasn’t going to help either. I went to visit her in Arizona, maybe ten months after she’d moved, and we had a great time. Like always, we talked about everything. And when I say everything I mean it– relationships, sex, future plans, beliefs, mothers, jobs, money, health, all of it. We did a lot of fun things while I was out there, but honestly, it didn’t matter at all. All I really wanted was to talk with my best friend, to see her new life and be a part of it, to be reminded that I had someone rooting for me and she had someone rooting for her, to have someone understand, or at least listen without judgment, to have someone who knows my history help me feel out the future. I have an incredible husband, who also gives me all these things, but there are some things Jen will always know better than he will.
When I left Arizona, I remember tearing up as Jen dropped me at the airport. I already missed her. And before I walked away, I just wanted her to know how very proud I was of her. I feel like she’s always had a pretty clear vision of what she wants to do with her life and she went to Arizona to do it. She traveled across the country with her husband to start a new job, in a new place, where she’d have to make new friends. And I was so proud of her for doing it. I still am.
When I think about my life, there are a lot of things I’m unsure about. I don’t have that clear vision for my future, and I don’t think I ever really have. Most of the time I feel like I’m stuck in neutral, waiting for… I don’t know what, whatever is next I guess. And each step I take never makes me feel like I’m any closer. So many things are uncertain and hazy in my life. But this friendship is not. This friendship is clear and solid, and I can feel it and rely on it. Jen has taught me so many things about love and wisdom and life. She is one of the smartest, most understanding and open-minded people I know. And my life is so much better because of her. I can only hope I provide the kind of love and support to her that she gives to me.
The depth of our friendship sometimes catches me off guard. When I look back on all those years, I wonder if I knew at age 10 or age 15 or 20 how important Jen was and would always be. I know it now. There have been so many moments when she’s said the right words, or just looked at me with understanding and compassion (in person or through a computer screen) that have saved me from worry or uncertainty or insecurity. I value her insights on tangible things, like environmentalism, careers, marriage. But sacred are those moments when she knows advice won’t solve the problem, but listening will be enough. I think what I’ve learned from her is that friendship isn’t about solving each other’s problems, it’s about being present. It’s about being present when everything sucks and when everything is great, when you lose someone, or you’re scared, or you don’t know what’s next, or you just figured it all out. It’s about celebrating or commiserating all parts of life, even if you’ve never gone through it yourself, even if the experience you offer isn’t first-hand.
Friendship is about never being alone. And with Jen, I’m never alone.